PARIS — When Krow Kian stepped out into the glass tunnel set of the Louis Vuitton spring ready-to-wear show last October, it marked not just the model’s debut on the international stage, but also his rebirth as a transgender male model after six years of working as a female.
Last week, the 23-year-old Canadian — who goes by Krow — was back on the Vuitton catwalk, making history by becoming the first male model to close the luxury house’s women’s show, and by extension the entire women’s fall-winter season.
That this ascent should take place in fewer than six months reflects just how much the industry has evolved in terms of gender typecasting. But while a number of trans female models have carved out successful careers in recent years, Krow is the first transgender male modeling star.
“Getting back into modeling and being a male model, I definitely have a lot more visibility and especially being a trans model, I think, has brought a lot of attention. So, yeah, my career is definitely doing a lot better than it did the first time as a female,” Krow told WWD in a telephone interview.
Though he had initially hoped to make his comeback on a men’s runway, he could not have hoped for a better experience. “How I was treated was just so nice and so respectful. I had my own dressing room downstairs at the [Vuitton] show, so they were very, very respectful of that, making sure that I was really comfortable,” he said.
Krow was one of a handful of androgynous models — alongside Jessica “Jay” Espinosa and Miriam Sanchez — wearing masculine outfits during the October show. “The clothing that they wanted to put me in just looked absolutely amazing, so I was really happy after I actually got to see what I was getting into,” he said.
Since then, he has been in steady demand across men’s and women’s runways.
On the last day of Paris men’s fashion week in January, Krow walked in both the fall women’s show for Acne Studios and 1017 Alyx 9SM’s coed display. Balmain designer Olivier Rousteing also picked him to model one of the men’s looks in his coed show earlier that week.
That was followed by appearances in the Haider Ackermann and Alexander McQueen displays during the women’s ready-to-wear shows in March.
“I honestly love that I can do both the men’s show and the women’s shows. I think that that’s really cool to be able to do. It’s only that I do get anxieties about having them try to make me look specifically like a female. But I’ve been very clear with my agencies about that, and they’ve made sure to let the casting directors know,” he said.
“At this point in my life, because being transgender, sometimes I can definitely get a little worried that maybe I’m not masculine enough — even though I’m a very flamboyant and usually kind of feminine guy — anytime that I have to wear a dress or a skirt […] I do get that kind of uncomfortable feeling,” he said.
With a documentary about his transition due to hit screens this year, Krow is now positioned as a breakout star of 2019. He features on the covers of the latest editions of Dazed and L’Uomo Vogue magazines, not to mention the spring Vuitton women’s ad campaign.
For Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of women’s collections at Vuitton, giving Krow his big break felt like a natural choice.
“[It] reassured me in the notion that fashion can lead to change, towards a new standard of equality. Krow’s rise to fame is exceptional and he is a beacon of hope to all generations. His courage and strength are empowering and forces us to revisit the outdated way we once viewed dressing: suits, dresses, male, female,” he 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,” he added.
Rousteing said he wasn’t aware of Krow’s history when he first met him at a casting call. “I thought he was extremely handsome, and when my casting director explained to me that he was a transgender model, I thought that was, I wouldn’t necessarily say touching, but very brave,” he said.
“People often ask me, ‘What is the Balmain Army?’ It’s about self-confidence. This guy has a beautiful sense of confidence, but is also very humble, kind and respectful. These are also values I care about, so it made total sense to have him in my show,” he said.
Krow said he wasn’t always as comfortable in his skin, recalling that he used to squirm when asked to pose in revealing clothing.
“I had a lot of negative experiences as a female model, but a lot of those experiences were because of my own anxieties about my body and how people perceived me. So basically all the bad things that I experienced was because of me being transgender and not feeling comfortable about being out in the open with it,” he recalled.
“Once I was able to get the confidence and actually transition, getting back into male modeling I realized, oh, all those things I was worried about were just because I was a female at the time,” added the model, who proudly posed topless in the L’Uomo Vogue spread shot by Collier Schorr.
Working the camera as a male has been a learning curve. “At first when I was posing for some of my first test shoots, I would lean my head out too much and they would be like, ‘No, no, that looks too feminine — stop doing that!’ So it was small things I wouldn’t think of, like how I hold my hands,” he said.
He is also taking singing lessons to strengthen his voice, and hopes to one day branch out into music professionally. But first, Krow will be hitting cinema screens.
A photoshoot documenting the start of his hormone treatment three years ago led to his meeting with Gina Hole Lazarowich, who directed the documentary, “Krow’s TRANSformation.” The movie is due to premiere in Vancouver on April 11 and is scheduled to open the Raindance Film Festival in London on Sept. 25.
Hesitant at first, Krow agreed to be filmed in the hope the documentary would be screened in schools. “When I was growing up, I never had anyone tell me about being transgender or how the process works, or anything like that,” he said.
“It definitely would have helped me a lot if I had known about it when I was younger, and I really want other kids that do feel this way to actually know about it and be able to have an open discussion in the classroom with the teacher, with their friend, get the information, bring it home and talk to their parents,” he added.
“I basically kind of looked up to my friends, or people I met, but I don’t feel like I ever knew about any openly trans men that were in social media, or whatever it happened to be, that were being a role model and being open about it and trying to represent the community,” he remarked.
The growing diversity of the fashion industry has opened space for new types of role models, however. “It’s been really cool to see that people are just trying to be like, ‘Hey, you can be beautiful no matter who you are or what you are,’” Krow said.
“I could be wrong, but I know that for me, coming out as being a trans male, I was worried how men would perceive me and if I would be accepted as a male. But then once you get past that anxiety, which not a lot of people can, then it’s like, you know what? It doesn’t really matter what they think — this is who I am,” he said.
For Rousteing, it’s part of a generational shift. “Everyone is always obsessed about Millennials, but Millennials are not just about wearing the right kind of sneakers and looking cool. Millennials are about being free to be ourselves, and that is really the strength of the new generation,” he said.
He noted that he has worked with trans models before — some who preferred to remain under the radar, others who were open about their identity, such as Valentina Sampaio, who appeared in the campaign for Balmain’s cosmetics collaboration with L’Oréal.
“Accepting each person’s difference is really important to me, because it shows that the freedom to be yourself is more important than any judgment, or being someone you don’t want to be,” he said.
Though Krow says his transition is ongoing, he is embracing his new masculine identity and hopes the rest of the world will come along for the ride.
“I would love to do more of the men’s shows. I specifically really want to walk for Louis Vuitton’s men’s show, too, because I don’t actually know if there has been a model to walk for both the women’s and the men’s show before. So fingers crossed, because it would be really cool to be the first one,” he said.