Throughout your life, the question of identity has been key from the very beginning: a Bosnian-Croat father and a Bosnian-Serbian mother, you were born in Bosnia, you fled the war and ended up in a refugee camp in Serbia, before being granted political asylum in Australia at the age of 8… Can we draw a parallel between your multiple origins and your career as both a female and a male supermodel?
I definitely think that I was born into a world of conflict and transition and it has been a theme that has stayed with me for sometime. I don’t think it defines who I am, but you can definitely draw a parallel. Before the war, no-one questioned my parents’ marriage, but as soon as the war broke out, it almost seemed strange for them to be a couple because they were mixed race. My brother and I, half Croatian, half Serbian, didn’t really fit into any Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian group. Today I don’t fit in any particular gender boundaries, at least not physically.
How would you describe yourself?
I try not to describe myself, even though when I do interviews and I work with journalists it’s difficult, because they want you to summarize yourself as one thing. I find this very limiting. I would definitely describe my last few years as living between genders. You can’t say it’s one or the other.
How should we refer to you? He or she?
A lot of my close friends say ‘she’. But a lot of people say ‘he’ too and I am not offended by that; when you are in this position, living this life inbetween genders, you can’t be too offended by anything. Either way is fine, but I prefer “she”.
Being a supermodel that embodies both genders, maybe you can help us with the following questions:
- What is it to be a woman?
- What is it to be a man?
Sigh. I think to be either one is to be a human being and at the end of the day, I don’t think that it’s that different to be one or the other, it’s just a part of who you are, how feminine or masculine your feelings are. Obviously there is both a physical and emotional aspect to it.
But you know how to behave as man or woman since you ‘play’ both roles, how different is being a woman from being a man for instance?
I have never been really good at playing a man! I can do it very easily for photoshoots, but it’s different from acting as a man on a daily basis. I really don’t think it is that different to be one or the other, but capitalist society does draw quite a big line that divides the genders, so these differences seem more exaggerated than they naturally are. Boys are expected to be a lot less emotional, tougher and I guess, somehow rough, where girls have a bit more freedom to express themselves physically, but less freedom mentally and overall because we live in a patriarchal society.
You often hear that you have to learn to be a woman and that being a man means to be “natural”, “unsophisticated”… but isn’t it as difficult to be a man, or at least to be what is expected of a man, than to be a woman?
Yes. We are born with a gender identity, as well as a sexual orientation. Most people are not aware of their gender identity because they look in the mirror and if they are female they see a female body; they aren’t even aware. They are more aware of their sexual orientation, in other words who they find attractive. But when the physical part and the mental part don’t coincide or the match is much more complicated, that is when you become aware of gender identity. A lot of scientists point out the fact that it is something we are born with. Of course, later on, we definitely learn how to behave in the way society dictates, but there is a biological factor to it as well. I think that men definitely have as much pressure to behave like men, as women have to behave like women.
You dress in womenswear, you wear make up… how does it feel for you? Is it a way to be truer to yourself or to ‘play’ with people?
It depends, it’s very much related to what I feel comfortable in. I didn’t wake up one day when I was a teenager thinking ‘I want to provoke people’. Bleaching my hair for instance, it was a very personal thing: I just wanted to be happy, pretty and comfortable. I was lucky throughout this process to gain a modelling career.
You have experienced war, a refugee camp, asylum… what impact has that heavy past had on you? How does it show?
I think it has made me extremely political. When I was a teenager, I was very inquisitive about life in general; I did a lot of research to find out what happened and why it happened. I wasn’t so traumatised by it, but I saw that my mother suffered the consequences; she struggled with depression and anxiety, and obviously my family has been torn apart, so I tried to find out the facts.
After being uprooted from Europe, what was your first impression when you arrived in Australia?
It was funny when we moved out from the refugee camp in Serbia; my brother and I were kids and we knew that when we moved to Australia, he would get a PlayStation and I would get my own room. I really wanted my own room! When we got there, we thought we were going to a city, because all the postcards were full of skyscrapers, but when you come to Australia it is actually mostly bushland. There are only skyscrapers in the big cities like Melbourne, but most people live in the suburbs; I remember my mum was so disappointed because she is very European, she had always lived in the city and we had to adapt to suburban life. Australian culture is so different from European culture; people are much more private. In Europe people value their terraces and their front yards, the neighbours come and have coffee with each other; whereas in Australia, people don’t venture out of their back yards, they prefer to stay confined within the privacy of their own homes. It was definitely a culture shock. You are an immigrant and no matter how multicultural Australia is, there is still a level of racism there, so we had to conform and fit in.
Today, where is home for you?
It’s Melbourne, where my family is. I live in New York at the moment though.
Have you always been attracted to the fashion world? We’ve heard that for a model, your knowledge about fashion is quite impressive.
I have definitely studied the industry I’m in, I wanted to know about it and to be able to make the right decisions about my career, but I don’t think it is an industry I would have ended up in if I weren’t a model. Also, being a model wasn’t my life’s ambition; growing up with a single mother who was also an academic, we weren’t living in the best circumstances. The biggest opportunity she could give us, was to educate us; education was a way for us to go up in the world. I was very much constrained at school, it was a bit like “if it is not a law or medical degree, don’t come home with a degree”. Modelling, acting and stuff like that wouldn’t seem sensible, it was something only people with rich parents could afford to fund.
Was modelling a dream for you?
I think it is something everyone thinks about when they are younger. As a child I wasn’t living the life that I felt comfortable with. Before I decided to let go and be myself, I would lay on my bed and dream about the possibilities; it wasn’t necessarily about being famous, it was more about being able to be myself. So modelling was definitely one of those things I would think about, but at the time when I was discovered, I didn’t think that I had the physical attributes to model.
Who do you look up to? Writers, artists, models…
I am a big fan of Russian literature; I love Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg… When it comes to my style, people like David Bowie, Boy George, Amanda Lear… My favourite model today is Kristen McMenamy.
How do other models react when you show up?
I like to think everyone is pretty okay with it. But it is a very competitive business; a cut throat industry where so few models can actually make a career and a living out of it. There is a lot less money in it than people think. I have definitely experienced some negativity from both sides, because I do both genders and some people think that it’s unfair. It is a bitchy industry, you can’t please everybody.
What attracts you?
Confidence, humour, a kind of wild outlook on life, creativity and intelligence.
What is beautiful for you?
Linda Evangelista… I think it has definitely changed. I grew up with my mum who was extremely beautiful but her standards of beauty were very high; she saw Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, those classic beauties, as ultimate beauties. I think she passed this on to me. Not that I think that beauty is so important, but it is something I’m looking at. Being in this industry, you start finding size zero beautiful too and you start taking on a more modern idea of beauty; you start to find things that are weird beautiful too. For instance, Kristen McMenamy, Gemma Ward, Saskia de Brauw… Not so much classical beauties, but there is something interesting in their look. It is interesting to see that people in a normal social situation wouldn’t be considered beautiful, but in Fashion there are no rules!
Modelling aside, what are your plans?
I don’t know. I definitely want to keep doing this for as long as I can and to try my hand at acting; I’ve just done a short film in New York. I am kind of throwing myself in at the deep end, to see if I have anything that would point me in that direction, because I don’t want to do anything I’m really shit at. I’m also promoting myself, trying to build the brand and the name to create longevity beyond just high fashion. Maybe I’ll go back to school, who knows? Or I’ll end up on a farm.
We’ve heard about a reality show.
We’ve been trying to push that option for a while now and at the moment they are considering it in Europe . I will only do it if it fits with my personality, I would not like to become that crazy person on TV.
“Artistic expression as a way of…
…questioning the world and exposing the truth about life.”
Interview: Guillaume Thomas