Jazzelle Zanaughtti does what they want now. And what they wanted earlier this month was to learn how to vogue.
“The first time I saw voguing wasn’t in person,” Zanaughtti told Out this month in Oslo, Norway where they would learn a quick and dirty 101 to the dance genre as a part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion’s How To program. “Like a lot of people, it was seeing Paris is Burning when I was 15 — I saw Paris is Burning and Party Monster within the same few days and was so amazed.” But, when they moved to New York to pursue a modeling career — a trajectory that has seen them work with the likes of Rihanna’s brand Fenty, Nike, ASOS, and Gareth Pugh — Zanaughtti got to see it firsthand.
“I was working every day, going out to parties, and would always end up at a ball randomly because I was living in Harlem at the time,” they said. And it felt like home as Zanaughtti practically grew up in the gay clubs of Chicago — where they moved at 17 after being raised in Detroit. Here, the nonbinary creative found community with local queers that they hadn't found in their hometown. “I was struggling with this idea that I’m supposed to be this straight lady who dresses like this and gets married and has kids.” (Before their interview with Out, Zanaughtti’s team clarified that they are nonbinary and are most comfortable with they/them pronouns.)
“I’ve always found my comfort in queer culture in general because that’s where I’ve always had my chosen family,” Zanaughtti said. “I still talk to my parents — that’s all fine — but I feel like my real family is the LGBTQ+ community. They took me in and accepted me from the second I got to Chicago and they told me that I could be whoever I want and that I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.” Those lessons have emboldened them to sit in the driving seat in the fashion industry, a spot that’s rarely given to models.
Zanaughtti’s break in modeling came after they shaved off their eyebrows and their hair — their own “Britney 2007 moment.” A shoot by Nick Knight turned them into a poster child of the new “gender bending” movement led by unisex designer brands. And the jobs — and followers as their UglyWorldwide Instagram account now sits at over 500,000 — started pouring in. But it wasn’t exactly the direction Zanaughtti had in mind.
“No one really saw my vision!” they said. “For a long time, everyone wanted to shoot ‘natural’ me and I wanted the fantasy. I thought shaving it all off would be an easy way for me to not have to braid down my hair to put on a wig — I could just tape the wig down and draw on a brow. This was not supposed to be a by itself.” That was evident over on their Instagram where they had taken to stringing together a portfolio featuring their own color punching, fantasy inspired make-up skills, relying on old talents that had served them as a club kid in Chicago, integrating drag techniques, and constructing their own looks. But before long, that creativity began to bleed over into the fashion world, too.
“I kind of got fed up,” Zanaughtti said of the change, which saw them beginning to speak up at photoshoots suggesting to and sometimes collaborating with the makeup artists on set. This sort of expertise will serve them well in an in-development makeup brand.
“Now, I’ve gotten to the point where if you see my work, no matter what brand, what magazine, you know I had something to do with it. You can tell because I always speak up. The way I look at it is, if someone is booking me as a model, they get my style and my talent and my personality. I’m not leaving any of this at home, it’s coming with me.”
And so, in May, as a part of a program curated by Lena Waithe, Zanaughtti and a bit of a chosen family in designer Christian Cowan and social media creative Donté Colley, headed to Norway to learn how to vogue. Instructed by Jay Jay Revlon, the UK father of the house of Revlon, the group went through all of the five elements, cycling through choreography before teaching a masterclass to the public.
“One step closer 2 getting mi 10s,” they wrote on Instagram after the classes. But they are already a legend in their own right.