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Thaddeus Coates Is the Black Queer Plus-Size Model We Need

Thaddeus Coates

In a few years, model and artist Thaddeus Coates hopes you’ll know him by just one name: Thaddeus. And his journey to take the fashion world by storm and become a household name begins now. The 24-year-old Black queer model is a part of American Eagle’s latest Ne(X)t Level Jeans Campaign, including athletic fit jeans that, as he wrote on Twitter, “for guys who need a little more room in the thighs.”

Out caught up with Coates — excuse me, Thaddeus —  to discuss his prior distaste for trying on jeans, what would be his dream campaign and whether or not he’s single.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you started your modeling career?

I started like, officially officially, I guess I would say in the summertime, actually. But I’ve been taking pictures with my friends, because I go to [the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York], a lot of my friends are photographers, so I would just be taking pictures with them for their assignments and things. They’d always be down to create things and I’d be down to help create their vision. So they’d ask me to model and I would.

What agency are you signed to now?

I’m signed to Bridge Models. Their whole mantra is bridging the gap between what standards are and what they should be. So it’s on par with my brand.

How did you find Bridge? Or did they find you?

OK, so before this campaign that just dropped, I did a campaign for back to school for the fall for American Eagle and that one was just from me going to a casting randomly. And then after I got that, I reached out, I looked up a bunch of male modeling agencies that I wanted to be a part of — Wilhelmina, IMG — and then I was looking at the top agencies to feature guys of size. I know IMG recently added a new section to their roster that has bigger, plus-size men a part of it and Wilhelmina added a segment, but there was no US agency that catered to what my brand is, that I would be able to fit into. So I added a bunch of them and Bridge Models slid into my DMs and was like “Congratulations on your American Eagle campaign!” and I was like, “Thank you, I was looking at your portfolio, as well! How do I go about signing with you guys?”

So I sat down with an executive from Bridge Models. We had cappuccinos at SoHo House and she told me a projection of where she could see me. I didn’t know the campaign would do what it was going to do. Then I got all this positive feedback and Teen Vogue picked up the story, AJ+ picked up the story, and it grew into this amazing thing. And then after that I knew I was onto something. The people I represent felt represented, so I felt like it was my responsibility to keep being a beacon of representation in this career I’m pursuing in modeling.

What was it like to get the call and then to be booked in your first campaign for American Eagle?

With me or somebody of my height, for me jeans are make or break — it’s a thing of like, I don’t even want to try things on and I was not even sure if the jeans would fit. I’ve been on fittings before where the jeans wouldn’t even fit. When I first put on the pair of jeans for American Eagle, I was hooked because these jeans fit fit me. They fit me to a T and they complimented my shape. It was the first time I fell in love with jeans. Before that I wore dress pants or a chino. And now it was like, “Oh this company is catering to someone with my body type!” I stepped outside the dressing room and showed the woman who was casting and she took me and plopped me in front of these screens with all these executives and that moment I was cast.

It was so amazing because I felt like I could be myself. It felt like people were loving me being me. That’s why this campaign feels surreal because I’m just being me and people love it. I get to have direction over what music is playing in the background and I can just move and be myself. Nothing has been photoshopped or retouched, so when I saw it I was like, “This how I actually look! My teeth are white white! OK, great!”

And then I received this outpouring, people are reaching out to see how the jeans fit because of seeing how they fit me. I'm getting videos sent to me of people in the store! The jean that I was modelling became a bestseller. It’s honestly amazing. I get to be like, “My impact!”

So, since you are starring in a jeans ad — what is your biggest pet peeve about wearing jeans before these?

I feel like regular jeans, they’re like in vanity sizes. I just feel like they’re not inclusive at all. I was modeling for this other company I was supposed to model jeans for and they released a denim line and then I tried on the jeans they said they were stretchy jeans but they only stretched at the waist. You have to have something that’s consistent in jeans! American Eagle jeans are elastic all through. Most of the brands will put elastic in the waist, but there’s thighs that have to be dealt with and everything!

What was your first reaction when you saw the shots for this campaign?

My first reaction when I saw the shots was that it’s such a surreal feeling to know that like, that I have a place at the table, a seat at the table. They say that everything is all inclusive but to see campaigns like this go far, like with big brands, enforces that there’s hope in the fashion industry, too, which is amazing.

Because [in the industry] you usually see guy walking around like, when they turn sideways they disappear, so it’s great to know that this is going further and people are so affected by it and people are hitting me up and saying I’ve inspired them. You know, modeling too, a lot of guys are asking me how to be a model, too. I don't know how to tell you how to do it you just have to do it! It’s turning me into a beacon of representation for people who look like me  — men of size. Usually in the industry, guys who look like me are older and I just turned 24. So when I walk into places like that, there are people who are in their 30s or 40s and have kids. It’s really cool to see how there’s a demographic that seems to have been overlooked for so long and I’m becoming one of the leaders in this particular demographic.

You’re also an artist. You recently tweeted that you will never get tired of drawing Black men with beards and I loved that. Tell me a bit about what drives you to create art.

Now I’m able to  put more of myself in to my art, which is what I said I wanted to do and I feel like when it comes to art and art styles, especially in the style I do, there isn’t a lot of representation. There’s a ton of queer artists, don’t get me wrong, but there’s not a lot of queer artists of color who are like really putting themselves in their art, not just drawing what looks good. And so I’m at this point where I’m over like people, or me in general, trying to draw what looks good instead of what feels natural to me. I’m drawing what I need to see. I draw for me 10 years ago.

I did a body-positive series that I think is going really well and it’s really cool to see other influencers interact with it. I didn’t know that me being authentic and putting that in my art would be so well received by other people and that I’d have other people behind me. I feel like I like drawing men with beards. I feel like it’s very powerful. I feel like beards are crowns for men.

What is a dream campaign of yours to work on?

For modeling, Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh, would be so great. I feel like that would be such a dream to do. Definiley that. Calvin Klein would be great — Gucci, Kenzo. Just brands that haven’t made strides in putting more people of color and of size at the forefront. And also people who are trying to shift the conversation now. I feel like Virgil would be great to work with because he’s using his platform to shift the fashion industry. Jeremy Scott is really experimental so I feel like he would do something like that that would be received well. Kenzo would be great. Something very luxury, very Gucci.

I’m a queer man of color, too. This is something that I’m learning, navigating this thing, because I’m coming across a lot of men of color who are modeling but not a lot of them are queer. There’s, you probably know him, Dexter Mayfield. Dexter is a queer man of color, he dances and he does model, as well. He’s the only one I know who pushes the boundaries, who does his own thing.

Also, since these photos came out, several people I know already want to know if you’re single. Do you have any updates on that?

Um, I am single. Which is crazy because I feel like guys that want to talk to me don't talk to me, because nobody is in my DMs! I feel like when my fall campaign, my friends were like “My friends are interested in you!” and my DMs have been dry, I promise you!

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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