This story first appeared in the July 29, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Agency: Women/360 Management
Hometown: Prescott, Arizona
Kira Conley, a 20-year-old rising editorial star who has graced the pages of L’Officiel Singapore and Vanity Fair Italy, grew up in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Montana before decamping to New York and Paris to pursue modeling at age 15. She also happens to be Women/360 Management’s first transgender model — and she had never announced it quite-so-publicly before this interview with WWD. “All of my agencies have had no problem with it, and some of my agencies didn’t even know,” Conley said. “For example, Women [Management] didn’t even know until after they signed me.” On a recent sunny afternoon in Brooklyn, Conley talked about her transition process and her mother, who she referred to as Superwoman. “She’s my best friend,” Conley said. “I was just talking to her at midnight last night.”
WWD: How did you start modeling?
Kira Conley: I was 15 when I sent my digitals in to JJ Cortez, the model agent. His agency told us what kind of images to send in: three-quarter length and profile shots. I didn’t know what any of that was, but my mom helped me, and from there on, the agency took over. They had me come to New York right away when I was 15.
WWD: What was your childhood like?
K.C.: I kind of moved around a lot when I was a kid. The longest place I’ve lived somewhere is two years. My mom runs an assisted living center, and she likes to up and go. I feel like moving around a lot prepared me for this lifestyle, with modeling. But sometimes it was hard, because you’re young and you see people who’ve had friends since they were babies. I was walking into that situation all the time.
WWD: Growing up, had you always wanted to model? What were you interested in as a kid?
K.C.: I always played around with art. I wanted to be a famous artist, but I was a baby back then. Then, I was learning how to make dresses, sewing and sketching around age 13 and 14. When I started to become more curious about fashion, I saw models in the shows [on television], and I was like, “Waaaait a minute. Maybe I could do this.”
WWD: When did you begin to transition?
K.C.: I always knew it in the back of my head. I always wore my sister’s cheerleading outfits when I was young or ran around in heels. Every Halloween, I dressed up as Catwoman or something. But my parents didn’t know much about it. We were in Montana at the time; we had to do a lot of research. I was 10 years old, it was towards the end of sixth grade, and I was just down on life. My mom took me out the last day of the school year and we went shopping for new clothes and got my name changed. I’m really grateful for my mom. She’s done a lot for me.
WWD: How did your life progress from there?
K.C.: I transitioned, then went to middle school. Some of the kids were like, ‘Oh, I remember you, but…’ I had to use the employee bathroom instead of the student bathrooms. The school did the best they could, but they hadn’t ever experienced it before. They had to have group meetings about it.
WWD: It seems now with trans issues in the media, it’s becoming more of a national conversation.
K.C.: Yes, much more so than it was back then. With it out in the news, I hope that it becomes a conversation in schools. Back then, I didn’t know anyone at all like me. But I had good childhood friends. And my mom.
WWD: Has being transgender affected your modeling career?
K.C.: Here’s the funny thing: This is the first time I’m openly talking about it. Not because I have a problem with it; I’m comfortable with who I am. But [when I first started modeling], I was so young, so I think the agencies just kept it a little under wraps. I’ve had some big options, and maybe the agencies were unsure if it would hurt or help. I’m still figuring out how much it will affect my career, in terms of getting jobs.
WWD: Speaking of which, you just finished a three-month stint in Singapore. What was that like?
K.C.: It was a three-month contract; I shot mostly for L’Officiel Singapore. I should’ve traveled more and gone to Bali — people were telling me it was a really cheap ticket — but I guess I had everything I needed right where I was. It was really hot and beautiful; there are monkeys outside everywhere, just dangling around. There’s a downtown area that’s more populated, but I was in a rural area. The main transportation is buses. People speak “Singlish” — they add their own twist to English — and the younger generations speak mostly English.
WWD: What do you like to do in New York?
K.C.: I like to be lame and just walk around the city. Isn’t that why everyone lives here? I love scenery and a good picture. I like being behind the lens. I really like taking photos of my friends and people in their own moment. Some of my friends are models, so when I’m taking a candid, of course they end up looking amazing.
WWD: How would you describe your sense of style?
K.C.: I’ve always been into simple stuff. I used to wear all-tight-everything when I first started. That’s what I thought modeling had to be. But now I dress more comfortable. I didn’t go thrift shopping until this month. It’s fun to play around with it. I’ve been really into Seventies-style stuff. It’s coming back, and it’s so comfy.
WWD: Do you think having an Instagram presence helps to boost your career?
K.C.: I was totally against the Instagram thing; for a long time, I was like, “Nah.” But the agencies want models on it, and I totally understand why. It’s nice to keep in touch with people you’ve worked with and make connections. It’s amazing how far a single comment can go… So I have no problem with it now. Three weeks ago, I posted my first Instagram selfie. No shame, I guess. I was in Miami, it was warm, and I was like, “Well, this feels nice. I guess this is when you’re supposed to post a selfie.”
WWD: What are some of your goals?
K.C.: In modeling, I’m looking to get established on a higher level. I still feel a bit fresh.