Andrej Pejic is a 19-year-old model with a slender figure, flowing blonde hair and a face that boasts full, pillow lips and high cheekbones. Pejic has Cindy Crawford’s bone structure and Kate Moss’ body. You are probably thinking Pejic must be a pretty young female.
Pejic is actually an Australian male with Serbian roots. He is taking the fashion industry by storm, creating great excitement among fashion designers and editors and appearing on the runways of London, Paris and Tokyo in shows for Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Paul Smith to Raf Simons.
He debuted in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Spring/Summer 2011 in Paris, and since then has appeared in three consecutive spreads in French Vogue, Italian Vogue, and Turkish Vogue. He became the face of Martyn Ball Fall/Winter 2010, alongside Sid Ellisdon. He is the latest face of Marc Jacobs’ spring 2011 campaign and will appear in Gaultier’s spring ads alongside supermodel Karolina Kurkova.
Just a few years ago, his chances of making it in modeling would have been almost non-existent. His ”look” is the effeminate opposite of the lean, handsome, muscle-ripped male models more typically cast for ad campaigns and fashion runways since the late 1980s.
Pejic and his family fled Bosnia for Serbia when he was 2 months old. He remembers the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia as a child. At age 8, his family left for Australia, where they settled in Broadmeadows, a rough neighborhood in the suburbs of Melbourne.
His transition to Australia was a difficult one, as he was forced to learn English and integrate with students who weren’t like him. But Pejic insists that for all his physical differences, he was never bullied by his peers—and instead felt only the he was the subject of “curiosity and attention.” “A lot of macho guys did think of me as a girl,” he says of his high school years. However, because of his androgynous looks, he got ‘a lot of free drinks’, he said.
In many ways, his career has been just that: capitalizing on curiosity. In 2009, Pejic found his way to Chadwick Models in Melbourne, where he was interviewed and instantly signed. “I knew at the time we had someone potentially very big on our hands,” says Matthew Anderson, manager of Chadwick’s Melbourne office.
Anderson sets the story of Pejic against the backdrop of the global economic crisis—a teen who happened to be in the right place at the right time. He said that Pejic came to the agency in the middle of the meltdown, a time when fashion advertisers wanted “strong men” to convey a message of financial security.
“In times of economic prosperity, clients can afford to use people that are using people that a little more interesting,” Anderson said. “We had this really interesting boy on our hands. So we thought let him finish high school first.”
They waited for the economy to recover, and for Pejic to graduate, before sending him to Paris in the middle of 2010. Not long after, Pejic was booked to walk in Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fall show, where he wore a pair of revealing navy blue hot pants. He was spotted by French’s Vogue’s then-editor, Carine Roitfeld, who promptly booked him for a spread in her magazine.
Since then, Pejic has appeared in a slew of editorials, from Italian Vogue to the transgender magazine Candy. His slate is filling up quickly for the upcoming season, but according to Arnaud V., his booker at the New Madison agency in Paris, “some designers are a little scared to go for this image of very androgynous. Some people aren’t ready for him yet.”
Pejic, best known for his long hair and androgynous look, is part of a rising trend in gender-neutral ‘femiman’ models modeling both male and female clothes. The most famous is Lea T, Riccardo Tisci’s transsexual hermaphrodite assistant at Givenchy, whom he cast as the face of his Fall/Winter campaign.
Fashion has embraced the gender-bending model—but Pejic is the leader of a new gender fluidity in fashion, in which traditional male and female attitudes are starting to matter less. It’s a message that is being slowly adapted industry-wide—and is resonating with consumers.
The fashion industry is warming to gender neutrality, and transsexual models and spreads are finding their way into the mainstream. The New York Times said that “2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual.” For Pejic’s part, this translates to steady work. For one thing, he can be cast in editorials and ads as either a woman or a man.
“We were trying to show the nudity of the sexes, that a man could look like a woman and a woman could look like a man,” says Turkish Vogue’s editor in chief, Seda Dominic, who chose him for a spread. “The line between the sexes is 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.”
It is also obvious that Pejic is comfortable with his androgyny.
“I may as well push it to the limits,” he said back in June 2010. “I wouldn’t dress this way if I didn’t have fun with it.”
But Pejic won’t discuss his sexuality, declining to answer what sexual orientation he identified with. When asked if he has a boyfriend or a girlfriend, he responded: ‘I have Paris and I have dessert wine.’
Pejic makes an effort to return to regularly visit his parents in Australia, where his mother is a teacher and his father works in tourism.
“I would love to bring my mum to see me in shows and travel Europe with me because she has done so, so much for me,” he says. Pejic says he’d like to study law, medicine, or economics at university one day, and also wants to “do a movie and then retire.”
Pejic is creating huge waves in the fashion industry, but it’s evident that something about him is endearing him with the general public, as well. He’s developed a large online following, with many fan sites dedicated to him.