Gender-Bending: The Femiman

Susannah Zerin

Fashion as an art form is something that evolves and matures over the progression of time. In more recent years, for example, society has witnessed the effect of technological advances, such as the rise of social media and the influential fashion bloggerati. Nowadays, it is normal to go tweet and hash-tag happy during fashion weeks to keep updated on the latest emerging trends and gossip. Indeed, a lot has changed regarding the way consumers view and access fashion both virtually and on the catwalk.


In October, I was invited to attend Digital Fashion Week in Singapore, the world’s first live-streaming only fashion week. You would think that the fact that this was a worldwide inaugural event was enough to sell it to me right? Wrong. The other was the fact that a semi-famous transgender model, Andrej Pejic, would be a VIP guest as well as walking the catwalk. Needless to say, on paper the occasion sounded pretty mind-blowing. 


Now, transgender models are no strangers to the media. In 2010, 31 year old Brazilian transgender model Lea T – real name Leandro – was cast as a female model for Givenchy’s fall/winter ad campaign. 20-year-old Israelite Stav Strashko proved competition for female models when he starred in a TV advert for Toyota in August this year. Nevertheless, there was something so astounding about the combination between Digital Fashion Week and a transgender guest of honour. So much novelty, and all of it happening in what is still considered a country in development by the Western world – Singapore.


As I walked into the Ritz Carlton hotel reception to register for the day’s show, struggling to get my umbrella down and sheltering from the torrential rain shower outside, who should I look up and see walking briskly past through the hall but Andrej. At the tender age of 21, the Australian-Bosnian model stands at 1.88m tall with size 42 feet. Effusing biker-chic style sporting a leather jacket and teeny-tiny micro black shorts, his legginess and seemingly effortless sense of off-duty model style is enviable. But his sense of style is not what strikes me first.


Articles that talk about Andrej’s feminine looks simply do not do him justice. To see him in the flesh is an entirely different story. In person, he has a figure that would make some of the world’s most famous supermodels green-eyed, with a pout and cheekbones to die for. In short – he resembles a truly stunning woman. It is impossible to describe just how his image completely blurs the boundaries between male and female. Indeed, his first modeling assignment was for a spread in an Australian fashion magazine named Oyster, where he appeared as a woman.


Signed to London agency Storm, Pejic is listed under both their male and female models. He has modelled for high profile designers worldwide, including modeling swimwear and for female lingerie photo-shoots. Understandably, Andrej’s work has often provoked a mixed response, particularly from those that mistake him for a woman. In September 2011, Pejic was ranked no. 98 in FHM magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World 2011 – an award that was accompanied by a hostile and rude commentary by the magazine – which they later withdrew and apologized for.


The very fact that Pejic can showcase his self-image as – and others can mistake him for – both that of man and woman is intriguing. Not only does this benefit his career by making him highly sought after in the modeling industry, but it also highlights that fact that one of the most important impressions that we can make on others is our visual image. With his long legs, flaxen hair and make up perfected, as I watched Pejic walk the run way at Digital Fashion Week, I could not differentiate him from the other female models in terms of his whole aesthetic look (aside from the fact that he was taller, thinner, and I KNEW his true gender). His effeminate appearance certainly messed with the audience’s head.


Watching Digital Fashion Week opened up my eyes to how fashion and self are changing and evolving in terms of deconstructing gender and identity and our own social expectations. There is something fascinating and intriguing about the new wave of Femiman, understandably so because people like Andrej are unique, few and far between in mainstream media, and an alien social phenomenon to most of us. 

Susannah Zerin is a fashion and lifestyle writer and blogger living between Singapore and London:

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