Photography and Styling by Teddy Quinlivan
Model Teddy Quinlivan is perhaps one of the fashion industry’s most vocal members of the queer community—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Discovered by Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière in 2015, Quinlivan came out as transgender in 2017 and has since become an outspoken advocate not only for the trans community but for other marginalized communities that find themselves confronted with systemic bias and discrimination.
With the arrival of President Trump into office, Quinlivan has further embraced her activism, utilizing her visibility as a high-profile model to disrupt and confront existing stereotypes about trans identifying individuals. At just 24 years of age, Quinlivan already has a long list of accomplishments to her name, but she shows no signs of slowing down. Having recently relocated to Paris, Quinlivan has begun to contemplate life beyond modeling, looking toward other vehicles and outlets to express herself. In an exclusive for L’Officiel USA, Quinlivan turned the camera lens on herself for a series of self-portrait digital collages exploring the world of video game culture, while sitting down to talk about her career, the Age of Trump, and the mantle of being called a “trans activist.”
JOSEPH AKEL: What inspired your gaming-inspired collages?
TEDDY QUINLIVAN: For me growing up, video games were such a big part of my life. I was particularly drawn to the aspect that allowed you to choose the gender of the character you selected. It kind of allowed me to quietly fulfill the fantasy of pretending to be the woman that I thought I was inside, living vicariously through the video game characters. Conversely, I've never seen a video game in my life where there's a transgender character. So for me, I felt like it would be really funny to call it GayStation instead of PlayStation to disrupt these notions of gamer avatars. Also, so much has changed with video games from when I was growing up—the games spawn whole cultures around themselves, like Cosplay conventions. I felt like the genre was really ready for some kind of exploration between art and fashion. Ultimately, the pieces created are just a playful, almost dated riff upon the tackiness of old PlayStation and GameCube covers, a sort of deliberate attempt to satirize that quality of their packaging and design.
AKEL: Speaking of disruption, how do you respond to being identified as a trans activist? What forms of pressure does that entail? Do you welcome the title?
QUINLIVAN: Well, for me, I didn't come out because I wasn't willing to talk about being trans. I came out because I thought I had a personal call and to do so, felt like I had a responsibility to my community. Ultimately, I knew it was going to come with the territory. Being trans doesn't define me. It's an aspect of my life and it's something that makes me unique and different. But [as for] being identified as an activist, or the face of the community, I knew what I was signing up for when I came out publicly. That publicity, however, has given me a platform. The more voices we have to bring to the subject of being transgender, then the better. The more transgender people talk about being transgender, the more people recognize us and hear our voices.
The one difficulty I sometimes have with my profile as a public trans figure is that I've been scared at times to be myself because I want to be a role model for the community, but I also like to have fun, I like to be a little bit crazy and outspoken and, have an opinion, but I do feel a lot of pressure to make my trans brothers and sisters—and everybody in between—proud.
AKEL: You’re very outspoken about Donald Trump and unafraid to criticize him.
QUINLIVAN: Trump directly threatens everything the fashion industry stands for, whether that is taking away the rights of trans people or the LGBTQIA+ community, the rights of immigrants, the rights of people of color. The fashion industry is made up of immigrants. It's made up of people of color. It's made up of people from the LGBTQIA+ community. It's made up of women.
AKEL: How has fashion helped you come to better understand who you are and what about the medium draws you to it?
QUINLIVAN: My love of fashion is so much more personal than just walking the fashion show or just doing the shoot. It's about being a part of the history of fashion. That was always my motivation to be a model. It’s what got me up in the morning. The actual modeling part is not an easy job, it’s not what excited me. In so many ways you're just expected to shut up and take it. You don't really have a say in what goes on. That said, I’ve been very lucky in my experiences and I feel really grateful in that respect and for the opportunities that I’ve been given. Am I critical of fashion? Yes. But I criticize it from a point of loving it and wanting it to be the very best that it can be. I know the power of fashion and that’s why I love it.
AKEL: What inspired you to make your recent move to Paris?
QUINLIVAN: New York was putting me in this very negative mindset, that there was such a strong social hierarchy. Like you go to a party and there's a VIP section and if you’re not in it, you’re haven’t made it. Or, instead of people introducing themselves properly, conversations begin with a ‘Who are you? What do you do?’ It just felt like what I was valued for in my social sphere in New York maybe wasn’t what I felt like I deserved to be valued for. And so for me, moving to Paris was really more of a rebellion against like New York. Don’t get me wrong, I love New York—it's one of the most incredible cities in the world and I had such a fun time there. But I just wanted a better lifestyle for myself.
I'm also in this transition period in my career as well, where I said, I feel like I've kind of done what I set out to do as a model and I'm trying to segue into something more, maybe more creatively rewarding for me. But, it’s also a return of sorts. Paris is where I came when I was first a model. It’s where I became an adult. And now I feel like it’s the right time to come back.
All clothing Louis Vuitton by Nicolas Ghesquière