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Reece King
Photography Lefteris Primos

How model Reece King uses make-up to navigate his masculinity

Dazed Beauty LGBTQ+ editor Munroe Bergdorf speaks to biracial, bisexual model Reece King about the politics of modern masculinity

As well as being a bronzed sex goddess, an important activist for transgender rights, and an all-around 21st-century trailblazer, Munroe Bergdorf has managed to squeeze in the time to become our LGBTQ+ Editor at Dazed Beauty, and we’re incredibly excited about it. Over the past few months, Munroe has been speaking to her favourite LGBTQ+ icons about some of the most pressing issues facing the community today, as well as asking: ‘When your identity is inherently marginalised, what does it take to feel beautiful?’ So far, she has spoken to Victoria Sin, Kim Petras, Laith Ashley and Love Bailey. Below, she has a conversation with model Reece King. 

Munroe Bergdorf and Reece King met last year at the Fashion Awards; King offered to help Bergdorf up the stairs when her feet were hurting from killer heels. Since then, the two have become friends, finding themselves having a number of conversations around notions of beauty, gender, and identity and how that translates with the fashion and media industries. 

Within those spaces, King is known as the face of several major brands – Calvin Klein, Viktor&Rolf, and Diesel to name but a few – as well as an Instagram heartthrob with half a million followers. That’s without mentioning his refreshingly honest attitude as a biracial boy from London who came out as bisexual, to the gay world’s delight, on a cover of Gay Times. In the year since then, he has increasingly experimented with his gender fluidity and self-expression, most recently turning to make-up as a medium through which to articulate his identity. 

“Reece King is more than an enigmatic Insta-It Boy. A self-proclaimed work-in-progress, he’s taking his followers on a journey about what it means to explore the fluidity of gender expression whilst working in the male modelling industry,” explains Bergdorf. “Reece is challenging the industry to think a little deeper when it comes to how we see masculinity in fashion in 2019 and beyond.”

Here, Munroe and Reece discuss modelling, masculinity and everything in-between. “I wanted to talk to Reece about how he sees his role within the modelling industry, what he would like to see change and what inspires him to be raising the bar on creative freedom and expression for male models,” she concludes.

Firstly, thank you for speaking to me, you’re definitely one of my favourite people to speak to on the rare occasion that I get to see you! For those who don’t know, if you could summarise for the Dazed Beauty reader, who is Reece King?

Reece King: I’m a 24-year-old model who grew up on social media in an age where it’s possible for people to become viral. I’m still trying to find my path to know who I am, though. I know my credentials, but I’m still figuring out who I am as an artist. I would class myself as a type of artist; a digital model/artist.

How are you different now to when you started modelling? 

Reece King: I’m more optimistic. I’ve had the opportunity to view the industry from the inside which has taught me of a certain lifestyle. It was confusing at first, but I’m so grateful I get to work in this industry. I used to work in retail which definitely suppressed my creativity. It does still feel like I’m in the initial stages of my career so I’m still learning.

One thing I’m really working on is how to find a balance between my professional life and my personal life. I still question how I would define and identify myself, despite most people thinking I know who I am, but I’m a lot more comfortable with my sexuality, and that’s a massive difference! 

As someone who has primarily worked within the male modelling industry, have you felt quite limited by the expectations that that brings?

Reece King: Absolutely. I felt like I was often given the role of simply ‘The Guy’ because, especially where I have tattoos, it was very easy to prescribe me a very masculine role which, ultimately, inhibited my creativity. It limited the characters that other people thought I could play. But I can be everything, and at this point in my career, I want to be tested. I’ve grown so much into myself that I know I’m capable of more than just a masculine image, and now I want to show it.

What is masculinity to you?

Reece King: First of all, it’s not the pretty archaic idea of heteronormative hyper-masculinity. Of course, if you do identify as a heterosexual male, then that’s totally fine, but that is simply not how I identify. I’ve actually used a lot of my feminine aspects to really understand how to feel comfortable with my queer identity. I’ve totally disassociated from all those preconceived ideas of masculinity and femininity. As I said, I don’t know exactly who I am, and I suppose that’s a result of being so fluid, but I’m totally OK with that because I no longer feel restricted by other people’s projections or my own limiting beliefs. So, I suppose… non-binary?

I think as a society we’re heading more towards non-binary in the sense of fluidity within the gender spectrum, and I think that could be an interpretation. But I wouldn’t want to identify you on your behalf because that’s so personal to you.

Reece King: If I’m working on a job that is very masculine, then I will tap into that side of me because the work I’m helping to produce is not my creative vision. It’s not about me, at all. But, if I can produce something, I like it to be confusing. I want to make people think, especially about their preconceived notions of gender as a strict binary. I don’t think of gender as a box you tick, and I certainly don’t think of myself in a box anymore.

That’s growth. How would you like to see the fashion industry change with regards to how we think about gender identity from the perception of someone who’s mainly worked within the male modelling industry?

Reece King: The first thing needs to be the passion and yearning to create. You can still be you and play different roles, an idea I feel like the fashion industry is scared of. I don’t want a standard or an expectation of gender placed upon me. I hope to keep producing work where, eventually, the industry won’t ask about my gender. It would be a lot easier if we could look at people as people. I’m tired of seeing people as a CV, or a list of previous credentials because that limits the variety of projects they can work on.

The position the fashion and modelling industry is in right now is focused a lot about authenticity, as we were talking about earlier. How much of that do you think is legitimate? Does the fashion industry actually embraces authenticity or is it just a talking point?

Reece King: I’ve personally experienced it where a brand is seemingly doing all the right things, it looks like they’re into this new world of fluidity, but you soon realise it’s just their marketing. They’re keeping up appearances to make it look like they’re inclusive like everyone should be, but they’re not. I do remember one job I did though, where the whole cast was queer and that was really inspiring; it acted as a confirmation that everyone’s hard work to try and open up this dialogue was working. But, truthfully, I don’t know. Companies rarely let you see through the marketing.

How of much of gender do you think is drag? Is it just essentially putting on an outfit, a costume?

Reece King: It’s funny because yesterday I was watching an interview in which RuPaul said: ‘We’re all born naked and the rest is drag’, and I had this moment of realisation of how true that is. Every day behind closed doors we all get ready to go out and present this image of ourselves. Some people will only repeat this one image but I see every day as an opportunity for me to be a different character. It’s funny because I don’t think I could have had this mentality at the beginning of my career four years ago.

How would you describe your aesthetic in terms of beauty? 

Reece King: There’s definitely a spectrum of Reece! My identity is very fluid. There was a time where even though I was experimenting with my style, I knew that I was holding back creatively because of the (lack of) conversation around sexuality or gender. Where before I would push them aside, now I embrace them fully. I like to ask myself on the day: ‘What aesthetic do I want to show?’ or ‘What characters do I want to play?’. I hesitate to use the word ‘drag’, but I treat my work like art, like a painting, where I am the painter.

What are you experimenting with in terms of how you present yourself and do you have any tips for anybody? What are your favourite brands?

Reece King: So I’m still pretty newly into make-up. I like playing with eyeshadow, and I’m learning about how to blend and putting all aspects of make-up things together to really make it work. It’s like being an artist, it really is. I used to wait on people to give me certain looks or do certain looks on me but then I realised I can be doing this myself. 

What are some products that make you feel more comfortable within your own skin? Doesn’t need to be any gendered products, just any products that make you feel good.

Reece King: I believe in topical products acting as a supplement, and that the things that are going to make me look my best is through the things I’m eating. That being said though, I do enjoy the ritualistic nature of maintaining a good skincare routine. Right now I’m using this brand called Medik8. Oh, and I do love a clear mascara!

You’ve got great brows...

Reece King: I’ve not got any on today! This is all me! When I’m not working, I don’t wear make-up. I think, if I have acne, I have acne - so what? When I’m working, I try not to regularly wear foundation or anything too heavy. Maybe a bit of concealer but nothing too crazy. 

What are you using to train yourself with make-up?

Reece King: I watch tutorials on YouTube or Instagram and then try to recreate it myself.

Who are some of your favourites?

Reece King: Jazelle, for sure. I think she embodies everything we’ve spoken about so far about having a look in mind, going for it, and just having fun with it. She’s applied that into her work beautifully. Salem Mitchell inspires me a lot, too. Oh, and Slick Woods who is a model absolutely killing the fashion industry as a black, bald-headed mother. She’s just showing the world that you can be you in whatever form that may take and still succeed. Princess Nokia. And you. Can I say you? You for sure inspire me. I just want to mention Keiynan Lonsdale too; he went to the Met Gala, is going to award shows in dresses, and doing things for Vogue with Ezra Miller which is pretty incredible. He’s a great actor and a great musician but still visually portrays exactly how he’s feeling on the inside. I admire that. 

What are you up to at the moment and what’s next?

Reece King: A couple of really exciting things with Calvin Klein and an interview with Document Journal which should be coming out soon. Funnily enough, it’s actually about hyper-masculinity and the negative connotations behind that. My Esprit campaign came out recently, and then I’m just trying to create my own content for social media. If you’re doing Instagram as a business, be aware that you can act a certain way and it can be received well, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. Don’t let the industry have control of your narrative. I know portraying my most masculine self is what will get the most likes, but I don’t do it because that’s not my most authentic self. I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I do know that.