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C asey Legler is standing, topless, by our rail of clothes, reading them like they're credits on a film. Some are "drag", some "boy". Some she'll wear if she wants to "serve you 'girl'", some she won't wear at all. Asall she wanted to do was sit by a swimming pool in a pink tutu, and read her difficult books.
She moved a lot when she was younger, between Louisiana, Florida and Aix-en-Provence, and, noticing that the fashions and prejudices in France and America were completely different, Legler "learned early on," she tells me later, "that what you looked like wasn't necessarily who you were". People had "different armour.
I realised things only mean what we want them to mean, and it's not appropriate information for differentiation. What you look like is just what you look like. Then there's Legler is 6ft 2in, 35 years old, and the first woman to exclusively as a male model.
She is muscular and cheery, with the awkward swagger of a rock star. Her voice is soft and earnest, and when she talks, she holds unblinking eye contact. In front of the camera, edges appear. She juts her chin; she becomes a boy. Fashion has always played with gender, from 18th century men in their wigs and make-up, to Patti Smith and David Bowie, through to the recent success of Andrej Peji'cthe male model who FHM named as the 98th "sexiest woman in the world". The most exciting deers today are the ones who cheat gender, who affect our ideas about what makes a man.
Which is why Casey Legler, who, at 35, sees modelling menswear as part of her work as an artist, is so refreshing. She talks. She has the vocabulary to describe what she's doing, why she's doing it and what impact that might have on the world outside fashion. We're sitting in a London pub after the shoot; the fizz of Legler's Berocca is deafening. I was concerned, when she was sorting through the clothes, that in asking her to wear women's clothes, our fashion editor was pressing her to do something she didn't want to do.
I had a flash of a year-old model being pushed to show more flesh, just a little more shoulder, an inch of breast Legler nods. She disagrees, but she nods.QF: A Podcast About Howard Stern ep. #95 \
Part of her job, she says, is to have that conversation. Sometimes it happens, she explains. But they'd never do that to a boy. So you have to have this conversation.
They want to shoot me because I have a narrative, and implicit in that is a conversation," she explains. Legler has had many lives. Until she was 21, she swam for France. One of five children of a professional basketball player, she was home-schooled to accommodate her training, but, after a time in the "swamps of Louisiana", she started school in Florida, at the first high school to test out metal detectors. I stopped acting after that. At 13 she was presented with her life plan until the Olympics. The problem was, she hated swimming.
My coach was an artist too, and I'd want to have conversations with him about that. He'd be like, 'Can. She's in the water, holding on to the side after finishing last in a race, her head shaved to a tight, smooth sphere. Her mouth is open and she looks relieved. At 21, she gave up swimming.
It meant giving up her scholarship to college too, and getting a job in a supermarket — it meant starting again. She studied architecture and set de, she got a scholarship to law school, and started medical school; she moved to New York and worked on her art, music and writing, and when her friend, the photographer Cass Birdasked if she'd let her show some photos to a modelling agency, she took a breath and said yes. Emily Novak at Ford Models ed her to the men's board immediately. It seems so obvious. I have the vocabulary. The deer Bella Freudwho visited our shoot, was struck by her strength.
They looked amazing but there was something worrying about how they were presented almost as fodder. Her first big job, with AllSaintssees her modelling both their menswear and their womenswear — AllSaints' creative director Wil Beedle cast the campaign. Could the fashion industry be changing? Perfectly pretty girls are rather dull, aren't they? Sartorially, women in slouchy suiting, or men in kilts, catch the eye: the 'off' element is the turn-on. One of the exciting things about fashion and modelling is the ability to change the way a person looks — a model's body is a question mark.
A beautiful blank. In Judith Butler wrote about gender as performance. She argued that by watching men drag up, in make-up and wigs, we understand how hard women have to work to look like women every day. The slipperiness of gender means our views on what makes a man or woman are constantly evolving. Legler has a tattoo on her neck that says "Leviathan". She tells me the story of Jonah. How he ran away when God asked him to be a prophet, and ended up in the belly of a whale, and how, when he later sat in the desert, spat out and burning, God told him life is about, "doing your part, however it lands".
This — fashion — is where Legler's work has landed, she says.
And to show what that looks like," she half-whispers. This," she gestures to her hair, to her body, "is just what it looks like for me. Inwhen Love magazine published an androgyny-themed issue, featuring a cover with Kate Moss kissing transgender model Lea TVogue described gender as a "trend".
Caroline Evansprofessor of fashion history and theory at Central Saint Martins, scoffs. It's who we are. Trends are fleeting. Androgyny without context is just, she says, a trick of the eye. Without context it is voyeuristic.
That's not what this is about," she stresses. Fashion will do what it needs to do, but this" — this truth that women don't always look like girls — "exists already on its own.Who Wants Sex More, Men or Women?
A masculine girl makes way for a feminine boy, and an older woman, and a size Of course, she is acceptably different — she is slim, tall, white and classically attractive, but still, she is both boyish and feminine.
She is different. She is helping chip away at walls. She's knocking through to the kitchen. We finish our lunch, and she unfolds herself from the bench. She shrugs on her jacket, and the people behind the bar give her sly, appreciative looks. She pulls back the table, she pushes in my chair, she makes space. The Observer Fashion. Eva Wiseman. The first woman to be ed exclusively as a male model, ex-Olympian Casey Legler is not just a pretty face. She's smart, creative and says exciting things about the way we portray gender.
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