34, model, Harlem
Who she is: For the past four years, Elliott Sailors has been shaking up the fashion industry, gaining international buzz as one of the first female models in big-name men’s fashion shows. And you probably recognize her androgynous, gender-fluid looks, even if you’re not plugged into the scene, from photographs by the likes of Ellen Von Unwerth and ad campaigns including H&M’s in Times Square last year. This summer, the LGBT activist nabbed a spot as part of the body-diversity initiative All Woman Project, and this month, she joins the New York Fashion Week Queer Runway Show at Brooklyn Museum.
Her story: “I started modeling when I was nine. When I was 19, I moved to New York [from Arizona] to do it full-time. Initially I started modeling because I was excited to travel, meet people and be in big cities—and getting paid to do that sounded amazing. Then when I was 30, I decided that if I was going to do this as my career, I wanted to do something that was true to who I am. I chose to start working in menswear as an opportunity to speak about gender fluidity. I think it’s important people understand that in choosing what we wear, in choosing our fashion, we get to declare to the world how it is that we see ourselves. We choose our identity.”
Her crowning moment: “When I was chosen to open Vivienne Westwood’s men’s show in Milan, I went up to her to thank her. When I started talking, she interrupted me and said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl!’ I thought it was really cool because I was not picked because I was a female in menswear and it would be a press moment. She didn’t even know I was a girl. I was chosen by how I look.”
Photograph: David Williams