I first met Jovel in New York when we were both 19 years old. Since that meeting two years ago, I’ve watched from England as their career has gone from strength to strength. Initially scouted by Walter Pearce in 2015, walking for the likes of Hood by Air as a male model, they broke out of the role they were cast in and began to explore their gender identity, toying with femme high-fashion aesthetics and navigating a space outside of the usual binary of casting boards. They’ve modeled for brands like Helmut Lang, Diane Von Furstenburg, Sephora and Milk, appeared in the pages of Vogue and Teen Vogue, and all the while found time to be a muse for both Katy Perry and Charli XCX. Right now they’re the face of a new Marc Jacobs sports shoe and working on an upcoming capsule collection with depop. We met up at their apartment this summer to take pictures and talk fashion: personal style, queer influences and what it’s like to model as a trans/gender-non-conforming person.
Queer Influences: Antonio Perricone explores binary in the fashion world with gender nonconforming model and Katy Perry muse Jovel Ramos.
AP: It’s so weird that we were both 19 when we met, I didn’t realise at the time.
JV: I know, that’s so funny and I feel like we were more or less in the same place too.
AP: Totally. How’s life changed since then?
JV: It’s definitely changed a lot. I moved to New York when I was 17, a couple of weeks after graduating high school. Then I was scouted shortly after moving here and I was kind of thrown into this industry. It was a big culture shock for me. I learned a lot in those first few years but I was also very scared and very much hiding under a sort of mask. I was very in your face with a short red pixie cut but was still trying to find out who I was.
AP: So you won’t be dying your hair again any time soon?
JV: No haha. I’m really happy with brown hair.
AP: What advice would you give that 17 year old kid?
JV: I wish I could go back and tell myself to calm down a little. Just to relax, things fall into place. I was so worried about ‘what’s next, what’s next’ and not really living in the moment as much as I am now. I’ve come to a place where I’m a lot more happy with myself.
AP: I know you were scouted as a male model, what’s it been like transitioning and exploring your gender identity within an industry like this one?
JV: I definitely have a very unique perspective within the fashion industry. I started when I was 17 and I was scouted as a super masculine, male presenting model. I had a buzzcut, men’s clothes, completely boy next door but a little bit more rugged. Then slowly I started working and kind of creating my own image. That was a different era. I’ve basically seen this industry from a boys perspective, an androgynous gender non-conforming person’s perspective, and now I’ve also seen the woman’s side of it too. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse? Not many people can say they’ve seen things in so many ways. It’s really really weird. It’s a very very scary industry. As a trans or gender non-conforming person, it’s definitely a space that doesn’t want to see you thrive. I’m still grateful that I’ve been able to make space for myself and that I’ve gotten to see the fashion industry change, although obviously it has a long way to go.
AP: Fashion’s often touted as one of the most freeing and liberal spaces, at the same time it can be quite exclusive and inhibiting. How do you navigate that?
JV: While it can be freeing, there are a lot of gatekeepers. I’ve definitely been a disrupter in that way. There’s a lot of times I’ve shown up to women’s casting and I’m the only person there who’s not a cis woman, or I even show up to boys castings and it’s all the boy next door from x y and z agenies and you kind of have this person come in in a mini skirt at a mens casting. It’s all about creating a space for yourself and others like you. It’s about disrupting. That’s what fashion is for a lot of us. It’s escapism.
AP: You’ve said your style inspiration is mostly “supermodels, rock stars and drag queens”. Is bringing that queer element into it important to you.
JV: Yes. It’s a huge part of who I am and the sort of message I want to bring to anything I work at. I love Pete Burns. Drag heavily influences a lot of the things that I do because in a sense I’ve sort of been doing drag my whole life without realising. There’s definitely a lot of strong queer influences in my life. Even outside of aesthetics I’m really inspired by other queer and trans disrupters. I love all the things Indya Moore is doing right now, I think what they’re doing is so insanely incredible. I think they’re amazing. I love Aaron Phillips, I think that she’s like the coolest and hardest working person in Fashion right now. I think that’s what a lot of it is. I think the first step for creating space for queer, trans and marginalized people is to kind of help each other, uplift each other. Those are the people that are inspiring me right now.
AP: What kind of response do you get to that disruption?
JV: It’s definitely a mixed bag. I went to a casting not that long ago. It was an all woman’s casting. I walked and then I was put in a separate room with the stylist. They were fitting and it was me and a bunch of girls. Then they started unbuttoning my shirt and the woman looks down at my chest, does a double take and leaves the room. Then she comes back and she’s like ‘I’m sorry but we’re not casting men this season so we can’t have you here right now’ and she asks me to leave. I just think about that a lot because I think that as GNC people and as trans people we have very double sided experiences. There’s the “YESS” sort of uplifting side of it, there are definitely people who want to see us succeed and then there’s gate keepers like that… So it’s definitely a double edged sword. You’re met with a lot of criticism and hate… It’s just two completely opposite reactions pretty much.
AP: That sounds so intrusive.
JV: Yeah. You learn to grow a very thick skin.
AP: You recently collabed with Marc Jacobs for his ‘Jogger’ sports shoe. What was that like?
JV: It was amazing, I love Marc and his team. Working with them is the biggest dream. When I first moved to New York I wrote a three page essay on Marc Jacobs and his influence on Perry Ellis in the 90s and his influence on me. Him and Vivienne Westwood were the reason that I went to school to study fashion. So to fast-forward to 2019 and be in a campaign is actually the coolest ever. It’s also so cool when mainstream designers want to take people like me in and allow us to be in these spaces and uplift us. It’s like a positive shock when I show up to a set and everything goes smoothly and I feel comfortable and like I’m allowed to exist. It’s really refreshing to be in spaces like that and Marc Jacobs is definitely one of those people… they’ve taken me in with open arms and I love everything they do. In general I love everything he puts out on the runway. I’m the biggest fangirl.
AP: What changes would you like to see in the industry?
JV: I’d like to see more authentic stories being told, I’d like to see trans and gender non-conforming people being invited into the boardrooms and being allowed into those spaces. Not just have our ideas and our aesthetics taken. Give us jobs. Pay us.
AP: I saw a great quote that was like ‘take us off your moodboards and put us on your covers’.
JV: Yeh exactly. That’s something that resonated with me. That’s all I’ve seen in the last couple of years. The more I moved from the men’s boards to this realm I’ve noticed it a lot more. I’ve noticed how much harder it is. I’d like to see more trans and gnc people, more trans and gnc people of colour, on runways and in campaigns.
AP: When do you feel most like yourself?
JV: When I’m getting ready. Whether it be in the morning or at night. I feel like the clothes that we wear on our backs are more than just fabric. Especially for trans/gnc people…. a lot of it is armour. I’ve always kind of felt like… like me leaving the house is kind of an act of… I don’t wanna say rebellion.. but then, in a sense, yeah? I feel most myself when I’m getting ready putting on that armour and getting ready to face the outside world. When I’m like lacing up my boots, putting on my make up, beating my face.
AP: Ok, last question. What’s next for you?
JV: Hopefully a lot more. I’ve recently started getting into acting a little bit more. I’d really like to dive into that. I also just want to tie more activism into my work, more LGBTQA+ advocacy into what I do. I don’t know…. I just want to be a business woman. I want to do it all. I want to do everything.