Every day that you transgress the hard and fast rules of gender by donning menswear in a way that demonstrates style and intention, you expand notions of what is possible in this world.
Your efforts are compounded by champions who are giving their heart and soul to what some of us like to see as a movement. Nikki Eason is one of those champions.
I met Nikki two weeks ago when both dapperQ and Nikki were recognized by the first annual Rainbow Fashion Week, a stellar series of events produced by E. Jaguar (Jag) Beckford, founder of Jaguar and Company Clothier. In a room full of mad style, Nikki immediately stood out.
Thirty years old and originally hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, Nikki has made her home in Charlotte since 2005. Under the umbrella of her marketing company, Between Us, Inc., she launched a web series called The Androgynous Model last October. The shoestring production budget for this seven-episode series was cobbled together from family, friends and among other things, Nikki’s work coaching girl’s basketball.
Her goals for the show are ambitious and multi-faceted. One part is to put a positive spin on androgyny. According to Nikki, “ I want to promote change and acceptance. Our society can be cruel. I’m hoping like this show will give folks the opportunity accept themselves a little more.”
She also wants to make an imprint on the fashion industry, answering her own question: “Why aren’t there enough people in the industry that young people can look up to? They don’t all have to look pale and frail. “
Set in Charlotte, North Carolina, “The Androgynous Model” features a loose set of competitions between five masculine-of-center participants. Produced in the same format as “America’s Next Top Model” Nikki plays the role of Tyra Banks. In the first episode, only the participant named Supa has the polish expected from such a show. Watching that first episode, you might be tempted to give up. But press on.
In Episode Two, participants look like they’ve been put through a substantial make-over. Gone are the baggy clothes. In their place are nicely polished looks with some awesome color combinations. Nikki said all she did was tell them to come in “their best androgynous outfit.” Nikki’s team added make-up. Because this show often feels more like a make-over than a model competition, it would have been nice to track the journey of participants from Episode One to Episode Two. Unfortunately, viewers will just have to fill in between the lines.
But be forewarned: Episode Two features a segment that many will find unsettling. I know I did.
In the challenge section of the show, participants are asked to ‘femme up’ their outfits for the shoot. While all four do their best, –and three of four don’t do bad — it’s exceedingly painful to watch. My friends and I tried to puzzle out why this sort of competition would be in the show at any time, much less the second episode entitled: “Be Yourself.” Most of us have had decades of pressure to be a “little more ladylike.”
After talking to Nikki, my sense is that her vision of what a successful androgynous model must do is to be able advance both masculine AND feminine style. “My angle was that it was a feminine challenge. I knew it would be uncomfortable. We have to dress in a way that is considered professional for the opportunities we are offered. If I’m in a position to host some awards show or go on ‘Good Morning America’ and have to wear make-up, I’m not gonna flip my top.”
As a dread-wearing woman of color in corporate America, Nikki described how she spent years navigating the lines between personal authenticity and mainstream mores. You may not agree with her approach but it is clearly anchored by deep experience. She’s also making up all of this as goes along, with no focus group feedback and no resources for re-do’s. As she readily admits, “I’m always in a learning phase.”
As the show progresses, it includes urban street modeling and an Insanity Workout as well as guest spots and clothing by a variety of local designers. Among other things, participants are taught how to pose and how to walk a runway. Nikki has also solicited photos from viewers that are included at the end of most episodes.
“The Androgynous Model” begins shooting its second season with auditions in late summer. This time it moves to Atlanta where Nikki believes she has found a house that will enable contestants to live together during the competition. Here’s a link to contribute to the IndieGoGo campaign.
“The Androgynous Model” isn’t a perfect show. But it has indisputably got heart. In a world where intention, passion and goodwill is all too often lacking: Nikki is representing for us.
Feature image by Avery Scott of House of AScott Photography.