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With Barneys’ groundbreaking spring 2014 campaign, transgender models are in a rare position: the spotlight. As an industry, fashion has always been among the first and most active supporters of the LGBT community, but the “T” has often been left behind. Over the years, trans women have made leaps and bounds in the modeling industry, booking high fashion editorials, campaigns, and runway shows while striking a blow for trans equality. Here, a list of the most beautiful and striking trans supermodels in history.
Arisce Wanzer grew up in Virginia in a very supportive family, and by her own admission, she lives a very normal life —except when she’s committing felonies in front of a camera. Because girl is killing it. With stunning shoots for Purple, Candy and Dirty Mag, as well as a featured role in a commercial for Opening Ceremony under her tiny belt, Arisce is emerging as the new face of transgender modeling. And apparently that face gets a lot of action —Arisce also has a very busy dating life which she chronicles in her monthly dating column. Photo: Nina Poon
After winning Thailand’s 2010 Miss International Queen pageant for transgender and transsexual women, Talackova set her sights on the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant. She was chosen as one of the top 65 finalists, but when someone recognize Jenna from the Miss International Queen pageant, she was disqualified. Talackova would have none of that, however, and lawyered up with famed civil rights attorney, Gloria Allred, leading the Miss Universe pageant and combover enthusiast Donald Trump to allow Talackova to compete. She reached the top 12. Photo: John Van der Schilden
The gorgeous Ines Rau had tongues wagging last year when her steamy shoot with Tyson Beckford went viral. The 24-year-old French model, now based in New York, was inspired to come out as a trans woman after reading pioneering trans model Caroline “Tula” Cossey’s memoir (see N°3). Following in Tula’s steps, Ines recently posed for Playboy’s “Art Issue,” and she shines in Barneys’ lauded campaign, Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters, shot by Bruce Weber. She was most recently tapped by jewelry designer Alexis Bittar to be the face of his new campaign (pictured, left).
Photo: Willy Vanderperre
You may remember Isis as the first openly transgender contestant on America’s Next Top Model; let’s not forget how she got there. As a resident of New York’s Ali Forney Center for at-risk LGBT youth, King was recruited to appear in the background of a photo shoot, and she stole the light from the actual contestants. During her run on ANTM, Isis faced transphobia from her fellow model wannabes, but proved that there is a life after ANTM (for some): She went on to become American Apparel’s first trans spokesmodel, and made the OUT100 list as one most influential people of 2012. Photo: Cory Malcolm
After appearing on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Carrera came out as a trans woman, parlaying her successful burlesque career into high-profile shoots for W magazine with legendary photographer Steven Meisel. Her fame on the rise, late last year her fans petitioned Victoria’s Secret to hire Carrera as their first trans Angel. Though the lingerie brand never responded to the call, Carmen remains undaunted and plans to audition for their 2014 runway show. Carmen is also an advocate for trans rights and equality, and recently schooled Katie Couric on her own show with trans actress Laverne Cox. Photo: Steven Meisel
Nightlife icon Amanda Lepore’s modeling career is best summed up in two words: David LaChapelle. As LaChapelle’s primary muse over the years, the pair have created a number of startling larger-than-life images in the subversive pop art tradition of Andy Warhol, with Amanda as LaChapelle’s Candy Darling. Miss Lepore is also known to collaborate frequently with Terry Richardson, who shot Amanda along with veteran supermodel Carmen dell’Orefice for Sergio K’s fall 2012 campaign. Photo: David LaChapelle
Muse to the Velvet Underground and Warhol superstar, Candy Darling’s name lives on through her work in the iconic artist’s films Flesh and Women in Revolt, and because she gave her name to the world’s first trans style magazine, Candy. More actress than model, the Lady Darling deserves a mention for also inspiring Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, and Tennessee Williams. Her legacy in making transgender a part of pop culture makes her a style and fashion icon in her own right.
Modeling under the name Tula, British beauty Caroline Cossey was on her way to stardom with gigs for Australian Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the '70s, when journalists discovered she was transgender. As a result, she took a lower profile, including a job as an extra in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, which led the tabloid News of the World to publish a front page story on her, subtly entitled “James Bond Girl Was a Boy.” Though she contemplated suicide, Cossey continued her modeling career and wrote two autobiographies, the first of which, "I Am a Woman," featured one of the greatest glamour shots of the '80s. After losing her battle with the European Rights Commission to be legally recognized as a female, Tula appeared in a 1991 issue of Playboy and got married the following year, eventually settling down in Georgia. As the first openly-trans fashion model, Tula opened the door for many of the gorgeous women on this list.
Octavia had many hopes in the memorable 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. Among them was the desire to follow in the catwalking steps of her supermodel idol, Paulina Porizkova. While she never attained household name status or appeared on the cover of a magazine, Octavia —later known as Heavenly Angel Octavia Saint Laurent Manolo Blahnik (because why the hell not?)— remains a symbol of fabulous tenacity and a lesson in how to snatch tens across the board like it’s your goddamn job.
Brazilian bombshell Lea T. earns the top spot as a groundbreaking supermodel who rose to prominence in 2010 when she became muse to Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci. She appeared in his haute couture shows and ad campaigns, and has since been featured in various high fashion editorials for W, Interview, V, and Candy. She also landed covers for LOVE (famously locking lips with Kate Moss) and Elle Brasil. Lea’s mainstream success led Oprah to anoint her the world’s first trans supermodel, and as we all know, whatever Oprah says, goes.