Andrej Pejic the Giant - the boy in girls’ clothing
FORGET Jersey Shore, Andrej Pejic has his own version of “the situation” going on.
That’s how Melbourne’s other boy from Broadmeadows refers to his androgyny, as in “I don’t see why I have any less right to a job because of my situation” or “I think people from all sorts of sexual orientations find my whole situation interesting”.
Pejic is six-foot-one of gender-bending feline features, alabaster skin and lithe limbs; a look that’s made him the hottest runway export from Oz since Gemma Ward or Miranda Kerr, yet in demand on the catwalk in both men’s and women’s clothing.
Like Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from Jersey Shore, Pejic’s “situation” is his money-maker. Since making New York his base 18 months ago, he’s become a red-hot favourite of haute-couture royalty Marc Jacobs, John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier, donning everything from men’s suits to bridal gowns and push-up bras.
Last year, he met the Queen dressed in heels and a vintage Versace pencil skirt while an issue of Dossier magazine featuring him topless on the cover was banned by leading US bookshops Borders and Barnes & Noble without an opaque sleeve in case readers confused him for a woman.
Gaultier said of the 21-year-old in March when he fronted the designer’s Kokorico men’s fragrance ad campaign:
“He is quite beautiful and incredible. Everybody can recognise his beauty … he’s like a modern woman-boy of today. He’s not like the old type of, let’s say, maybe like a drag queen or a transvestite, not at all. He’s Andrej.”
Pejic says being the target of such praise is beyond his wildest dreams.
“It’s amazing that someone so legendary picks you out as a muse or whatever,” he says down the phone from New York. “It’s a huge honour and kind of like a validation that I can be successful and this can work.
“I never had a plan and thinking about things like modelling or fame wouldn’t have been sensible. Growing up with a single mother, early on I was told education was the only way to transcend your socio-economic status, so I never even considered (modelling). It’s kind of crazy it’s happened to me.”
So with controversy and plaudits aplenty, where to next for the model dubbed the “femi-man”?
PEJIC has taken some time off from the top-end European catwalk circuit, but hasn’t been idle.
As well as appearances at fashion weeks in Turkey and Singapore, he’s been filming his own reality show for NBC. He’s shot the pilot and says the show’s in “very early development”.
This week, Hurricane Sandy pending, he’s due back home for the races, being flown in from NY by vitamin giant Swisse to be a guest in its Birdcage marquee on Thursday’s Oaks Day, traditionally known as Ladies Day.
Pejic’s tipped to hit the track in an outfit that’ll “pay tribute” to the much-maligned outfit Princess Beatrice wore to last year’s royal wedding.
A self-confessed mummy’s boy, he loves coming back to Melbourne. “I miss how nice people are and laidback and friendly,” he says.
“I love the nature and the cultural scene. I don’t (follow) a football team though … I’m not really into sports.”
Bosnian-born Pejic began experimenting with his look, dyeing his hair pink and wearing make-up, at 14. “At high school, I got a lot of praise for (my appearance), and people said I should do modelling,” he says.
Three years later he’d be discovered, not while flipping burgers at McDonald’s, not while cleaning toilets in a strip club and not while working in a corn field - all “urban myths” peddled by Pejic to amuse himself, laughs his manager Matthew Anderson, director of Chadwick Models in Melbourne.
Truth is, it happened the old-fashioned way - teenager sends in pictures to agency, they like what they see and sign him up.
“I was shown the pics and said, ‘She’s beautiful’, and then I was like, ‘Oh, it’s a boy’,” Anderson recalls.
“We called Andrej in and as soon as he walked in I knew I was looking at somebody special, an extraordinarily beautiful human being, and very symmetrical.
“But I also didn’t have a clue what I was doing to do with him. My initial thought was send him to Europe.”
But with the economy in the grip of the GFC at the time, models were being sent home and agencies told the market was dead. Pejic bided his time, finished school and did some work locally before heading overseas and finding fame with fashion’s uber-names.
“Andrej presented to stylists and magazine editors something different and something that was fashion in its purest art form,” Anderson explains.
“In the beginning, people became agitated at Andrej wearing women’s fashion and were angry, saying ‘Why is a boy doing this?’ But the detractors were totally missing the point.
“What Andrej represented wasn’t actually boys shouldn’t be wearing women clothes or women need to have a boy’s body, it was just art … We’re not talking about high-street retailers selling clothes to middle Australia or middle America, we’re talking about Jean Paul Gaultier.
“What Andrej bought was something shocking and artistic and pushed boundaries. We hadn’t had that for a long time. People go, ‘What’s the world coming to?’ but you look back to Boy George in the ’80s and David Bowie in the ’70s, and it’s all cyclic.”
At last year’s New York Fashion Week, Pejic strutted in five shows for men and four for women but says he feels more aligned with modelling female fashion these days. “There’s more money, a bigger industry, and my look is more suited,” he says.
He has no qualms sharing change rooms with females - “I get asked about that a lot, but it’s a strange thing to ask a model because we get changed in front of lots and lots of people and all together,” he says - though he’s certain his female colleagues have bitched about having a boy on their turf.
“It’s competitive. I feel that some of them (females) may have thought I didn’t have a right to some of these jobs. In a way you feel like an immigrant coming into a country and people are like, ‘They’re taking our jobs’, but I think what’s important is that the clothes look good on me and I have a face for it, so I don’t see why I have any less right to any job.”
However, he’s conscious of fashion’s fickle nature and his look having an expiry date.
“The whole point is to go beyond, become something more than just a look, to build a name for yourself and extend your career and that’s what I’m trying to do now - build a brand, get a name.
“I was very specific (in looks) in the beginning, and they used to say the market was very limited. But it’s gotten a lot better (earning wise) and getting very good now, but I still don’t make the money that celebrities do.”
He goes on to say that life as a model isn’t as glamorous as people may think.
“It involves working a lot and travel. Many perceive travel as glam, but you’re just there for five days and you see the hotel room and the studio. There are amazing things to say about it still. I’ve been to every city I’ve wanted to go to, and there’s the parties. But there’s a tough side that involves a lot of work and a lot of stress.”
On a practical level, Pejic’s shoe size equates to a woman’s 11, which is big for a female, so he regularly has to force his feet into ill-fitting heels to walk in shows.
And then there’s the issue of maintaining one’s model measurements. Pejic is 34-26-35 - that is, a 34-inch chest, 26-inch waist and 35-inch hips.
He stays in shape with regular gym sessions. He does mainly cardio, careful not bulk up with weights. “Eating-wise, I try to not deny myself any type of food, but I keep the quantity pretty low. I have rules about no sweets or fried things. Two no-nos.”
Pejic also likes to party. A typical night out on the tiles in New York involves dinner before visiting a few bars and ending up in Manhattan’s hip Meatpacking District.
Plus, he’s newly single - “I’m always looking for love,” he says - but declines to discuss his ex. In fact, Pejic is pretty cagey about his love life, and much has been made of his sexuality. His response? “For me, love has no boundaries. I think that’s how it should be for everybody.”
In January, he Tweeted: “Oh if I had a penny for every straight couple that’s asked me to join them in a threesome … I would make a donation to the Catholic Church.” He cracks up when I remind him of this. “Oh, that’s just my humour,” he insists. So were you joking or not?
“No. I do (get approached). A lot. I think people find me very interesting in kind of a sexual way. I have to say I’m not a very sexual person myself. I’m romantic and all that, but I think people from all sorts of sexual orientations find my whole situation interesting.”
He says he’d like to have a family one day, “although I’m more maternal than paternal. I definitely want kids. I like the idea of adopting. Definitely, but not soon.”
Pejic turned 21 this August, celebrating on the Greek party island of Mykonos before a get-together with family and high-school chums in Melbourne, and then another party in New York with industry types - stylists, designers, models.
He lives by himself in New York, currently renting an apartment on the Upper East Side, shunning the typical model share houses. He reads to relax, citing Dostoyevsky, D.H. Lawrence, Tolstoy and Dickens among his favourite authors.
“I’m trying to get through all the classics because I think literature used to be so much better than it is now. I’m intending to read Fifty Shades of Grey at some stage, though.”
JADRANKA Pejic always thought her youngest son, Andrej, would follow in her footsteps and become a lawyer, or a doctor. It was her older boy, Igor, a civil engineer who’s now training to be a paramedic, she thought might find fame.
“Igor was the one who did some modelling and showed interest in fashion but it’s happened the opposite,” says Jadranka, who’s now a teacher. “Andrej was always academic.”
Pejic was born in Tuzla, Bosnia, several months before the start of the Bosnian war, a conflict that put his Serbian mother and Croatian father on opposing sides.
Pejic explains: “During the war, it became difficult for them to stay in one place together being a mixed-race couple and then after the war, (my father) became quite nationalist and their marriage disintegrated. I never really grew up with him. I don’t have a really strong connection with him.”
His father, an economist, parted ways with the family when Pejic fled to a Serbian refugee camp with his mother, brother and grandmother. They later migrated to Australia when he was eight.
Consequently, he feels strongly about the issue of boat people seeking asylum in Australia - “I want to live in a world where we don’t have borders, where people are allowed to live wherever they want. I’m definitely opposed to (sending boats back),” he says - but remembers his own childhood affectionately.
“I know it was a struggle for my mum but I feel like I was shielded from a lot of the s—t that was going on. It was a carefree, loving childhood just with not a lot of material things, and no father.”
In his adopted homeland, Pejic learned to speak English and attended Broadmeadows West Primary School. Jadranka, who still lives in the blue-collar northern suburb, says while he excelled academically, in Year 4 or 5 he started to withdraw “and didn’t express himself properly when he realised he was a bit different”.
She credits his move to Parkville’s University High School with Pejic eventually coming out of his shell.
“The quiet kid started to put on make-up, have a different hairstyle, pink hair, wear the skinny jeans,” she says. “It was probably environment, alternative students, alternative compared with the place you live unfortunately. He found an environment where he could express himself and had friends who supported him. Family, in the beginning, we were shocked. Sometimes I complain, ‘Why pink hair?’, and he says, ‘This is the first time I’m doing what I really want’, and I said, ‘Well, why not? Go ahead.’ He even got support from his grandma.”
Jadranka misses her boy, but mother and son are close. They speak at least once a week and also stay in touch via social media.
Pejic might be a global citizen now but Jadranka says he’s still “first a very nice person, with a very nice nature”. And Anderson praises his charge for always being true to himself.
“People sort of say, ‘Is Andrej part of a trend?’ No, he is the trend,” Anderson says. “But he’s not a gimmick, he’s just being himself and understands who he is. Sure, he has a lot of fun being himself and is happy to push the limits and do outrageous things on occasion because I think that satisfies a desire in him to be expressive.”
It’s true that the ever-intriguing boy from Broady remains constant, next looking to mix up his look and trade in his blond locks, just as he did as a teenager.
“I think it’s important for anyone just not models to keep changing your look and keep it interesting, otherwise they’ll lose interest in you,” he says.