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The transgender model breaking boundaries

The documentary film Krow’s Transformation explores the journey of Krow Kian in modelling, and a wider cultural shift. Bel Jacobs talks to him about gender, fashion and confidence.

Last October, at the Louvre, a 23-year-old model called Krow Kian opened the Louis Vuitton spring/summer show, wearing a sleek grey suit with oversized jacket. Six months later, after many high-profile campaigns and covers, Krow was back on the Vuitton catwalk, to close the entire women’s autumn/winter season. The news, apart from those razor-sharp cheekbones and that clear-eyed gaze? Krow is a transgender man – the first ever on a womenswear catwalk.

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It’s only in the past ten years that trans models have been making headlines in the fashion industry. In 2010, Lea T became the first out trans woman to appear in a high-fashion campaign when she modelled for Givenchy. In 2015, Andreja Pejić became the first trans model to be profiled in Vogue. Since then, names such as Maxim Magnus, Hari Nef and the luminous Hunter Schafer have appeared in campaigns for some of the world’s most famous brands.

Meanwhile, trans male models have remained rare – until now. Krow’s high-profile presence in the past two Paris fashion weeks marks a significant cultural shift that speaks volumes for all genders – and for Krow himself. After years wrestling with his identity, everything finally became clear. Krow remembers the moment he stepped on to the Vuitton catwalk, his first since transitioning to male: “It was an amazing feeling. The energy and the power you feel from the crowd… is incredible.”

The show appears, fittingly, in the final scenes of Krow’s Transformation, a 90-minute documentary that opened London’s Raindance Film Festival in September. For the past three years, director Gina Hole Lazarowich followed Krow’s transition, including conversations between Krow and his mother, his best friend Ashton and other people to create a tender, moving film that Lazarowich describes as a “how to transition” guide for young people.

After being scouted at a friend’s birthday party, Krow began modelling as a female at the age of 12. The decision, tough at the time for the young tomboy, was both a sharp retort to school bullies who had called him ‘emo’, ‘goth’ and worse, and an exploration of his birth gender. “Modelling was basically my way of understanding how to act female,” he told Vogue. “I learned how to present myself, how I should dress, and how I should do my makeup.” But it wasn’t enough.

Cosplay – events where participants dress meticulously as pop-cultural characters – saved him. “Cosplay was where I first came across the term ‘transgender’. I could dress up as a man, as one of these characters, and see how it felt to be represented and talked to like I was a man. That gave me that freedom to play with my gender and discover what I liked, what I didn’t like. It’s super-fun to explore those different sides of yourself, without judgement.”

His favourite character was Prompto Argentum from Final Fantasy XV, a young man who is relentlessly cheerful for fear that his friends will discover a secret: he is a military clone resisting the life he was designed for. The parallels are unmissable: “He’s super bright, always happy,” says Krow. “He has a lot of pain from his back story, but he tries to laugh and smile and joke and bring everyone’s spirits up. Having his friends makes him truly happy.”

I want to help people realise that you can wear what you want, regardless of gender – Krow Kian

The Vuitton job felt like a fluke – at first. After being summoned for a go-see in Paris, Krow arrived to find a room full of very female-looking models and thought they were looking for trans women. He walked, convinced it was a mix up, and was astounded to get the call. “I thought, as a male model, I’d probably do the small circuits,” he laughs. “Having Louis Vuitton as my first job ever as a male model set the bar so high.”  

Breaking boundaries

Since then, he has been working with “all of these amazing high-end brands and super-cool magazines from all around the world”. He has presented for Haider Ackermann, Balmain, Proenza Schouler, Alexander McQueen – and Vuitton, again, of course – and graced the covers of Dazed, Vogue Ukraine and GQ Espana. He is the first trans male to ever be on the cover of L’Uomo Vogue in its 50-year history. And he still walks for womenswear: “I want to break gender boundaries. I do want to help people realise that you can wear what you want, regardless of gender.”

Why have trans men been less visible in mainstream culture? “I can only say what I’ve seen,” says Krow. “But it might be something to do with the fact that there can be more judgement towards trans men, especially from other men, about not being ‘man’ enough. It’s getting better but that holds a fear – and not just of judgement. There can be physical violence involved if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.” According to one US report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in four transgender people surveyed has been assaulted because of their identity.  

This is something too easily forgotten by those outside trans communities: that trans people face visceral prejudice. “Yeah,” says Krow. “There are still parts of the world where governments do not acknowledge trans people, that they have rights and that they are just as human as everyone else. It’s still a struggle and a worldwide issue. There is a lot of work to be done, but I think we are moving in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, fashion has waxed lyrical about Krow. “[Casting Krow] reassured me in the notion that fashion can lead to change, towards a new standard of equality,” Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of women’s collections at Vuitton, told WWD. “We’ve moved on to another way of thinking where opinions are made based on one’s appearance and not due to their gender. Krow… is a beacon of hope to all generations. His courage and strength are empowering and force us to revisit the outdated way we once viewed dressing: suits, dresses, male, female.”

It’s important not to underestimate Krow’s personality in all this. Liz Bell is founder of the Lizbell modelling agency, which manages Krow. “I’ve worked with young people for the past 27 years and seldom have I ever come across someone as self-assured and confident as Krow,” she said, at the time. Her words are echoed by Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing: “People often ask me, ‘What is the Balmain Army?’ It’s about self-confidence,” he told WWD. “This guy has a beautiful sense of confidence, but is also very humble, kind and respectful.”

There is so much negativity, and I thought, how about showing kids a positive side? – Gina Hole Lazarowich

Those qualities also make Krow the role model that he himself missed. “Growing up, there wasn’t a specific person I could connect with,” he says. “It was hard not seeing if, during the transition, I could still be successful and follow the path that I wanted to follow. So, yeah, now, I’m trying to be that person that I wish I had when I was young so that the next generation can have someone they can look up to.”

The documentary is a thing of joy, much needed in our troubled times. “I knew it had to be the most honest portrayal of what he was going through,” says Lazarowich. “After the initial anxiety, I started seeing him getting happier and happier. There is so much negativity and I thought, how about showing kids a positive side? Because that’s the way Krow was shaping up to be. He was becoming his true self.”

At the end of the film, interviewed after the Vuitton show, Krow says: “What I’d like to say to the transgender community is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female. You can change over, you can be in between, and you can still be happy. You can make your dreams come true. Keep trying. Never give up, and you could be here, doing this, doing whatever you want.”

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