For the better part of the year, 23-year-old Teddy Quinlivan could be found walking the runway for the biggest names in fashion. Louis Vuitton in Japan, Margiela in Paris, Versace in Hong Kong—just to name a few. While traveling the world and snagging coveted editorials has been a reality for this in-demand model, perhaps the biggest moment for Quinlivan this year was coming out as a transgender woman. Though others like Andreja Pejic and Hari Nef have come before her, it’s still a rarity in the industry.
The possibility of being turned down for jobs or losing work was a serious reality tied up in her decision to come out as transgender, but it was a risk she was willing to take. “I’m ready to sacrifice losing relationships with clients to make it a better place because I think, at the end of the day, the people in the industry who are truly creative geniuses are going to support me no matter what,” Quinlivan explained. And while she was prepared for rejection, upon publicly disclosing her transgender identity, she was welcomed with the support of powerhouses like Vogue and CNN (who broke the story), not to mention the unwavering backing of industry leaders including Marc Jacobs, Nicolas Ghesquière, and John Galliano.
Growing up, it was fashion that gave Teddy the inspiration to dream outside of her everyday life. Being bullied and harassed at school were a reality, but it was fashion that provided an escape. “I want people to watch fashion shows again and feel the fantasy the same way I felt the fantasy as a 12-year-old, 13-year-old, 14-year-old growing up in Massachusetts in the middle of nowhere,” Quinlivan told us. But despite the way fashion was able to provide a sense of freedom, she thinks that there is a lot of room for improvement. “This industry can make you dream and make you inspired and make you strive to be a better version of yourself. But we need to first make it better.” While there’s no doubting the power of fashion to stir the imagination, her call for the industry to step it up isn’t unwarranted. Over the years, racial, body, and gender diversity have been in the fold, but it very often hasn’t been enough.
This year, in particular, has been a highly politicized one and has shed light on women’s rights, and the rights of those in the LGBTQ community. And while coming out as a transgender woman was a complicated decision, it was ultimately one that provided Quinlivan with the opportunity to stand behind issues that are important to her. “Coming out as transgender has given me this incredible platform to kind of share my thoughts about the industry and share my thoughts about being a transgender woman and being a woman in general in a world that treats us like second-class citizens, particularly if you're a transgender woman." With matters like transgender rights, gender inequality, and the pay gap at the forefront, there’s no doubting that right now is the time for new voices to be heard.
But in the end, why does Quinlivan feel compelled to work as a model in the fashion world? Ultimately, it comes down to a few things. First, she wants to be part of its evolution and has ideas for how it needs to change: “There’s really a real stifling of creativity in fashion, and I would really love to be a part of the catalyst of change to make the fashion industry a more open, accepting, beautiful, creative, inspiring place.” But also because it’s become a place of strength and empowerment. “The fantasy of fashion has meant so much to me. This idea that, even on my worst day, I can put on beautiful makeup and a beautiful outfit and walk out the door and feel confident and feel uplifted and feel beautiful. And I've noticed my whole life that fashion has given me this really strong power. For me, clothing has been kind of my armor.”
Go on to read a message Teddy Quinlivan penned for Who What Wear to share with women everywhere, and then read her full interview with MyDomaine.
Photography: Amar Daved; Graphic Designer: ChinChin Hao; Stylist: Kate Carnegie; Styling Assistant: Ava Ferguson; Creative Director: Cassandra Lear ; Booking Director: Jessica Baker; Makeup Artist: Rommy Najor; Hairstylist: Charles McNair