At the start of each year, beauty and fashion fads swiftly populate our social media feeds—and fade away as quickly as they came. But some change is everlasting. Despite popular culture's fluctuating interests, a selection of tastemakers and thought leaders always rise above the noise to influence how we see beauty and celebrate culture.
From the first curve model on American Vogue to a Black drag performer with a makeup line, a new group of innovators is reshaping the world in their image. "I don't think anyone can have the final say on beauty. It's a constant discovery," model, writer and activist Xoài Phạm tells Byrdie. "We’ve seen beauty change over time due to the changing cultural circumstances of the world. The vastness is what makes beauty what it is. It's malleable."
These are the new leaders in fashion and beauty right now. Representation for the underrepresented takes center stage in the lives of these fresh voices and changemakers. The zeitgeist will never be the same. Below get to know each one.
Precious Lee is a bona fide legend on the rise. Originally from Atlanta, Lee began taking on commercial modeling work during college. Since storming Milan Fashion Week in 2020, the IMG model has racked up a total of seven Vogue covers worldwide (she was the first curve model on the cover of American Vogue), covered Sports Illustrated, attended the Met Gala, and walked the Versace runway. "It's a whole new world, and the ones who are going to thrive are those who are going to embrace that authentically, not performatively," Lee said in an interview with W. She is the future—and the future is now.
Tourmaline has been known for activism in NYC for years—she's worked for the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and other notable groups. Recently, however, she's evolved into a cultural icon, serving as an artist, filmmaker, designer, and writer.
Her art examines the aesthetics of luxury and liberation. Tourmaline is a Guggenheim fellow and with a current exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Afrofuturist room. Her films—which illustrate the glamour, struggle, and ferocity of Black trans historical figures like Marsha P. Johnson and Mary Jones—have been acquired by the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, and Tate Modern. Including a collaboration with Chromat on a groundbreaking swimsuit line, her designs celebrate all bodies (with a concentrated focus on those who choose not to tuck, trans masc people who pack, trans femmes, nonbinary people, and intersex people). As a writer, Tourmaline has published a series encouraging us to dream of freedom and envision a better tomorrow. Overall, her work teaches us that glamour is more than simply aesthetic; it’s our birthright and it’s key to our collective emancipation.
The Curaçao-born stylist, creative director, and photographer has risen to global prominence over the years for his expansive catalog of intimate photoshoots and magnanimous collaborations. JeanPaul Paula takes every opportunity possible to further representation for LGBTQ+ people and combat racism in the fashion industry and beyond. Through his work, the multidisciplinary artist has developed an archive of celebration and resistance, with exhibitions such as Y’all Better Quiet Down (2018), inspired by the iconic 1973 speech from Sylvia Rivera, and the intimate Nos Kultura, a Calvin Klein collaboration recently on view in Amsterdam honoring his familial heritage. A former judge on Holland’s Next Top Model, his client list consists of FKA twigs, Louboutin, Jean Paul Gaultier, Mykki Blanco, Nike, and many more.
"Genderfluid fashion" has quickly become a buzzword uttered by nearly everyone in recent years, but Harris Reed is the name to know. The British-American fashion designer has become a leading force in the industry not only for his genderless garments but also for his star-studded client list from Troye Sivan to Ezra Miller. During his first year at Central Saint Martins in London, he caught the eye of Solange’s stylist. Soon thereafter, Reed styled Harry Styles for Vogue, marking the first time a man appeared in the publication wearing a dress.
"Even though I’m thinking about gender constantly, when it comes to the physical design process, I try not to imagine my characters as gendered. I imagine them more as fluid beings. It’s more about the body, the shapes, forms, and the personality traits rather than all the labels,” Reed told Twin Magazine.
Lia Clay Miller
You might not know Lia Clay Miller by name, but you’re definitely familiar with her art. From numerous collaborations with Candy Magazine to a revolutionary moment with Billy Porter and an Elle cover with Priyanka Chopra, Miller is conquering the landscape of fashion photography. A North Carolina native, she got her start interning at Teen Vogue and soon became known for her tender yet luminous portraits. Her work has become known as a vehicle of representation for the various communities she belongs to, but that isn’t her goal or her intention. For Miller, it’s all about the art. As she told The Luupe, “I’ve grown slightly passive about the conversation around my photographs. I want them to be just that—photographs. I’d rather the representation be less about myself and more about who’s in them.” Nevertheless, her work has made a mark, garnering a myriad of accolades. Miller is a 2019 British Fashion Council’s New Wave Creative, 2020 Adobe Lightroom Rising Star, and an honoree in the Creative Review’s Photography Annual 2020.
A Queens native, performance artist, poet, and model, Brian Alarcón is the cool kid everyone should know. He was an NYC club kid in high school who was soon signed as a model, launching his career in fashion. Now signed to Xyne Casting and New Icon, Alarcón has modeled for numerous brands, including Levi’s and Opening Ceremony. While studying poetry at Brooklyn College, he worked at Opening Ceremony’s flagship store, where he assisted high-profile clients like Patti Wilson and Emily Ratajkowski. Unlike many poets who traditionally keep their personal image unknown, Alarcón goes against the grain, utilizing his image to mesh his modeling work into his craft. He pulls influence from pop stars to create music video–inspired portraits and soundscapes for his writing. His poetic works utilize MIDI keyboard controllers to create soundscapes that synthesize and loop throughout each piece. The central themes of his poems include “love, New York City, queerness, sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” he tells Byrdie. “I’m not one of those writers who writes to her. I write to him.” Recently Alarcón completed a literature fellowship with Queer | Art where he worked on an upcoming poetry album exploring sexuality and identity, pushing the boundaries of language, rhythm, and music.
If you have gone to a club in Brooklyn, then you’ve definitely seen Junior Mintt. This drag superstar is more than an entertainer, she’s the moment. As a performance artist, she curates empowering experiences as the organizer of In Living Color, a monthly ode to the “highly melanated and genderfully extravagant.” Her performances consist of a queer reclamation of the Black church and early 2000s–inspired lip syncs. Mintt is the queen of New York nightlife and has come to be one of the most important voices of our time. She challenges audience members to dream bigger than themselves and to believe in their beauty. Through her activist framework, Mintt is also a business owner with her brand, Mintty Makeup. As one of the few trans-owned beauty brands, Mintty Makeup is all about “finding yourself in the makeup and not believing that the makeup is going to be your identity. [It’s] just a beautiful tool.” Junior Mintt is here to light up the world one lip sync at a time, teaching us all a new meaning of empower-mintt.
Originally a kindergarten teacher, Antwaun Sargent has now emerged as one of the leading voices in art, criticism, and fashion. His presence in the art world has led to a shift in the status quo, defying traditional ideas around beauty and value. “I have always been interested in the ways in which we can reframe the conversation around some of the voices that have been left out,” Sargent tells The New York Times. In 2019, he published his first book with Aperture, The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, which was an adaptation of his Times essay. This volume of portfolios and essays spotlights 15 artists whose work has been presented in museums, magazines, and campaigns. Just early last year, the Chicago native was named director and curator of the Gagosian, one of the world’s largest art galleries. This makes him the first Black director in the gallery’s history. In May 2021, Sargent guest-edited Art in America’s New Talent issue, ushering in a new generation of changemakers.
Self-dubbed “The Texture Savant,” Jadis Jolie is a master of all things hair. She first began hairstyling at 14 and discovered she had a true talent. “I came out of the gate doing sew-ins,” Jolie tells Byrdie. “I did it on my best friend. No one taught me anything. I figured it out just by looking at magazines.” Many of Jolie’s custom wigs include avant-garde locs, coily afros, and sleek updos. She can do it all. Her first foray into the fashion industry was a Dazed cover shoot with FKA twigs. A friend in the business hooked her up with the gig, but she never saw things going beyond that opportunity. “It didn’t click for me that this could actually be a job, but then I booked another job. 2019 became a year of exploration.” Jolie has since dived into editorial hairstyling for major stars, including cover stories for Simone Biles on Glamour and Ari Lennox on Preme Magazine. “I have a knack for aesthetics, especially Black aesthetics. It’s an aspect of the industry that people don’t truly appreciate.”As her career continues to accelerate, her intentions remain the same. She wants to inspire people. “When it comes to my work, I want people to realize their power. Strong styling can ignite something in people that they didn't know they had before."
Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, Miu Miu, Helmut Lang, and more. You name it, and Dara Allen has been in it. The model-stylist–fashion editor extraordinaire has taken the fashion world by storm the past few years ever since making her runway debut with Marc Jacobs as an unsigned model who happens to be trans. Can you say legendary? Now signed to Heroes Model Management and Second Name as a stylist, the San Diego native is a force to be reckoned with. “Creativity doesn’t stop and end with work. A full life exists beyond it,” Allen told Fashionography. “Validation from the industry doesn’t make something good, even though it feels like it does so much of the time.” Her collaborations include Interview, WSJ., and Vanity Fair. She’s also a frequent collaborator and model for photographer Ethan James Green, including a cover shoot with Ashley Graham.
Ghanaian-born creative director and The Gordon Parks Foundation scholar Collins Nai’s smooth and ethereal style makes his photography powerful and impactful. Known for his soft and pristine portraiture in fashion campaigns and lifestyle brands, Nai has been working in the industry for some time. Recently, Nai has worked with Zac Posen and Remy Ma, but despite the success of collaborating with big names, Nai seeks more. He seeks equity. He takes every opportunity to highlight more models of color in his work and to give them all the attention and care their counterparts often receive. “As a person of color, it becomes exhausting when you have to fight just for the baseline amount of support,” Nai tells Byrdie.
Beauty knows no bounds for Raisa Flowers. She’s painted the faces of Rihanna, Hunter Schafer, Junglepussy, Joan Smalls, and countless others. Her emboldened and audacious makeup style has made a viral beauty mark on the stratosphere of cosmetics and fashion. Flowers’ credits include Pat McGrath, Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS, and the covers of Allure, i-D, Vogue, and T Magazine. When she isn’t transforming the facades of others, she’s a muse. After being enlisted by Rihanna to open the inaugural Savage x Fenty show, modeling offers like Calvin Klein came flooding in. Recently named one of the British Fashion Council’s New Wave Creatives and Essence’s MUA of the Year, Flowers permeates her presence in the world of beauty and beyond.
Eckhaus Latta, Vogue India, and SSENSE are just a few of the collaborations and credits of New York–based fashion model and photographer Cruz Valdez. “I’m inspired to create images that feel as exciting to me as reading a fashion magazine felt growing up,” Valdez said in her Dazed 100 profile. She began taking photos of her friends in her apartment, and everything took off from there. Valdez takes pride in capturing traditionally underrepresented groups in fashion, including people involved in underground club culture and the LGBTQ+ community. Her editorial work includes spotlighting trans women such as her collaboration with Interview called “Meet the Dolls Keeping New York City Alive”, featuring up-and-coming talents like Olivia Jo, Zholiē Valentine and Grey Hoffman. “As a photographer who is also a transgender woman, trans rights and protections are a constant priority in my life and for those around me."
Multi-hyphenate doesn’t even begin to describe all that Xoài Phạm is. She has helped lead movements as an activist working with the Transgender Law Center; written articles for Elle, Autostraddle, and Teen Vogue; written screenplays; and modeled in countless campaigns. She’s everything and then some. “I see my role in the world as a storyteller,” Phạm tells Byrdie. “I’m diversifying the stories told about trans people. We come from a lineage of people who have always had meaningful roles in our society not based in tragedy but in joy and abundance.” Phạm wants the fashion industry to “change at the root."
She looks forward to a world in which trans people are more than simply included in the existing confines of cisnormativity but celebrated for their multitudes. “I wonder if it’s meaningful inclusion if the jobs that hire me expect me to end up looking like a cis woman. I have to alter my body to appeal to their definition of woman. The industry isn’t ready for a discussion on whether or not they expect me to show up with my bulge out. The implication is that they expect me to be tucked.” With the rise of plus-size models, the industry has challenged its tacit assumptions about what women look like. Phạm says it's time for fashion to also consider these notions regarding trans women. "I see all this as connected. We have so much to celebrate with how many plus-size models have gained steam in this industry. It’s a step in the right direction in ensuring how we account for all the ways our bodies show up."
What makes a woman? This question is at the heart of much of Martine Gutierrez’s work. The model, performance artist, photographer, and muse has explored a myriad of themes in her work. From her 2013 film Real Dolls to her recent exhibition with Public Art Fund Anti-Icon, Gutierrez creates a dialogue on femininity, gender, and beauty. Through the appropriation of pop imagery like editorial photography and music videos, Gutierrez places herself in a starring role, making artistic work that explores her intersecting identities of womanhood, transness, queerness, indegeneity, and more. One of her most well-known works is her self-made magazine Indigenous Woman (2018), which explored many of these themes. Recently she covered Elle Italia, speaking about her journey thus far in the world of art and Indigenous Woman. “Nobody would put me on the cover of a Parisian fashion magazine, so I thought, I'll make my own."
Anyone familiar with the hit television series Pose is also familiar with Analucia McGorty. As head costume designer of the show, McGorty transformed actors like Mj Rodriguez and Dominique Jackson into 1980s royalty. Never before had the fashions of ’80s and ’90s ballroom culture been shown center stage on primetime television. McGorty’s work on the show earned her three Emmy nominations and her first win for the third season this past year. During her research for the period drama,she combed through the Vogue archives to come up with Pose’s signature looks. Originally from New Mexico, McGorty found fashion inspiration through the films she watched at a local arthouse theater in her hometown. Her love of fashion also began with her rebellion against traditional gender roles.
"I think of clothing, fashion, and style as not only ways to communicate but also as a form of protesting against what people might assume about me,” McGorty tells Byrdie. “I don’t think about gender when it comes to dressing myself, and that’s even influenced how I’ve been a costume designer.” As a costume designer, McGorty develops her looks through conversations with the director, the cinematographer, and the actor she’s dressing. “It’s collaborative. It’s not just about me when I design." When creating for the screen, McGorty seeks to tell a story through the beauty of each character. "I have to be able to create a story around why I find something beautiful. Beauty is boundless, and it should be flawed."