“Leyna Bloom isn't just breaking boundaries in the fashion industry,” says photographer Brian Brigantti, “she's giving a platform to the trans community. She's showing the world that you should not only embrace every aspect of who you are, but also use your uniqueness to motivate others.” Bloom, whom Brigantti recently photographed in collaboration with stylist Scott Spencer, echoed the same sentiments to OUT. Formerly from Chicago, the Filipino-American now calls New York home, and as she gains traction in the modeling industry, she seems just as inspired to spread her message of resilience to others—including her 63,000+ Instagram followers. Here, Bloom, who modeled Married to the Mob's summer collection last month and made headlines earlier this year for appearing in Chromat's trans-inclusive New York show, shares her story of aspiring to be both model and role model.
OUT: You grew up in Chicago, and I read that attending Chicago Pride as a teen was the first time you truly felt “liberated.” Tell me about that memory.
Leyna Bloom: That moment was so necessary for my development as I headed toward adulthood. I truly believe it helped me become who I am today. Seeing everyone celebrating themselves, and giving love to one another. Something hit me like, wow. I saw perfection.
Along with other trans women like Carmen Carrera, you've walked in NYFW for Chromat, the athletic and swimwear brand for women, through multiple seasons. Tell me what it's been like to work with that brand, and what brands you aspire to work with next.
Chromat put me on the map, and I love them for that. They gave me a chance, and provided a lane for me to start walking runway. I really think [Chromat founder Becca McCharen-Tran] is the future of fashion, and it's so exciting making magic with designers that have visions like hers. I love doing gigs and getting jobs that have influential messages—something outside of the glitz and glam parts of being in front of the camera. I prefer to work with brands that are about bringing in all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds together, for the better of fashion and for the future of fashion. I think it's simple: If it''s not helping the people, its not working.
Who are some of your style icons, and whose career(s) inspire you as you move forward with your own?
I love new designers, but in my heart, I've always been inspired by the designers and models that made statements in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s—my favorite times for fashion and models. Versace. Christian Dior. Cindy Crawford. Calvin Klein. Iman. Naomi Campbell. Valentino. Yasmeen Ghari. Ève Salvail. To name a few.
Laverne Cox has said that “visibility is a revolutionary act for any trans person in a world that believes we should not exist.” Can you tell me, in your own words, what the power of visibility means to you?
You cannot be visible if you don't have one thing that leads you to any and all opportunities, and I believe that one thing is self-love. I think we should look into ourselves, and know that's the beginning of anything we're going to show and share with the world. To truly connect to people, and attract them, and keep that fellowship alive, it has to start from within. When you believe in yourself, people around you will be inspired, and they'll want to empower themselves, too. I think that's where real leadership comes from, and if you can achieve it, it's a gift that keeps giving.
In these times when LGBT rights are regularly threatened, what keeps you motivated?
For me, this is nothing new—I've always strived to be respected as an equal in public spaces like everyone else. And it's always been part of my fuel...my self-motivation. Since day one, I've been tolerated, but not always welcomed warmly. To be a trans women of color, this is part of my development: to hear someone say, “No, you can't be a shining light, a leader, or a role model for any type of success.” This kind of rejection is what pushes me to go hard. And when I first heard it, of course I was hurt, but honestly, what else is new? It will never stop me, and in fact, it's something that should make all of us stronger. We're living in a time where someone might say no, but also a time where there are other people who will say yes.
What do you hope your fans and followers will gain from seeing your success?
For anyone who's seeing me doing what I love, regardless if they're trans or not trans, I want them to know that I'm a living testimony of what it looks like to have love for yourself. I hope that's the takeaway. I came from a loving family and I've surrounded myself with friends and people who inspire me to be creative in my career. They've helped me find what works for me and they've showed understanding. This is what equality looks like.
What current projects are you working on, and what's next for you?
I want to do more of what I'm already doing but I always want to take it to the next level. I always want to be thinking of ways to inspire myself and others, I want to help create new lanes for people who feel that they don't fit in in this world . I think it's my job to do that, and that's what keeps me going.
Photography: Brian Brigantti
Hair, Makeup & Styling: Scott Spencer