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Kelle Carbone is a 4 year old New Jersey native. By day, he works as a teacher’s aide in a middle school special education classroom. Education is his true passion; he aspires to become a certified special education teacher. He is also a graduate student at Rutgers University where he studies gender, sexuality, and disability. His current research aims to develop and implement a modified sexual education curriculum for students with special needs. Kelle hopes that his experience working with Trans Models NYC will give him the exposure necessary to reach those who are struggling with their identities, to spread awareness for the transgender community, and provide insight on the transmasculine experience. Kelle ultimately wants to challenge and redefine what it means to be a “real man”
Peche Di, a Thai beauty queen who studied at New York University, spent five years booking occasional modeling gigs and looking for an agency to represent her. “They didn’t understand me,” she says, “so I struggled to find work.”
Finally, this past May, she decided to do something about the lack of opportunities for her and other transgender models. The 26-year-old walked into the county clerk’s office downtown and filed the paperwork for Trans Models, creating New York City’s first transgender modeling agency—and one of only three in the country, and perhaps the world.
Now, four months later, her agency has signed 19 models—10 men and nine women—and has done shoots for Budweiser and Smirnoff. Consultations are ongoing with a network executive about a possible reality-TV series.
Di, who grew up in Bangkok and whose given name is Pitchadapha Phasi, is starting an agency at a time when media is changing many Americans’ understanding of gender identity. The growing prominence of the former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, the TV actress Laverne Cox, the model Andreja Pejić, and scores of other transgender people has made the transgender community much more visible.
Still, growing up wasn’t easy. Di went to an all-boys school for grades 1 through 12, and attended a military school part-time beginning at age 15. “I was bullied by all the boys in school because I’m different,” she recalls. “But I was very into sports, especially Muay Thai and tae kwon do. So I let them know, you can’t hurt me, because I will hurt you, too.”
At 16, she began taking estrogen, which is available without a prescription in Thailand, and sneaking out of her parents’ house, secretly dressing up in long wigs and short skirts and hanging out with a group of other trans girls. Eventually her parents found out. They were supportive but didn’t really discuss it with her.
As her body changed, her confidence rose. She grew her hair out after high school, found work as a cabaret dancer and entered several of Thailand’s popular transgender beauty contests. “I did the contests to prove to myself and others around me that I’m beautiful,” Di explains. “Sometimes I won and sometimes I didn’t, but they helped me to be disciplined and get to know myself.”
Those pageant wins stoked her desire for success, and she quickly set her sights on New York and had dreams of competing on America’s Next Top Model. In 2010, at age 21, she arrived in the United States on a student visa to study English and film at NYU. A month later, she won Miss Asia NYC, an annual beauty pageant in midtown Manhattan for transgender Asian women, which she’d signed up for while still in Thailand.
“It’s like back in the ’80s when they had one black model on every runway and that’s it.”
- Vikki Le
Through that pageant she met Dorothy Palmer, an illustrator, interior decorator, and jewelry designer who’d been looking for an “exotic” model to be the face of her new jewelry line. “I didn’t want the typical blond, blue-eyed Ralph Lauren type,” says Palmer. “So I tracked down Peche, went out to dinner with her, and thought she was incredible, just perfect.” Palmer soon became a mentor to Di. She now helps run the agency and provides the spacious, high-ceilinged loft in Greenwich Village where Trans Models is headquartered.
Only two other transgender modeling agencies currently operate in the United States: Transcendence Icon in Boise, Idaho, and the fledgling Los Angeles branch of Thailand’s Apple Model Management. Traditional agencies are increasingly representing transgender models, too, but those opportunities remain scarce. “It’s very limited,” says Vikki Le, a 26-year-old New Yorker originally from Vietnam who was signed by Trans Models in July. “It’s like back in the ’80s when they had one black model on every runway and that’s it.”
Even with models such as Hari Nef, Valentijn de Hingh, and Lea T fronting major fashion and beauty campaigns, Le says it will take more to change the industry and society’s perceptions: “Seeing more trans people in print and in media makes it’s a little bit easier because now people know what it is. But have attitudes changed? I don’t think so. Not that much. It’s going to take a lot more.”
Rhyan Hamilton, a 22-year-old transplant from Monterey, California, also signed on with Trans Models this summer. A male contestant on America’s Next Top Model in 2013, Hamilton was uncomfortable with the pressure to act hyper-masculine and quit the show after the first episode. She began transitioning soon after. “I never thought I’d model again,” she says. “Then Trans Models reached out to me, and now I’m having this second wave of modeling, but this time as my authentic self as a trans woman.”
Laith-Ashley de la Cruz, a muscular 25-year-old with designer stubble and emerald green eyes, isn't sure how many modeling gigs await him, but he views Trans Models as a humanizing opportunity. “I want to show the world there's not just one way to be trans, just like there's not one way to be anything,” he says.
How much demand actually exists for transgender models? “The pie chart isn’t that big for [transgender models], but I feel it’s about to get bigger,” says Christian Alexander, the director of Front Management, a boutique fashion agency in Miami that used to represent a transgender model. “I think any company seeking to expand their clientele while making a bold statement would be the reason.”
“It’s never easy, in my experience, to get a transgender [model] work,” saysHarold Milton, the former director of Click Models in Manhattan. Milton has represented transgender models for most of his three-decade career. In 1991 he signed Caroline Cossey, who became the first transgender model to appear nude in Playboy, and Click Models also represented the big-name trans model Teri Toye. “We’re at a time,” Milton continues, “where acceptance for [transgender people] has reached the public more than ever, and what’s really important is diversity in the fashion world and on the runway.”
That lack of diversity, in fact, led Bethann Hardison, a former modeling agent, along with the supermodels Naomi Campbell and Iman, to form the Diversity Coalition, an organization aimed at drawing attention to designers who regularly use just one or no models of color. Gender, in addition to race, is now a part of that conversation, and design houses such as IMG, H&M, and Givenchy have responded by featuring transgender models and diversifying their casting calls. Peche Di, in fact, was one of 17 transgender models featured last year in a Barneys spring campaign shot by Bruce Weber—one of her few local successes before founding Trans Models.
But whether or not opportunities for transgender models are abundant enough to support ventures like hers remains to be seen. “It’s easy to get models and it’s easy to build up a roster, but it’s not as easy to get them work,” Milton says.
Peche Di, meanwhile, isn’t dwelling on what could go wrong. She’s busy planning an all-trans fashion show for New York Fashion Week in February 2016. She’s also laying the groundwork for a conglomerate called Trans Media that she hopes will encompass Trans Models, a TV channel, and a slew of other yet-to-be-created subsidiaries. There’s also an official Trans Models launch party to plan for, scheduled to take place next month.
“Every day I get emails and phone calls from transgender people around the world who want me to represent them,” she says. “But right now I want to focus on local models. They’re the most interesting.”
Torraty (Trans Make up artist), Roi Ben-Yehuda (Negotiation Executive), Pêche Di (Founder), Pattaya Hart (Trans Models coaching), Kreerath (High Heels Photographer), Dorothy Palmer (Director of Model Project Development)
รอติดตามบทสัมภาษณ์ได้ในนิวยอร์กทามเร็วๆนี้ | BTS | Another big photoshoot today with all trans models and LGBTQ team. We are making the history. Thank you make up team @bankmakeup @torratymakeup @patchy66 | Photo team @kreerath @hinesmikey @maramarasee | Dororhy Palmer, Roi, Terence and all the models @laith_ashley @devynorozco @sweetsobrown @feminist__fatale and other people | please tag yourself here guys.#transguy #ftm #mtf #transguy #transmodels #transmodelsNYC #pechedi#laithashley #devyn #evalyn #sobrown #kelle #angelrose #rhyanhamilton#shane #tiqmilan #kelle #allex #laith #versaceversaceversace#anthonyvaccarello #anthony #angelerose #nytimes
TRANS MODELS NEW YORK has had overwhelming success since it opened it's doors in March 2015. It is a modeling agency totally devoted to promoting transgender. Located in New York City's Greenwich Village, near Union Square, TRANS MODELS continues to book top commercial, print, movie and runway assignments. The brains and beauty behind TRANS MODELS NEW YORK is PECHE DI of New York city. Since coming to NYC 4 years ago, she has risen to the top of the modeling profession by securing campaigns for BARNEYS NEW YORK, VOGUE magazine, VANITY FAIR, and HARPERS BIZAAR THAILAND. Close friend and mentor, DOROTHY RENNIE PALMER shares the spotlight with PECHE DI in helping to create this prestigious modeling agency. Castings for numerous projects are underway. All nationalities are welcome. Send photos and measurements to Peche Di firstname.lastname@example.org
Devyn Elisabeth Orozco | TRANS MODEL | TRANSMODELS.COM