Posted by Stephan Moskovic | January 18th, 2019

The Graduates

Teddy Quinlivan

As we’ve said in her Top 50 ranking, there are many models but only one Teddy Q. A statement that rings invariably true. She is many things to many people: a practiced muse for the likes of John Galliano and Nicolas Ghesquière; a defiant critic of the world she inhabits, checking its sexual abuse problem, advocating against prejudices and for transgendered representation; a student of fashion receiving her lessons not from any university, but from prolific designers themselves; and finally, a lover of great clothes, nominated three times over for Best Street Style in our Model of the Year Awards. Her latest Maison Margiela Mutiny fragrance campaign and Louis Vuitton campaign are accomplishments hard-earned. With Teddy’s name on your call sheet, you can be sure she’ll leave her mark. That’s the plan. Read our entire interview with her below.

Visit her Models.com page and click or tap the heart icon to favorite Teddy and keep track of her work.

Photography by Sebastian Kim for Models.com

Styling Andrew Mukamal
Hair Hiro + Mari
Makeup Lisa Houghton
Manicure Ada Yeung

Editor Stephan Moskovic
Text & interview by Steven Yatsko

Top image: Jacket – Ralph Lauren, Pants – Dickies, Sneakers – Nike

The Graduates, since its conception in 2013, has become a Models.com mainstay featuring the foremost models of the moment. More specifically, when a Hot Lister moves up in rank to Top 50 through their own accomplishments it’s deserving of recognition, each a worthy addition to this ongoing series.

Trench – Stylist’s own

I remember first meeting you when you were in New York… when did you start?
Like, seven years ago.

I remember your exact outfit almost.
Oh my god. Yeah, I was wearing some crazy Miu Miu look, actually.

Yeah, it had the little Miu Miu tail thing.
A true foxy girl from Boston.

How have the challenges of feeling successful changed since you first started modeling? And what I mean by that is as you’ve become more successful have the challenges changed?
In the very beginning of my career, I wasn’t one of these girls that started with a Prada exclusive. I started with a very small agency in Paris. I graduated high school and I moved to Paris by myself. I was supposed to go to Parsons, and I deferred from school and I felt like this would be a great way to learn about the industry and then go back to school. So I get to Paris, and, you know, I was thinking I was gonna walk all these fashion shows and be super fabulous. Really, I found out that it’s really hard to get recognized in the very beginning. Especially if your agency doesn’t necessarily have the right connections. A lot of stuff has to do with who you’re working with and who they introduce you to and who they propose you to. So I was working in the showroom for Martin Margiela and John Galliano’s first collection for them. And then I did the showroom for Oscar de la Renta. So like as a showroom model. It’s not the glamorous side of modeling: you show up and it’s really like a job, you show up and you do the job. I mean, it can be, you can make a lot of money doing it. I don’t want to discount anything from it, but it’s not like “the dream”.

I’ve heard it can be a great job, but yes, not the “dream”.
It’s just kind of like one of those things I had to do. Deferring from one year of school turned into two years and then I decided I was either going to quit modeling or change my agency. I decided I was going to give this one last shot. So I sent my portfolio out to all these agencies. Nobody wanted to meet me except me for Premium Models, in Paris. I met my amazing booker there, Anthony, who’s been so supportive of me throughout my whole career. We just clicked, our personalities just clicked. I think he saw a vision for me. He knew I really wanted it and I was willing to fight for it. They sent photos of me out to all the casting directors and I was very lucky because I was offered three different exclusives for three different brands. I decided with Louis Vuitton because I had been such a huge fan of Nicolas Ghesquiere since I was a young fashion admiring teenager. For me, it was like, “Wow, this is really full circle.” I evolved from one step of my career, working kind of in the background of the industry to walking exclusive for Louis Vuitton. After that, I did a full Fashion Week, in my first season in New York. I really didn’t think I was going to work very well. Little did I know I was walking Prada, and I was walking Gucci, and I was walking Fendi and all these shows that I never expected. That was so special, and so incredible for me. I’ve had a very great run as a high fashion model doing shows and things like that, for years now.

Did you feel challenged back then, did you feel not confident at times and what sort of struggles were you going through?
I think I always believed in myself…It was what I had decided to commit my life to at that point. I had already invested two-and-a-half-years in the job. It was like, “Okay, when an opportunity like this comes up you really, you run with it.” So I figured that I was gonna give it my all and run with it. I really wanted to see how far I could take it, which was really great. Then you realize there’s a whole different set of challenges. Like you’re not sleeping at all because you’re doing a fitting until five o’clock in the morning, and then you have a 6 AM call time. So you just don’t sleep for like an entire month. You’re getting used to people touching you and poking you backstage and I had never experienced those things. I never had to walk four shows in a day or what that entailed. Casting directors making you late for a show because we had to go to this fitting. I remember being at a fitting and panicking because I was going to be late for Prada and what a huge deal that was, that I was late for Prada.

Were you just kind of figuring it out along the way?
I was definitely figuring it out along the way. I didn’t really know what I was doing, all I knew was that it was professional for me to show up on time, and it was professional for me to show that I gave a shit and that I cared. So, that’s essentially what I did, was I just tried to prove that I really cared. I also tried to show everybody how much I loved the business through talking to the designers and wearing the clothes. I tried to be strategic: if I was going to a casting for Hedi Slimane, I would dress like a Slimane girl; if I showed up for a casting for Margiela, I would be like a Galliano girl. I was educated enough in fashion that I kind of knew what they were looking for and how these people casted. I had been looking at their shows for seasons and seasons. I’d show up and I would try to show them that I could be the Louis Vuitton girl, but I could also be the Gucci girl. I could also be the Saint Laurent girl.

Did that get tiring at all ever?
It’s not even that it got tiring because for me it was really exciting––I think it’s a really exhausting profession. You’re very young, you don’t sleep and people in fashion aren’t particularly the nicest. It’s a lot of ego, a lot of personality and I have an ego and I have personality, so trying to navigate that as well. Also trying to stand up for yourself, but also, not piss people off because you’re being too difficult. It’s really about finding a balance and it’s not the easiest to find that balance. Your agency can only help you so much, but once you’re in front of the casting director and the designer it’s really up to you to sell yourself and prove to them that you deserve to be where you are. I was never one of those models that had like a great relationship with a casting director or had a great relationship with a stylist. For me, it was always that I had a connection with the designer. I always tried to make a point whenever I met with somebody that I admired to let them know how much I really admired their work because I really appreciated the clothes and the art of fashion and that I was working with these legendary designers.

Your agency can only help you so much, but once you’re in front of the casting director and the designer it’s really up to you to sell yourself and prove to them that you deserve to be where you are.

Where did that enthusiasm come from?
That was really just the most special part of it for me: growing up as this girl, and she’s a transgender kid, and she was very Massachusets, going on what at the time was style.com, and just looking at the beautiful things that people were conceptualizing and making. How incredible it was to work with these designers. I didn’t go to college for fashion in the end, but I really wanted my experience in fashion to be my education. And it really has been. I’ve really learned so much about the business, about the industry and what it takes to be a designer and getting investors and factories, and the atelier. And just all the different aspects. And the production and the set design, and really, as a model you really get to see every piece of the business. And so, it’s been really an incredible ride.

Has the way you define being a model changed at all?
Yeah. I think when I first started, it was kind of the end of that Russian, that Eastern European era when it was like Sasha Pivovarova, Daria Strokous, all those girls. It was almost the end of that cool girl era, too, where it was like Lexi Boling, Binx and Issa Lish on every runway. That was a big thing as well. I kind of came in at the tail end of that. Now we’re in, well, Kendall Jenner had just walked Marc Jacobs, or something. The Instagirl thing wasn’t really a thing, and now, that’s really what modeling has become. How many followers do you have? Who do you know? It’s really a fame game now, which sucks in a lot of ways, because, I don’t have a famous family; my mom and my dad work in insurance. I don’t come from a rich family in Calabasas. When you look interesting, you look interesting. but it’s not necessarily the kind of beauty that attracts an Instagram following. I really had to capitalize on my personality and letting that shine through. The problem is when you’re not famous already and you come and you try to let your personality speak for itself a lot of people have a lot of issues with that.

You don’t feel you have that immunity?
Because Bella and Kendall and Gigi can walk up and they can be Bella and Kendall and Gigi and they can be three hours late for a show. I can’t do that stuff. I would never get away with it in a million years. I just couldn’t. I also want to remain true to myself and to not be walked all over and to be treated equally. A big thing for me and a big struggle for me is how do I stay relevant and not piss everybody off? Also, post photos on Instagram that are gonna get a lot of likes, which are of course, the sexy sort of pictures, but not make brands upset that I’m that I’m doing something negative with my image, or being too vulgar. Navigating that has been a challenge, as well. I found that when I came out as transgender publicly it finally gave me something else. I wasn’t just that girl walking shows anymore––I was that girl walking shows who also had something to say. Most of these brands have never used a transgender girl before, most of these brands have never had an openly trans woman walk for them before. I was really one of the first.

Jacket – Ralph Lauren, Top – Urban Outfitters, Underwear – Chrome Hearts, Pants – Dickies, Belt – Stylist’s own

Were you prepared to be an activist for that?
Yeah, I was. I think I only came out because I was ready. I felt like it was the right time, and I felt like I was in a position where I could do something like that and people would listen to what I had to say. That was really important for me––that I proved myself. But also I wanted to prove that I can be successful without the transgender thing being a factor in my success. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Oh well, she just got that show because she’s trans.” I really wanted to prove to people that I was just a good model in general, I was just good at my job, and then like, the transgender thing came second to that.

When did you make it public?
I came out I think a year ago, now?

What has happened since then, do you feel defined by that, still?
I don’t feel defined by it, at all, because I feel like at this point I walked Prada once, and I was never gonna walk it again. Me being transgender was not going to play a factor in whether I walked Prada or not or whatever show I was walking and then didn’t walk. I had walked Valentino, I had closed Valentino, and then I came out as transgender and I never walked it again. I knew that there would be some brands that it would work for, and other brands that wouldn’t quite get it. I think you have to accept that when you come out as transgender, as much as I would love everyone to accept it, it’s quite a polarizing topic for people.

And you’re already vying for bookings in one of the most competitive jobs…
I’m quite a polarizing figure because I’m opinionated and I have a lot to say besides being trans. Being trans isn’t the only thing I talk about. I talk about the state of the industry as a whole, and I think for a lot of people, when somebody comes in, especially a model, and starts to question the status quo of the industry, and the behavior that goes on and what’s appropriate…I felt like once I had come out as trans, and gotten past that struggle, I felt like it was going to be really easy for me to come out and speak about other parts of the industry that I really felt like it was important to talk about, that nobody was talking about. Then I did and 50% of the industry has been really receptive and supportive of that and then another 50% thinks it’s like the worst thing that’s ever happened. This is an industry of tradition, as well. As much as it’s evolving and it’s changing, it’s an industry of tradition and I think a lot of people don’t want to change the status quo, or they want to keep things the way that they’ve always been.

Were you prepared for that, also? Because coming out as transgender you had mentally prepared for…
I was prepared, I was prepared for it because people were really okay with me being transgender, and at the end of the day, I received a lot of support for being trans. So, I figured the next logical step was to talk about the other issues as well. Not just representation and casting but how the models are treated. People who love power, love power and they cling on to it with their fingernails, trying to make sure that it doesn’t escape their grip. And I think that it’s been, it’s been an uphill battle. It really has. It’s difficult because I want to do what’s right. You know, modeling––it was always a dream, but it was never a passion. It was never something that I went to sleep at night and begged God that I would wake up and be a model.

It sounds like you like the fashion element.
Yes, I love the creative, fashion element of it. I love working with creative people, and making beautiful art and making images that people will reference and last for a lifetime. I love walking in shows with incredible clothing. The egocentric aspect of modeling and the glamour of the industry I just don’t connect with. I never cared. I just honestly cared about the designers, I cared about the photographers, I cared about working with the creative people. All the other bullshit I just did not care about.

Every time I’ve ever come out with anything, it’s always been to try to make the industry a safer, better place for everybody where people feel valued and respected and their humanity is realized.

Do you think the romance and the glamour and the seductiveness of the industry misled people somewhere along the line?
I think a lot of people get into this business because they see it from the outside looking in, thinking it’s such a dream world, and it’s so incredible, that you can wear all these clothes, and meet all these fabulous people. But you know what? It’s an industry with a lot of problems and a lot of stuff that needs to be worked out and addressed. Anybody who wants to try to make changes is met with a lot of retaliation, in general. Whether it’s black models wanting more representation, or trans girls wanting more representation, or people, I just think about how difficult it was to pass these laws and regulations. Like, the modeling industry didn’t have child labor laws up until like a couple years ago. We’re in the 21st century and we didn’t even have child labor laws. That’s how slow it really has been.

There are huge gaps.
There’s this presumption that we’re making millions of dollars, and we’re getting paid tens of thousands of dollars to walk these shows. That’s not true. Some of the major campaigns that I’ve worked for have paid me so little I can’t even go into the store and buy a piece of their clothing.

Really?
Yeah. Models are not paid the way they used to be paid. So that’s another thing for me too: I understand this aspect of like, “Okay, well, I’m going to keep my mouth shut about all the negative stuff that goes on because I’m making so much money.” But I’m not making so much money. I’m in the Top 50 and I am not making so much money, I am not a millionaire. I am not making enough money to keep my mouth shut, essentially. So as long as I’m here, and as long as I remain in this business, I’m not going to walk away from being a model if I haven’t made a positive contribution for the future models that come after me. Every time I’ve ever come out with anything, it’s always been to try to make the industry a safer, better place for everybody where people feel valued and respected and their humanity is realized. People forget that models are humans, we’re not just pretty girls that you see, we’re more than just a face in a picture or a body. We have souls and we have lives and aspirations and dreams outside of being glamorous and walking in fashion shows.

Do you feel like there’s rest for you in the fashion industry? Or do you think it’s too riddled with problems to ever be content with it?
I don’t think any industry is too riddled with problems; it’s just I can’t change it all myself, I can’t be the only one coming out and saying, “This isn’t acceptable, this isn’t okay.” It’s gonna take more than one model, it’s gonna take more than 10 models, it’s gonna take more than 100 models. It’s gonna take all of us coming together and demanding human rights and demanding that we are treated well and treated fairly and paid well. That won’t happen until we all collectively come together and ask for more and until the people in power, the big agencies, the casting directors, the stylists and the executives all understand that we need to be treated better, as well. It’s more than just creating a charter. It’s more than just creating a fancy piece of paper that has rules written on it. There needs to be some kind of tangible, enforceable aspect to these protections and guidelines. It has to be more than a nutrition chart. It has to be enforced in one way or another. I think getting people to check themselves is very difficult. I think we also live in a culture and time where people are really, really, really terrified because they’re scared something’s going to come out about them or that they didn’t treat everybody in their career very well and we point the finger at one person and then they say, “Well, what about this person? And they did this, too. And that’s horrible.” It’s like, okay, we need to stop pointing the finger at people and we need to just point the finger at the industry, collectively and say, “What can we do to be better?” What can we do to be better because it’s such a progressive industry and we’re setting the tone for what’s aspirational and what’s acceptable and what’s in style and what’s in fashion and what’s cool.

Denim jacket – R13

Do you think that models are particularly empowered at the moment?
I think more so than when I first started, for sure, but I think there could be more. I feel like it’s not enough. I think this is just the beginning, but I think really we need to support each other. At the end of the day, it’s an industry of young people and it’s an industry of young people who aren’t necessarily educated in it.

They’re getting their education on the fly.
People in the industry need to be mindful of the fact that if you’re on set with a 17-year-old girl, and you’re screaming at your assistants and you’re being abusive to people, they internalize that and think that that kind of behavior is acceptable and appropriate because it’s coming from the top. Just like the state of the country, with the presidency. The tone that we need to set comes from the top, down. So if the President is saying that Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault didn’t really mean anything, then the tone in the fashion industry is, you know, it’s not that big of a deal. The executives, the editors, the casting directors, the stylists, they really need to make sure that they are leading by example.

Because you live in Paris, now, do you think there’s a fundamental difference between what the Paris market cares about? Because the US right now is very political and fashion is very political, especially in the US. But do you think it feels the same in Paris?
It does feel the same. One perfect example is after all the Bruce Weber stuff came out Louis Vuitton stopped working with him and they hired Collier Schorr, who is a very progressive female, gay photographer. I felt like what Nicolas did in that moment was so right. I felt like that was a great example of somebody who did the right thing. That was a great example of somebody who said, “This behavior is abhorrent and we can’t lend a platform to this and we can’t support this, so we’re going to completely change the tone and the direction and we’re going to hire somebody who really stands for the values that are important and that we want to project as a business. But also, as an industry.” I think that more people should be making more changes like that instead of making excuses for these predatory people. Instead of making excuses for them, we, more or less, either rehabilitate them and educate them on how to treat people, or you find somebody who can do the job just as well and isn’t going to do that kind of stuff.

I think we are responsible for each other. It really has to be all of us in this together, hand in hand, saying, “We deserve better and we want more.” I think it’s very important and critical to the survival of the industry as we know it.

Do you think there’s space for them to be rehabilitated? Or do you think it’s already so competitive…
I think there has to be. I think some people have done some really inexcusable things and they don’t deserve to have a place and space in this industry, but other people now have this opportunity to really reflect upon their behavior instead of saying, “I’ve never done this before.” Just own up to it and apologize, and I think they’d be surprised how when you take accountability for your actions, people really respect that. And I think a big piece of this is taking accountability. One of my favorite people to work with is John Galliano. He really damaged his career very severely with a video that came out, but he repented, and he asked for forgiveness, and he held himself accountable for what he had done. He apologized and he really set an example that you can fuck up, you can ask for forgiveness and receive it, and come back and still be on top of your game. People should really feel empowered by.

What do you like about modeling, or what do you like about being part of this industry?
Knowing that I’m going to make something really beautiful and something really exciting. Now with the internet, an image can live on forever so I know that the images that I’m making now, maybe in a thousand years, people will be referencing them. This is a defining moment in fashion history.

Do you think the planet will still exist in a thousand years?
I don’t know, but I frickin’ hope it does.

…referring to climate change, sadly.
That’s another thing, too, is the fashion industry also has a responsibility not just in the way that we treat models, but also in being sustainable. A lot of fast fashion companies really are abusive to the people that work for them. For example, like these factories that have been collapsing in Bangladesh and the fact that these people make like six cents an hour. The fashion industry is also so wasteful. It’s so consumer driven, instead of buying 10 new outfits a season, save your money and buy one beautiful thing and have it forever. I think the fashion industry could have a great role in educating consumers and making sure that they know, “If you buy one of my pieces, it was made by an artisan who was paid well, can put food on their family’s plates.” That, to me, is part of luxury. When I buy into a luxury item it’s because I know that the people who are behind it are being treated fairly, economically, and they’re getting paid appropriately. And I think those kinds of things are really important. It’s less wasteful.

Do you think models have taken on a new role, in general, with all of this?
I think it’s important to. I know I have. I think it would be really incredible if some of the bigger girls, with more Instagram followers, stood up and spoke out a little bit more.

Yeah. Do you think it’s the responsibility of all models to do so?
I think we are responsible for each other. It really has to be all of us in this together, hand in hand, saying, “We deserve better and we want more.” I think it’s very important and critical to the survival of the industry as we know it.

Are you, all things considered, happy to where you’ve arrived in your career?
I am happy. I think that I’ve hustled and worked really hard to get to where I am. And I devoted a big chunk of my youth and of my life to this business and I didn’t do it just because I wanted to see myself in a magazine or I wanted a campaign. I care about where I came from and where I’ve gotten to and the friends I’ve made along the way. Also, the opportunities I’ve gotten, the chances to work with these incredible people. I don’t want to leave this industry without feeling like I’ve made a positive impact on it. Even if I’m not remembered that way, I still want to know in my heart I did the right thing.

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