ANDREJ PEJIC IN GRAZIA MAGAZINE
Sashaying down the Gaultier Catwalk this January in a wedding dress, it wasn’t the model’s stunning beauty, hourglass shape or full blown lips that got the fash pack buzzing… It was the fact ANDREJ PEJIC is a man.
Andrej Pejic has the fashion world at his feet… and all because he’s a 20-year-old boy who likes to model womenswear. Lauded by Steven Meisel and currently fronting a campaign for Marc Jacobs, he’s been called a ‘femiman’ and ‘a thing’. When Kate Moss saw him a few weeks ago, she simply whispered: ‘You’re beautiful.’ Now Andrej has taken it upon himself to challenge every aspect of sexual stereotyping.
Andrej is already no stranger to controversy. In May, a magazine cover featuring him topless and made up like Marilyn Monroe was censored by US bookstore for being pornographic ‘in case customers confused him with a woman.’ He shrugs. ‘I don’t want to be a girl, but I like to dress as a girl. I model menswear and I love to do womenswear. As for my personal life, I don’t feel obliged to say either way except that I’ve experimented like most people. I am myself.’
We meet in the fashionable dimness of London’s Blakes Hotel Bar. He’s late – only 5 minutes – and panicking because he’s forgotten his wallet and a cabbie is waiting for £20. In the embarrassment of the situation, Andrej is neither a fiercesome poster boy/girl for sexual politics nor is he the coolest creature on the planet. He’s simply a scatty, mortified youth endearingly grateful for help in solving his problem.
He’s wearing a long, pale-grey dress over micro-denim shorts, a skinny grey leather jacket and battered lace-up canvas boots. His hair is dirty peroxide, his skin is fresh and dewy, his long legs hairless (‘I shave, but I don’t get much hair’). He is, as Kate said, beautiful. He crosses his legs and places his handbag down by his side. Only his hands seem unusually large.
It is apparent, within minutes, that Andrej is also smart. He may play with his sexuality but he doesn’t play games. He is straightforward, open, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this is his chance – if he wants to take it – to act in whatever way he wants. He is after all, the model everyone’s talking about, who stands out from the catwalk crowd. ‘Do you think?’ he says. ‘In a way maybe I think I am, in another I just think how long is this going to last? I could be a passing trend. On the modeling, he’s realistic as he picks at two sandwiches. ‘Let’s be honest. You can’t eat much if you want to do this. To do womenswear I have to be disciplined. My waist has gone from 29 to 25 inches, my hips are 35 inches. But I get paid women’s rates, which are much higher than men’s, so I don’t complain. I’m not sure how the girls feel about me. They’re very competitive. For the first time in my life I have more male model friends than girls. But that’s OK.’
Andrej was born an outsider. Just months after his birth – in Tuzla, Bosnia – The Bosnian war started. His mother, Jadranka, is Serbian and his father, Vlada, is Croatian. ‘Serbians could not stay in Croatia. We had to move back to Serbia – my mum, brother [Igor, two years older] and grandmother [Danica]. My father did not come. We went to sort of refugee camp near Belgrade. My mother was trained as a lawyer, but under the new circumstances she had no status. She was a Serbian who’d lived in Bosnia and married a Croatian.’
The family lived in a two-room house. It must have been tough. He shakes his head. ‘No, I was happy.’ The camp was a community. We went to school and I had lots of friends – mainly girls. Everybody played outside. My memories are very carefree.’
As a young boy, he loved to play with dolls and dress up in his mother’s skirts. His gran and brother didn’t approve. ‘My brother would tell my mum I realized it was something I had to hide. Mum told me not to wear them but that she loved me. She was pretty liberal.’
He was four when he first met his father. ‘It was strange. My parents were divorced and my father had become very nationalistic. But my mum wanted us to have a relationship. My brother and I would go and spend a month in the summer with him. I didn’t feel close to him so it was hard to accept him trying to parent us. But we did it.’
After Nato bombed Serbia in 1999, Andrej’s mother wanted to leave. ‘She wanted to go to Australia. I was sad to leave my friends but not really my father.’
Australia, however, proved to be a harsher environment. He didn’t speak English and became shy, introverted and aware he was different. ‘I tried to become more boyish and make friends with boys, but I felt uncomfortable and became withdrawn.’
At 14, he was enrolled in an academic, liberal school in Melbourne. ‘There were kids who were openly gay, boys who dressed differently, girls who dressed like boys. I started making friends. I got more confident and stopped caring so much about what people thought. Mum was worried I’d get hurt but, ironically, I got more popular and my brother became very supportive.
‘I didn’t wear dresses but I’d wear very tight clothes, hung out with the hot girls, went to loads of parties and did the usual teenage thing. People were attracted to me and I experimented. But, if I’m honest, I’m not very sexual. I’ve never been in love and I don’t know who I’d fall in love with. It has to be about the person, not the sexuality.’
He says he was never attacked for his looks on the street. ‘It just didn’t happen. I’d always pass for a girl so there were never any tough moments. The only difficult times were when I had to conform to being a boy. Like when I got a job in McDonald’s. My hair was tied back, no make-up. I felt more uncomfortable.’
It was, however, the point he was offered a job as a model. In Australia he modeled menswear with moderate success. He moved to the UK a year ago, living in a hostel while he tried to find work. Four agencies turned him down, then he walked into Storm, where Sarah Doukas (the owner and the woman who ‘spotted’ Kate Moss and Lily Cole) took him on with the intention of putting his photograph on the male and female model boards. In Paris, he was spotted by Gaultier, who put him in a wedding dress, it feels very natural to me.’
Given his background, it’s obvious a bit of backstage bitchiness isn’t likely to break him. But he was devastated to be described as ‘a thing’ by a men’s magazine whose readers, ironically, voted him the 98th sexiest woman in the world. ‘It was hurtful to me but especially to my mother.’
His looks have attracted private fans. He gives a wry smile. ‘I get marriage proposals from Brazil and from sheiks. My agency vets them and I don’t get to see them. It’s a bit of a shame really, I could get a few diamonds.’
Andrej has a natural femininity. His movements are graceful, his manner is soft and his ambition is to adopt a baby. ‘I love the idea of looking after children, giving them a good life.’ As for the couple who hit the news recently when they announced they weren’t going to tell their baby what sex he or she was, he says: ‘It’s a nice idea, but it’s an ideal. It’s not something that works with the real world. You have to live in the real world and then challenge preconceptions.’
He is steadily saving his money. ‘I’m taking my mum on a cruise to Florida. I owe her so much. I know she worries about me but it’s because of her I have real strength. It’s because of her I’m not afraid to be who I am.’
What is ultimately shocking about Andrej is not his looks or his body but his wisdom at the age of 20.