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Fashion's New 'It' Girl ... And Boy: Andrej Pejic

During a recent photo shoot, Andrej Pejic poses on a rooftop in New York City. The 20-year-old has modeled both menswear and women's wear for some of the world's top designers. (AP)

The model that some are calling fashion's new "it" girl isn't a girl at all. Andrej Pejic takes the industry's on-again, off-again fascination with androgyny to a new extreme by modeling both menswear and women's wear for top designers like Jean Paul Gaultier.

At a shoot for Out Magazine, Pejic takes a final sip of his Earl Grey tea before stepping into position against a stark white background.

In a converted warehouse studio in New York City's old Meatpacking District, a photographer raises his camera as Pejic arches his thin frame into four buff male models. He angles his baby-soft face toward the camera, accentuating his cutting cheekbones.

Brent Coover is the fashion editor of Out, which is geared toward a gay and lesbian audience. To him, Pejic's androgynous look means fashion doesn't have to be about macho men anymore.

"For so long of my life, I had to look at images of male models who are super muscular, super hunky, look like Ken dolls, and maybe it's time to see another concept of what a man can be," Coover says.

He thinks models with an ambiguous gender help expand the idea of beauty beyond masculine and feminine archetypes.

Fashion Fairy Tale

Pejic remembers being pressured to give up playing dress up in heels and skirts as a child.

"I was told that I had to be more boyish and fit that social role," Pejic says, "but that didn't make me happy, and it didn't really work."

He was born in Bosnia and fled with his Serbian mother and brother to a refugee camp when the war broke out, then on to Australia. His Croatian father stayed behind.

Pejic says, "I'm not a big fan of identity politics and sort of picking one thing and defining yourself with it."

So, he doesn't.

Pejic says he's open to being called a girl, and doesn't have any boundaries as far as attraction goes.

He started modeling after an agent approached him in a McDonald's he worked at in Melbourne. After graduating from high school, he moved to Europe to pursue modeling full-time. One of his first big jobs was for French Vogue.

"I just walked on the set, and they said, well, put him in a Fendi dress because that's what's going to look good, and they were right," Pejic recalls.

He quickly started to get more work in women's wear than in men's — and, unlike that Fendi dress that just happened to fit, top designers started to make dresses with Pejic in mind.

In this Cinderella story, Pejic's moment at the ball came last year. The eminent and envelope-pushing designer Jean Paul Gaultier sent Pejic down the runway in a sheer bridal gown. He had hardly walked 10 steps when the room burst into applause.

"I felt like the happiest bride," Pejic says.

And why not? His career is sort of a fashion fairy tale on fast-forward. Forget landing Prince Charming; Pejic has worked with some of the world's most celebrated designers — and he's only 20.

Selling Products

Pejic has a serious presence in the industry, but many people outside of it don't know what to make of him.

"How do you prove your push-up bra can push up even the most minuscule bust? Have a man model it!" CNN's Jeanne Moos announced in a segment about Pejic, who had recently appeared in advertisements for a bra by Hema, a Dutch dime store.

Few people Moos showed the ad to could tell Pejic was anything other than a buxom blond woman in plunging necklines.

Pejic admits it was sort of a "gimmick," but in the end, he says, "It did work. I think the bra did sell."

And selling products is the whole point of modeling, says Ashley Mears.

"Fashion models are these desired goods that also lend value to commodities," she says.

Mears worked as a model to inform her book Pricing Beauty about the inner dealings of the fashion industry.

She says the ads Pejic is used in could backfire when consumers learn he's actually a man.

That's partly because Pejic plays into one of the biggest criticisms of fashion models — namely, that they're way too thin.

He's been called "fashion's greatest insult to women" by critics who see him as the end result of an industry tendency to showcase women who they say look like young boys.

But Mears says Pejic isn't the problem: "Fashion has been insulting women for a long time with unrealistic body standards."

And Pejic maintains that he isn't the one setting those standards.

"When I'm sitting in a casting room in Paris, I'm not the thinnest model," Pejic says. "Sometimes I'm not the most flat-chested, either."

Encouraging Acceptance?

Pejic's unique ability to go from menswear to women's wear has captivated the world of fashion. But elsewhere, men in dresses can be ridiculed or even brutalized instead of lauded. And Pejic's picture in Vogue isn't going to change that, says Leila Rupp, who has written extensively about drag culture.

"I think watching someone on a runway or looking at someone in a magazine just doesn't have that kind of erotic and emotional impact," says Rupp.

She says simply seeing images of Pejic isn't enough to encourage acceptance for people who break gender norms.

But Pejic says he is not out to change the world. He's just doing his job. Up next, he'll be featured in ads for Kokorico, a new fragrance for men by Jean Paul Gaultier.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Andrej Pejic walks the runway in a bridal gown by Jean Paul Gaultier in his haute couture show for Paris Fashion Week 2010.
Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

Now we turn to the story of a surprising success in the world of fashion. Androgyny comes and goes in the fashion world, but one male model takes it to the extreme by modeling clothes for both men and women.

Andrej Pejic is gaining notoriety in high fashion, even as most men who bend genders face a tough time in society. NPR's Beenish Ahmed caught up with him at a recent photo shoot for Out magazine.

BEENISH AHMED, BYLINE: In a converted warehouse studio in New York City, Andrej Pejic takes a final sip of his Earl Grey tea. His ivory skin and platinum blonde hair glow as he steps into position against a stark white background. The photographer raises his camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Andrej, keep moving around here.

ANDREJ PEJIC: Yes.

AHMED: Pejic seductively arches his thin frame into four big, buff male models. He angles his baby soft face towards the camera to accentuate his cutting cheekbones.

Brent Coover is fashion editor of Out magazine, which is geared towards a gay and lesbian audience. To him, Pejic's androgynous look means fashion doesn't have to be about macho men any more.

BRENT COOVER: For so long of my life, I had to look at images of male models who are super muscular, super hunky, look like Ken dolls. And maybe it's time to see another concept of what a man can be.

AHMED: Coover thinks models with an ambiguous gender help expand the idea of beauty beyond masculine and feminine archetypes.

Andrej Pejic remembers being pushed to give up playing dress-up in heels and skirts as a child.

PEJIC: I was told that I had to be more boyish and did that social role, but that didn't make me happy and it didn't really work.

AHMED: Pejic was born in Bosnia and fled with his Serbian mother and brother to a refugee camp when the war broke out, then on to Australia. His Croatian father stayed behind.

Pejic started modeling after an agent approached him in a McDonald's he worked at in Melbourne. After graduating from high school, he moved to Europe to pursue modeling full time. One of his first big jobs was for French Vogue.

PEJIC: I just walked on the set and they said put him in a Fendi dress because that's what's going to look good, and they were right.

AHMED: Pejic quickly started to get more work in women's wear than men's and unlike that Fendi dress that just happened to fit, top designers began to make dresses with Pejic in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AHMED: In this Cinderella story, Pejic's moment at the ball came last year. The eminent and envelope-pushing designer Jean Paul Gaultier sent Pejic down the runway in a sheer bridal gown. He had hardly walked 10 steps when the room burst into applause.

PEJIC: I felt like the happiest bride.

AHMED: And why not? Pejic's career is sort of a fashion fairy tale on fast-forward. Pejic has worked with some of the world's most celebrated designers and he's only 20. He has a serious presence in the industry, but many people outside of it don't know what to make of him.

JEANNE MOOS: How do you prove your pushup bra can push up even the most miniscule bust? Have a man model it.

AHMED: That man, as CNN's Jeanne Moos noted, was none other than Andrej Pejic. He appeared as a buxom blonde in plunging necklines in posters for a bra by Hema, a Dutch dime store. Pejic admits it was sort of a gimmick, but says in the end...

PEJIC: It did work. I think the bra did sell.

ASHLEY MEARS: Fashion models are these desired goods that also lend value to commodities.

AHMED: Ashley Mears worked as a model to inform her book about the inner dealings of the fashion industry. She says the ads Pejic's used in could backfire when consumers learn he's actually a man. That's partly because Pejic plays into one of the biggest criticisms of fashion models - that they're way too thin. And designers only want to showcase women who look like young boys.

Pejic's been called fashion's greatest insult to women, but Mears says Pejic isn't the problem.

MEARS: Fashion has been insulting women for a long time with unrealistic body standards.

AHMED: Pejic's unique ability to go from menswear to women's wear has captivated the world of fashion, but Pejic says he's not out to change the world. He's just doing his job. Up next, he'll be featured in ads for Jean Paul Gaultier's new cologne.

Beenish Ahmed, NPR News, Washington.

LYDEN: If you'd like to see photos of model Andrej Pejic, log onto NPR.org and select TELL ME MORE from the Programs tab. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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