Blurring the boundaries between men and women has brought Andrej Pejic international celebrity as a model, writes Caroline Overington, who talks to the 21-year-old and his mother about his career and family life.
ASK any mother what they want for their children, they’ll probably say they want them to be happy. Drill down a little, and here is what they mean:
They’d like their children not be bullied at school. They’d like them to have friends. Also, ultimately, if their children fall in love, they hope that it will be with somebody who will love them right back for being exactly as they are.
It’s probably fair to say that Melbourne mum, Jadranka Pejic, worried a little more than might be normal about her son, the now-21-year-old Andrej.
"Of course I could see that he was different," she tells the Weekly. "I was thinking, what kind of life will he have? Will the world accept him?"
Yes, it would accept him. In certain circles, Andrej Pejic is now the man most-wanted, a model who has strutted catwalks in London, Paris and New York, posed for French Vogue, and appeared on towering billboards in Times Square, all of which means that he’s near the pinnacle of his profession, an amazing achievement, more so when you understand that he has done all this — strutted and pouted and posed - dressed not as a man but as a fine-boned woman.
It’s an extraordinary story , not just because Andrej is so unusual — indeed, beautiful — to look at, nor because he’s making it as a man in a woman’s world.
The background is fascinating, too: Andrej came to Australia with his mother when he was just eight, speaking not a word of English. They were fleeing the war in Bosnia. Jadranka was university educated, but took a series of low-paid, cleaning jobs to put Andrej and his brother, Igor, through school, while trying to find her own feet in Melbourne.
From the earliest age, she could see that Andrej was different from other boys.
"He wanted to play with Barbie dolls and Barbie cars," Jadranka tells the Weekly. "I would try to hide these things from people but because it was my son and it made him happy I would slip his Barbie doll to him under the table and say, here, go and play with it, and bring it back to me when you are finished."
He wanted to grow his hair and wear girl’s clothes. She wondered whether she could, or even should try to change him. She was terrified that he’d be bullied. Then he gained entry to University High, a school with students from 55 different nations, who present in all kinds of ways (it’s got goths, and Geeks, and kids with Mohawks.)
The school’s motto is "individuality, diversity and excellence" - all of which Andrej had in spades.
"It was a sophisticated, liberal school," Andrej says. "They encouraged me to just be me."
Andrej was academically brilliant, cruising through his classes, and he proved popular at University High, where his long hair and make-up was just part of who he was.
Friends told him he was pretty enough to be a model but he was also keen on university. Then one night, he was working late, trying to earn a bit of extra money, when he was discovered by a modelling agency while working the counter at McDonald’s in Melbourne’s Swanston Street.
It was New Year’s Eve, and his life was about to change forever.
Read more of this story in the April issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.