Casey Legler is a woman working as a male model. She looks wonderfully comfortable shrugging into tailored suits and chomping on cigars. But assigning words to the experience isn’t as easy. In an interview in her New York City studio, Legler steers around phrases like “gender identity” and “gender expression” in favor of having a conversation about freedom.
“I understand signifiers. We’re social creatures and we have a physical language of communicating with each other,” she says. “But it would be a really beautiful thing if we could all just wear what we wanted, without it meaning something.”
Androgyny has long been celebrated in the fashion world. Women have modeled as men, and men have modeled as women. Andrej Pejic, a young male model from Bosnia, made a splash in recent years with his feminine beauty and knack for wearing women’s clothes. (“Andrej is gorgeous,” Legler says. “In many ways, I come ushered in by that.”) But it’s still rare — if not unheard of — for a woman to sign a contract to model men’s clothing exclusively.
Legler landed the modeling gig this summer when her friend, the photographer Cass Bird, invited her at the last minute to participate in the role of a man for a photo shoot for Muse magazine. The photos were shared with an agent at Ford Models, and the next day, Legler was invited to sign a contract to work exclusively from their male roster.
“This is a unique little moment that fashion is allowing to have happen,” Legler says.
Her own relationship with fashion has always been complex. At age 13, she had already almost reached her full height (6 ft. 2 in.) and began swimming competitively in her home country of France.
“It really was just something that I happened to be good at,” Legler says. “My fantasy was always to be able to sit by the pool deck, preferably in a pink tutu, reading a book.”
When she qualified for the Olympic Games in Atlanta at age 18, Legler got together with some of her male teammates and shaved her head, eager to experience the feeling they described of swimming with a bald head.
“That was the beginning,” Legler says. “It was always one of those things: ‘These people get to do it, I really want to do it — why can’t I?’”
After the Olympics, Legler flirted with more traditional paths before coming into her own as an artist. She now works in several media, meditating on themes like time, ritual, mythology and the body. She often appears in her own pieces, using her physicality and movement as part of the work. While her entry into modeling was swift and surprising, she is eager to emphasize that becoming a male model is a natural extension of her art. It also helps that she has forged friendships in the art world, including with photographers like Bird and Ryan McGinley.
“I have a body of work. I don’t think that anyone looking at that body of work and then seeing me as a model would see it as any kind of a stretch,” Legler says. “It implies something interesting. I am not the artmaker in those cases. I get to participate with other artmakers as part of their palette.”
As for being on the men’s roster, Legler says that working as a peer with other male models has been nothing but positive. She looks forward to walking in shows in Paris in January and New York in February, and to following wherever this new role takes her.
“I wish a long and slow career for myself,” Legler says. “For everyone.”