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Lea T Givenchy autumn/winter 2010 campaign
Lea T (second from right) in the Givenchy AW10 campaignGivenchy

Find out the touching story behind Lea T's Givenchy ad

Riccardo Tisci reveals his moving reason for casting the trans model in this iconic AW10 campaign

With trans models like Hari Nef appearing at New York Fashion Week and Andreja Pejić scoring her first Hollywood role in Sofia Coppola's The Little Mermaid, it's worth remembering one of trans fashion's original pioneers: Lea T, the Brazilian model who went from being Riccardo Tisci's longtime friend and personal assistant to fronting his Givenchy AW10 campaign. 

The advertising campaign caused a huge splash, driving the issue of trans visibility into the public eye. In a new Details interview, Tisci has spoken about the story behind the campaign that launched Lea T's career. Warning: get some tissues ready, because it's a tearjerker. 

"When Lea told her family (she wanted to have gender reassignment surgery), their reaction was not so good," Tisci recounted. "So she called me one day at six in the morning, and she was destroyed. Destroyed. And she said, 'I want to prostitute myself. I want to go to the street because I don't have money to do (the operation), my family doesn't give me the money, and I don't care what I have to do for it. For once in my life, I understand what I want to be, and nobody is going to stop me.'"

"The fact that she told me that she wanted to be a prostitute, it killed me," Tisci continued. "I decided to do the campaign for two reasons. To help Lea financially, and because who says so that a transsexual cannot be a top model? Even when I called the photographers, they were like, 'A transsexual?' And I was like, 'Yeah, a transsexual. She's a beautiful girl, you guys are going to meet her, she's amazing.'"

Tisci says he didn't even consider the impact of casting a trans model in such a high-profile campaign – he just wanted to help his friend out. "We did it in a really honest way. You know, very naïve. Like two friends loving each other. And in the end, it turned out to be this big thing, which is amazing."

The rest is history, obviously. Lea T went on to appear in fashion magazines around the world, including the cover of LOVE with Kate Moss. In 2012, she underwent gender reassignment surgery, saying: "Doing a sex change, you're gonna change a part of your body... That's all... You're gonna still be the same person. When I wake afterwards, I was still me, liked the same things."

In 2014, Lea T became the first trans model to land a Redken contract. Tisci and Lea still appear to be close, and she walked in his AW14 show for Givenchy. Chalk this one up to the power of friendship.