At a time when trans rights are more under threat than ever, the spring 2019 issue of Dazed takes a stand for the global creativity of the LGBTQIA+ communities and infinite forms of identity. You can pre-order a copy of our latest issue here, and see the whole Infinite Identities campaign here.
At the Louis Vuitton spring show at the Louvre in October, the runway was encased in an angular glass tunnel, a space station grounded in the centuries-old Cour Carrée. Out stepped the future: 23-year-old Krow, in a grey sharp-shouldered suit. The lines of his blazer’s 1980s lapels echoed in his pointed, ultra-shine leather boots, even in the edge of his haircut. His clear gaze and composed saunter were memorable, the moment multiplicitous. It was at once Krow’s debut as a male model, the latest step towards inclusive casting for one of the oldest European fashion houses, and a short walk in Paris on an autumn night.
Krow began modelling when he was 13, a departure from his life in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. (“It’s like the worst place in Vancouver you can live,” he jokes.) He escaped his middle-school bullies who called him emo and worse, travelling with his mother to Japan and China to work. It was a thrill to face those same bullies in high school and say, “Fuck you guys, I’m getting money because I’m beautiful,” but it was more thrilling when he found friends in the cosplay community, where he met other queer and transgender people for the first time. “If I didn’t have those people sharing with me, I would have been just going by what I’d seen on the internet and hoping it was correct. It was really good to have the real people be there for me and show me how it’s done.”
One month after the Vuitton show, Krow is in NoHo, Manhattan. He smiles readily throughout our discussion, showing defined, tiny muscles at his jawline. Today, he is wearing a rose-printed shirt with buttons undone, and small rose-quartz plugs in his ears; it’s a pared-down version of ‘visual kei’, a Japanese aesthetic movement pioneered by musicians in the 80s that he says informs his style (think androgynous glam rock, a bit like David Bowie as the Goblin King in Labyrinth). “I love that whole style with funky patterns and the gothic thing with bright colours and just the fun of it all,” he says. “When I have the money and can afford the outfits – soon, hopefully – I’ll take it all on!”
Krow still goes to conventions, and one of his favourite characters to cosplay is Prompto from Final Fantasy XV, a young man who is unyieldingly cheerful for fear that his friends will discover a secret: he is a military clone who resisted the life he was designed for. “Even if the character isn’t the same gender as you, you can still form that connection,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about the real-life circumstances of the character going through daily life with a daily job. You can just relate to them being free within their own universe.”
As a female model, the real-life circumstances presented by the camera were sometimes hard to navigate. “I was very particular as a female model,” he says. “I was uncomfortable with my chest, obviously, but whenever (people) would be like, ‘Can we have you with your shirt off or have you braless so your nipples are poking through the shirt?’ I’d be like, ‘Absolutely not.’ My own anxiety about my body overpowered my care for what other people thought.” He quit modelling when he was 18 by sending his mother a photo of his hacked-off ponytail on the floor. He began taking steps to medically transition, and decided to share his experiences in a documentary film, directed by Gina Hole Lazarowich, which will make its festival debut this year.
Krow was signed with Lizbell Agency in Vancouver (he still lives in Surrey, with his mum, Lisa) the same day they brought him in to take photos to answer Louis Vuitton’s casting call. (“It wasn’t trans men specifically, it was anyone that was within a little gender scope kind of thing,” he says.) Krow was summoned for a go-see in Paris, but when he arrived, he thought casting director Ashley Brokaw’s team had made a mistake. “It was me and some of the other models, and some of them were very female-looking. I was like, ‘Oh God, are they looking for trans women? Did they get confused?’” He went through an anxious internal negotiation, but “did the walking stuff” with nonchalance, believing it was all a mix-up. “I was completely astounded when I actually got the call.”
“I don’t have anyone I don’t know (personally) that I can relate to. Growing up, not being able to see idols that are trans men out in the typical media, it was a little difficult” – Krow
Krow’s assumption that his presence could be a mistake (even after receiving his airfare to Paris), and that who he is might have confused the brand, points to the kind of relentless self- questioning trans people experience in any new encounter. He left the room without knowing for sure if he was meant to be there, when he was not only welcome, but sought out.
Krow now aspires to be in exactly those spaces where he wouldn’t expect to belong. “I think doing a big campaign or a runway for a men’s fashion line like Abercrombie & Fitch or Armani would be cool – having this kind of lean, genderqueer body but still being able to represent as a strong man,” he says.
At the moment, Krow can’t work easily outside of Canada, especially in the United States, where he’s not allowed to get paid. “They can’t accept all the proof of my work, so I have to build a book again to be able to get my work visa. They don’t consider (me) the same person.”
Krow is used to answering questions about himself. He gives a small nod before responding, like a newscaster who’s gotten his cue. We’re rolling: nod, he was excited to book the Louis Vuitton show. Nod, he never expected it would be his first job signed as a male model. Nod, his dream is to become a singer and tour the world. Nod, he loves K-pop for the music videos, and because the boys are so attractive. He shakes his head only once.
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the reason, but from what I’ve seen it just seems that trans men are not really that represented,” he says. “I don’t have anyone I don’t know (personally) that I can relate to. Growing up, not being able to see idols that are trans men out in the typical media, it was a little difficult.”
Trans men are less visible in mainstream culture than trans women – already a low bar to clear. Casting new faces who reflect the world we all share can salve the expectation of exclusion. But it’s important not to rest after celebrating incremental shifts in the range of bodies the fashion industry shows us are valuable. Audiences may feel a sense of safety in broader representation, even as the state continues to employ violence against the people represented. It’s a new generation’s task to not be lulled into complacency by corporate choices that symbolise levelling up, says Krow, “because there’s still prejudice against trans people and people are still worried about being judged or attacked. It’s important just to have an open discussion. I think that’s the first step.”
In 1998, when Krow was just three, transgender writer and philosopher Paul Preciado found himself while participating in drag king workshops. The political act of transforming perception was not to build a character, but to break an assumed reality that our body as it comes is the reflection of who we embody. Preciado wrote of translating a feeling into an external expression: “No mystery to that; it’s just me, but it’s also a man. I’m not inventing it; he’s not a stage character; he is emerging out of what I am, the way I’ve always seen myself. The difference between now and before is that from now on it’s visible to others.”
Hair Mari Ohashi at LGA Management using Tigi, make-up Gemma Smith-Edhouse at LGA Management using M.A.C, model Krow at Heroes, photography assistants Adam Richardson, Tommy Francis, Dan Douglass, styling assistants Ioana Ivan, Nicola Neri, production Ella Moore at Rosco Production, production assistants Celine Antal, Ruben Gonzalez, casting Noah Shelley at Streeters