On opening night at Runway 7 Fashion’s show at Sony Hall, two stories below Midtown Manhattan’s theater district, the models pranced up, down and around the New York Fashion Week runway, as models do. Their high heels stepped in time to the music pounding and iPhones, Androids and Canons snap-snap-snapping.
This was last Thursday night, and like many, many nights known within the industry by the acronym “NYFW,” transgender models were a part of the scene.
As Joseph DeAcetis reported last fall in Forbes, Runway 7 Fashion is recognized as the first and only hybrid of its kind. It is not only the producer of NYFW events, it’s what DeAcetis called “a vertical one-stop fashion platform representing cultural diversity by integrating international designers, media celebrities and commerce.”
One of the designers on display, Trans Clothing Company, is one of the first trans-inclusive designer brands, has been in business since 2019 and a part of NYFW since 2020.
But never before in the 79-year-history of this huge event had one of those models been a legend in mixed martial arts, or an out transgender girl as young as 10.
Noella is from Chicago, and one could tell watching her walk before the hundreds of people crowded around the runway that this was not her first fashion show.
“Noella’s first show was Chicago Fashion Week at 7 years old,” her parent, Dee, told me in an email. An out trans teen told her about open auditions, and she watched YouTube videos to prepare. “She booked two designers at her very first audition,” said Dee. “Since then she has been in two Chicago Fashion Weeks and a handful of smaller shows.”
To anyone who thinks, “How can a child know they’re transgender at 10 years old?” Dee has this answer: “At 2 years old, she started telling us she wasn’t a boy. At 4.5, she socially transitioned and at 7 she legally transitioned.”
The author of this story was 4 when I knew I wasn’t a boy. I modeled and acted in commercials, starting at age 5, until I was 17, and walked the runway, too. As a girl.
“So cool,” Noella told me, through Dee. Her own goal, said her parent, “is to be a visible transgender youth activist and runway model.”
After the show for Trans* Clothing Company, Noella changed out of her midriff-bearing ensemble and met me backstage, where she posed for photographs with her parent and the other models profiled in this report: Seleste A. Loparo, Livia Wolfe, Fallon Fox and Lex Pe’er Horwitz.
Noella and Dee’s whirlwind trip to New York City included a pedicab ride, a visit to the Museum of Ice Cream and her first Broadway show, Aladdin. And on Friday night, it was back to the Runway 7 show at Sony Hall, this time to watch instead of walk.
“After the show,” Runway 7 publicist Tara Solomon of TaraInk told me, “Noella scooped some of the heart-shaped confetti off the runway, which she packed in her suitcase as a memento of the best New York moment a girl could have.”
Noella is not only the first out trans model who’s 10 years old, she is also the first member of her family to transition.
“My spouse and I are also transgender,” Dee told me. “Noella transitioned way before we did. She is the most self-assured person I know. I tell her all the time I want to be like her when I grow up.”
However, Noella’s brother has drawn the line, Dee said. “My son sat us down and told us he is a boy and is staying a boy.”
Before flying home to Chicago, Dee shared their thoughts about how Noella could walk the runway before hundreds of people, all looking at her and pointing their cameras and phones at her, without flinching.
“I don’t think she ever has nerves,” said Dee. “She loves everything from beginning to end about walking in runway shows. The very first thing she did when she packed was make sure she had her eyelashes that were made for her. She said she is never worried about tripping because when she gets onto the runway, she feels the most confident in herself. As soon as it was over, she said, ‘I am ready to do this again!’”
“That was an experience!” Fallon Fox told me backstage after walking a runway for the first time in her life. “It was really fun.”
Fox, 46, confessed she didn’t even get to see what she looked like in her flowy white outfit until I shared my photographs with her after the show.
Not only was she the first in her sport to take part in NYFW, Fox previously made headlines in 2013, when she came out as the first transgender woman in professional mixed martial arts. A reporter had threatened to out her and she opted to beat them to the punch, so to speak. Fox retired from MMA with a record of 5-1-0 in 2014, and that same year was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Given her years in the octagon, she said she wasn’t nervous at NYFW. “I’ve been in front of large crowds before, so I’m kind of used to that. I was just kind of worried about tripping, maybe, or having an accident or something. And I did think I was going to trip at first, but I didn’t. Things went smoothly!”
In our interview, Fox told me she would consider doing this again, as well as a range of other topics, but said that she can’t talk about the movie based on her life, which she announced last year. Fox also said apart from the runway, she was keeping a low profile on this trip before returning to Los Angeles.
She also said she has no interest in running for political office. But she was willing to talk about the latest efforts by Republican-led state legislatures to ban transgender athletes, such as South Dakota last week and Iowa this week, with more to come.
“Lately it seems that the Republicans have been putting up anti-trans bills and especially anti-trans sports bills, and also health care issues. It’s been looking kind of dark lately,” said Fox. What would she like the Biden administration to do about it? “I would like to see them do more, whenever they can. I mean, I’m not a politician and I don’t know exactly what they can do. But I think there needs to be more. There’s more that needs to be done.”
Lex Pe’er Horwitz
Lex Pe’er Horwitz is a queer, trans nonbinary Jewish LGBTQ+ educator, consultant, public speaker, and model based out of Philadelphia and New York City. In addition to modeling for Trans Clothing Company, they’re also a trans athlete.
“Sports has had an integral part in building who I am today,” they said, adding that their Jewish faith is just as an essential part of who they are.
“My mission is to be able to provide both the language and the judgment-free, what some would say, the ‘safe spaces’ or ‘brave spaces,’ for folks to engage in conversations on queer topics and issues,” Horwitz told me. They are a 2019 college graduate with a degree in psychology. When not on the runway, Horwitz is working with Temple University Health in Philadelphia on a project that surveys patients in gender affirming healthcare about their satisfaction post-treatment and post-surgery.
“Whether it’s in education, consulting, public speaking, research or even in modeling, my goal is to be my unapologetic, authentic, confident self,” said Horwitz, “and help others reach that part of themselves, as well as help others to support their queer siblings, neighbors and strangers living their best lives as well.”
In addition to identifying as Jewish, trans and nonbinary, they said they use the term “transcendent.”
Horwitz brings their advocacy work to modeling where they model both traditional “masculine” and “feminine” looks, highlighting beauty beyond the binary and the power of nonbinary and gender expansive existence.
“One of the most beautiful things about working with TCC,” they said about Trans Clothing Company, “is being able to show who I am, and how proud I am, where I am, and all this growth and evolution of coming to my true self and honoring that. Modeling provides this beautiful opportunity to share that power with others, and to share the absolute joy of trans and queer existence.”
In addition to being a runway model, Livia Wolfe is a human rights activist, mental health advocate, media and fashion coordinator, speechwriter, actress and photographer.
Following her work representing Trans Clothing Company on the runway at NYFW, Wolfe’s next stop is to rep Aquatico Clothing Company at Los Angeles Fashion Week later this year.
According to press materials provided by Runway 7, the Sacramento, Calif. native is also appearing in six films later this year.
When she’s not acting or modeling, Wolfe has been working with the Sacramento County Department of Health on a transgender-specific mental health campaign. Wolfe also went to Washington in 2019 to lobby U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill on behalf of transgender Americans. Previously, Wolfe worked as a civilian for the U.S. Department of Defense on critical command and control systems for the U.S. Navy.
Seleste A. Loparo
NYFW was Seleste’ A. Loparo’s first show and experience as a fashion model. She is co-owner of Airbrush Beauty Salon and spa in Tiffin, Ohio. She’s also on the board of directors of Sandusky Pride. Her core value, according to the Runway 7 presskit, is “Be your authentic self.”
When not modeling Loparo loves to create. Some of her favorite hobbies include makeup, hair design, and skincare. She holds three licenses in cosmetology, massage therapy and as an esthetician. The most important thing in her life, Loparo said, is her mother and family.
Here’s how to follow these models on Instagram: Noella is @thenoellabella, Fallon Fox is @fallon_fox, Lex Pe’er Horwitz is @lex_horwitz, Livia Wolfe is @ladyliviawolfe, Seleste A. Loparo is @s.a.l.beauty, Trans Clothing Company is @transclothingcompany, designer Melissa Kay Atkinson is @melissakayatkinson, Runway 7 Fashion is @runway7fashion. Find out more about three other models who represented TCC last week by following them at: @Amarralize, @oliver_actually and @katiepfanz.