Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: The female menswear model

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Casey Legler backstage at New York fashion week. Legler is the first woman to exclusively model menswear.Photo / AFP
Casey Legler backstage at New York fashion week. Legler is the first woman to exclusively model menswear.Photo / AFP

Casey Legler, a woman, works exclusively as a male model. She's been on people's radar for a few months now, but it's not until very recently that she's started doing interviews for mainstream publications like The Guardian, for which she was interviewed just days ago. (Read it, it's good.)

I think Legler is wonderful: ridiculously handsome, open, thoughtful and perfectly positioned to talk about how fashion and clothing are so wound up in identity - gender and otherwise. In a video interview for Time, she says:

"I understand signifiers. We're social creatures and we have a physical language of communicating with each other. But it would be a really beautiful thing if we could all just wear what we wanted, without it meaning something."

And on the novelty of her role: "Being the first woman on a men's board is the least-surprising bit to me - it's me. I walked in. It seems so obvious. I have the vocabulary."

Legler wasn't always a model - she was an Olympian swimmer for her native country (France) until she quit at 21. Then she studied architecture and set design, got a law school scholarship, and tried out med school. After which she moved to New York to make art.

Then one day she let her photographer friend Cass Bird - who had been asking her permission forever - show her image to Ford Models. Legler was signed the next day. (You can view her portfolio here.)

Gender has long been toyed with by fashion: think the revered style of Patti Smith and David Bowie and models such as Stella Tennant and Agyness Deyn. In 2011, Love magazine published a cover with Kate Moss kissing transgender model Lea T. More recently, womenswear designer Lyu Ting used her grandfather to model her clothing. And Andrej Pejic, a pretty 22-year-old man, has had huge success as a female model.

But Legler is the first woman to work exclusively as a male model. Is this a flash in the pan? It's hard to tell. Last year, Dutch model Saskia de Brauw (a woman) was chosen as the face of Yves Saint Laurent's new menswear campaign. Designer Hedi Slimane, who is known for his slim-fit tailoring, has said his "perception of genders ended up slightly out of focus from an early age". The photos are stunning.

So, whether more women will be booked as male models remains to be seen, although admittedly the cynic in me says the novelty factor thrives on one-offs, so probably not. Having said that, maybe someone will read that sentence in hundreds of years' time and laugh at its quaintness, because there is no more 'menswear' or 'womenswear' or 'male models' or 'female models'. There is just 'peopleswear' and the genetically blessed men and women who show it off.

In the meantime, Legler is a fascinating reminder of gender's illusory intangibility; its bottomless well of provocation and the questions that follow. The age-old visual cues we assign to 'male' and 'female' - and the colossal volumes of meaning with which we imbue those visual cues - how flimsy is it all, really? It's complex, this stuff.

Or is it? Maybe it's just a woman who looks great in a suit.

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.

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