Attracting attention seems to come naturally to Teddy Quinlivan, a sultry beauty whose courage in living authentically has been applauded around the world. In 2017, the Boston-born model came out publicly as transgender, a shock to the industry where she had worked for years. “In the trans community, we call it ‘in stealth,’” she explains. “Nobody knew that I was transgender.” Having worked to become a top international model and public figure, Quinlivan recognized revealing her personal truth was an opportunity to make a positive impact on the trans community. While her announcement was praised by industry leaders like designer Marc Jacobs and makeup artist Pat McGrath, Quinlivan says that she felt a very real backlash. “There are definitely some brands and individuals I stopped working with that I had worked with frequently before I came out as transgender. Not everybody was cool. Not everybody was okay with it,” she says.
But fighting for what she believes in is important to Quinlivan, who is as informed as she is outspoken. When I ask her what she’s feeling passionate about right now, she tells me to name any topic and she’ll find something that can be improved. A few things on her list? Climate change (“No matter how rich you are, or how big your yacht is, or what resorts or stocks you own, if you can’t breathe the air, you’re fucked”), social media (“I think there needs to be more monitoring of activity that goes on”), and women’s rights (“Just being a woman makes you a target for unwanted opinions and harassment”).
As a trans woman, Quinlivan has always found fashion to be of personal importance. Growing up, she used clothing to express her true identity. “Playing dress-up, for me, was allowing me to live the way I felt on the inside,” she says, crediting her mother with offering her support during her teenage coming-out process. “She allowed me to be the person that I am and had my back no matter what.” Today, Quinlivan’s an avid collector of rare fashion pieces, relishing the thrill of the hunt. One recent find came from Tom Ford’s highly coveted final, Fall 2004 collection for Gucci—a black silk dress that she wore to present her TED Talk, which happened to fall on her 25th birthday.
But it was a fellow high school student, who happened to be a male model, who put Quinlivan on the path to her fashion destiny. “As a trans kid growing up in suburban Massachusetts, where I was having all these kids bully me and threaten me with violence, I never expected this opportunity.” It wasn’t long before she was being courted by some of the most legendary names in the industry, including John Galliano, Donatella Versace, and Nicolas Ghesquière, who booked her as an exclusive for Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2016 show. For this issue’s cover shoot, she worked with another legend—photographer Ellen von Unwerth. “She’s so good. She knows exactly what she wants. She knows exactly what she likes. She’s not fussy. She’s so direct,” Quinlivan says of the experience.
It’s no wonder that the two creative powerhouses got along, as the qualities she admires in von Unwerth are undoubtedly shared by Quinlivan. They’re what make her stand out from her peers in the modelling industry—an industry that Quinlivan is sometimes at odds with. “It’s really a business where they tell you to shut up and take the picture and not to have opinions and not to have emotions,” she says. “I’m just not that kind of person.”
After years of living in the fashion capitals of New York City and Paris, where she currently resides, Quinlivan is ready to begin the next phase of her life. She’ll soon be moving to Los Angeles, where she has plans to pursue a career as a media personality and hosting relevant and meaningful discussions on a talk show or podcast or, more likely, both. “I have so much to say and there’s so much on my mind and there’s such an important dialogue that needs to be had,” she says. “I really enjoy sharing my unsolicited opinions and unsolicited advice and pissing people off. I want to wake up and have a profession where I can be a 100 percent myself.”
Photography by Ellen von Unwerth
Styling by Mike Adler at Angela de Bona
Hair by Oliver Henry at B-Agency
Makeup by Natsuki Oneyama at Agence Aurelien
Nails by Sally Derbali at Atomo
1st Light Assistant: Stan Rey-Grange
Digital Operator: Jérôme Vivet
Production by Producing Love
Styling assistant: Anne Marie Thompson