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Gender-bending in fashion

Sara Wilson looks at fashion’s latest controversial model muses

Published on February 18th 2011.

Gender-bending in fashion

The fashion industry is always pushing boundaries and expectations in order to evolve. Often, progression can be controversial - disabled models, shots to symbolise warfare or even sexually explicit imagery.

While some may proclaim that the use of Lea T in the Givenchy campaign is inhumane and purely for shock value, Tisci defends that he simply found Lea 'striking and feminine'.

The hot topic within the industry at the moment is the use of transsexual models. At the forefront of this debate is Givenchy's latest muse Lea T, who was friends with Givenchy’s creative director, Riccardo Tisci, for over 10 years before being chosen to star in the brand’s autumn/winter 2010 campaign.

The native Brazilian model, born male, is undergoing hormone treatment and currently has both breasts and a penis.

While some may proclaim that the use of Lea T in the Givenchy campaign is inhumane and purely for shock value, Tisci defends that he simply found Lea 'striking and feminine'.

Lea T has since gone on to model in editorials for Vogue, including a nude photo-shoot and more recently a cover for LOVE magazine where Lea is seen in a passionate kiss with Kate Moss.

Having been thrust into the media spotlight, with the majority of the media focus on her gender rather than the clothes she’s modelling, it’s easy to understand concerns about it being in bad taste.

Lea T in red lipstick for Givenchy

Gimmicks can often gain more attention than garments, but as with all fashion fads there’s a shelf life. To broadcast her transsexuality rather than her modelling abilities could be perceived as a quick way of gaining media exposure for the fashion magazine or designer in question, at the expense of the model.

Yet, it could also be argued that transsexual gender modelling is better off out in the open, rather than hidden away under clothes, so to speak. To that end, Lea has been very upfront about who she is. “I want you to say I am a transsexual model' she told Tisci.

Lea T has been both ridiculed and praised for her success and attitude towards the pre-judgements of transsexuals. Like many things in life, people have a tendency to push away things that they don’t understand, but as time moves forward more segments of society are becoming much more open to the idea of the transsexual community and, in turn, models such as Lea.

Models are hired to portray an attitude and a presence that the designers hope the woman buying the piece will later try to embody. This begs the question of whether fashion will still be obtainable to the average woman when modelled by a transsexual.

Lea T on the catwalk

Lea T and Kate Moss

Of course Lea T is not the first transsexual model to grace the catwalks. In the 80s, Teri Toya modelled for Lagerfeld and Gaultier and Lauren Foster appeared in Vogue amongst other high fashion glossies.

Gender lines are constantly being crossed with more models seemingly being hired for their gender-bending benefits. They are extremely diverse and marketable due to their ability to portray both masculine and feminine looks.

Agyness Deyn

Androgynous female model, Agyness Deyn often models masculine clothing, yet it’s acceptable in society because she is still biologically a woman. Another example of this is Andrej Pejic - a young Austrailian model, whom ever since he walked the runway in 2010 has found people asking "who's that blonde girl?"

His features - dainty and feminine, and his hair - long and blonde, Pejic has found his niche and has now been added to the list of top androgynous models. Caught up in the rising trend of gender-neutral models, Pejic must not however, be confused with a transsexual - he is still biologically a man.

Andrej Pejic

With Lea T, Agyness Deyn and Andrej Pejic all in mind, those who disagree with the crossing of gender lines in fashion certainly need to decide where they think the line should be drawn. Transsexual, transgender, cross dresser and model are all very different things. Yet in the haze of fashion world, sex really doesn’t seem to be that specific or significant anymore.

As Turkish Vogue's editor recently said: "The line between the sexes if becoming more and more blurred. Fashion is all about providing people with choices. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman."

Sara Wilson runs Manchester fashion blog www.saraluxe.com

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