For even a moderately vain female, spending time with Pejic is like losing a race to someone who’s not even running: If he were not a man, he would be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in the flesh—which, in his case, is flawless and poreless and has an English-rose luster. His mussed blond locks and the rounded width of his cheekbones bring to mind a young Brigitte Bardot. At 19 years old, he is six-foot-one, thin as the stroke of a paintbrush, and wears a women’s size 11 shoe, which he says is hard to find in couture but is sometimes carried at DSW. He is fey but not flamboyant. His only apparent physical imperfection is a pair of moles that hover gracefully over his lip on the right side of his slightly feline face. They are sometimes, albeit rarely, Photoshopped out.
For the shoot, Pejic is to channel a young Judy Garland while dressed in a short brown wig, ripped fishnet tights, an A-line skirt, and a tuxedo jacket. “Do you want, like, a drunk Judy Garland?” hairstylist Raymond McLaren asks of Bergman, who does not deign to answer. McLaren begins stuffing Pejic’s hair up under a wig cap. “If I didn’t have a wife and two kids and a pit bull, I’d ask you out,” he ventures.
Pejic smiles politely. “And I might say yes.”
“What did you do before you were you?”
“I was cleaning toilets in a strip club,” Pejic replies, not missing a beat.
“Really?” McLaren fingers a hairpin. “Fuck yeah, man.”
Pejic was born in Tuzla, Bosnia, several months before the start of the Bosnian war. His family was middle-class—Pejic’s Serbian mother was a lawyer, and his Croatian father an economist—but the war put his parents’ nationalities on opposite sides of the regional divide. When his mother, Jadranka, fled to Serbia with Pejic and his older brother, Igor, his father stayed behind. The family was granted refugee status when Pejic was 8, and Jadranka moved with her mother and children to Broadmeadows, a working-class suburb of Melbourne, and went back to school to become a teacher. “I was like, ‘I’ll go if I get a new PlayStation,’ ” says Pejic. “That’s how you think at that age.”
“I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”
Though he remembers the NATO bombings, he describes his childhood as fairly carefree. He liked to play dress-up with the girls, pretending to be the Gypsy woman from his favorite South American soap opera. When he came to realize that his behavior was no longer viewed as acceptable for a boy, he says, he “closed in” for several years, but by age 13, “I just went, ‘Fuck it.’ I let the platinum blond out.” He dyed his hair and started wearing skinny jeans, which gave way to shopping in the women’s aisle and putting on makeup. “The way I need to look, it’s a very personal thing,” Pejic explains. “When I started experimenting, it was to make myself feel happy, to look in the mirror and be satisfied. I never did drag or anything like that. It was always that I wanted to be pretty, to look beautiful, as a girl would want to.”
Pejic was initially worried about how his family would respond, but quickly learned he needn’t be. Igor proved protective of a brother who, more and more, was acting like a sister. Their father was a continent away (Pejic says they talk on the phone, but rarely). As for his mother and grandmother, he explains that “both of them sacrificed their lives for their children, so to just turn their back on them because of a natural thing would be quite strange.” His mother’s main concern was his safety, but high marks earned him a spot at a selective high school in central Melbourne known for being artsy and progressive (Olivia Newton-John is an alum), and elsewhere he found he could actually pass as a teenage girl. “Even walking in this industrial area, people just didn’t notice,” says Pejic. “That was kind of my little escape.” His current success is a source of pride: “My mum follows everything and posts everything on Facebook and tells all her friends.” When Jadranka saw images of her son as the Gaultier bride, she told the Australian program Sunday Night, “He’s the most beautiful girl I’ll ever see in a wedding dress.”
By now, Pejic has fully embraced a look of gender-bending, rocker couture: ripped jeans and cut-up T-shirts and shorts that would seem to leave nothing to the imagination except that, in his case, they obviously do. “It’s not like, ‘Okay, today I want to look like a man, or today I want to look like a woman,’ ” he says. “I want to look like me. It just so happens that some of the things I like are feminine.”