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Farideh wears body La Perla; Tawan wears top BlumarinePhotography Mark Fitton

Photographing New York’s trans model muses

The runway stars of Eckhaus Latta, Hood by Air and more explain why trans is more than just a trend

2015 has been a pivotal year for trans representation in the fashion industry. Alongside the success of models such as Hari Nef and Andreja Pejić, a new wave of New York designers including Gogo Graham, Eckhaus Latta and Moses Gauntlett Cheng have been pioneering an inclusive and experimental aesthetic. Diverse casting choices are crucial to this – models of all genders, races and bodytypes are often selected from the designers’ own circles, putting the focus on creative communities rather than normative runway-ready ideals. Continuing to carry that torch, this shoot, lensed by Brooklyn-based photographer Mark Fitton, was what he called “not a typical fashion story”. Starring trans models Maria JoséFarideh Arbanian, Marcs Marcus and Tawan Kariem, the shoot shines a spotlight on a series of faces featured on some of the season’s most talked about runways.

The editorial began with Maria José, a trans artist and photographer that recently starred on the runway for Gogo Graham. When approached by her friend Fitton, she decided to extend the shoot and incorporate her own network of friends, creating the concept of a trans girl gang. But for José, it’s important that representation doesn’t end here – she also stresses the importance of getting trans people behind the camera. “I would like trans representation to be in our hands, since it has been in other people's hands for so long... trans people should have the opportunity to put themselves out there as simply people, instead of being grouped together whenever trans aesthetics are in demand.”

This sentiment is echoed by one of the shoot’s stylists, Kuschan Hojjatian, who emphasises that this shoot “is not about capitalising on the ‘trans’ trend...but rather giving some really talented models airtime, each of which has their own individual perspective on not just being trans.” This sense of empowerment was present on set; according to model Farideh Arbanian “bonding with the girls was almost is helpful to have a sense of sisterhood among us to feel nurtured and supported.” She is, however, also wary of the risk that the fashion industry will write off trans representation as nothing more an aesthetic trend. This notion seems to be echoed by 22-year-old model Tawan who, when asked where fashion is at in terms of trans representation, responds with only one word – “fetishising.” 

“Trans people should have the opportunity to put themselves out there as simply people, instead of being grouped together whenever trans aesthetics are in demand” – Maria José

The concern seems to be that the industry is locked in a brief infatuation with a minority group based on its visual potential as opposed to its issues. As Farideh rightly points out “there is still so much left to fight against social stigma... I hope our 15 minutes of fame don’t fade quickly.” She is, however, optimistic, acknowledging that trans rights are slowly advancing and crediting the fashion industry with being “a pioneer towards the fight for LGBTQ equality.” “Huge improvements are bound to happen hopefully,” she says, “but society is still pretty much ignorant when it comes to addressing non-standard gender identities. People are afraid of the unknown.” 

This editorial succeeds in communicating that trans beauty comes in various forms – that the industry needs a diverse representation which includes trans people of colour and still-transitioning bodies. As model Marcs Marcus says, “The incorporation of trans models should beneficially showcase their beauty as individuals...independent of, and in harmony with their bodies. It’s more important and more popular than ever to be hyper-representational of small communities within a larger social group.” Marcus hits the nail on the head by referring to trans popularity, but with these models establishing their own distinctive identities and innovative designers giving them a platform, it seems the industry is brimming with enough individual talent to ensure that trans representation runs no risk of being written off as ‘just a trend’.

Fashion Kuschan Hojjatian, Paolina Leccese; hair Miki Kaneko, Lauren Berrones; models Farideh Arbanian, Tawan Kariem, Maria José, Marcs Marcus