for Margiela Mutiny
Teddy Quinlivan is not shy. A riotous presence on the fashion stage since her discovery in 2015 by Nicolas Ghesquière, her meteoric career has celebrated her assertively delicate beauty and frank, fiery élan on runways and magazine pages across the globe — yet this exceptional narrative of success is only the beginning. Quinlivan is not only a face; she is a voice.
Having already established herself as an internationally sought-after top model at age 24, Quinlivan came out as transgender in 2017 and spoke out about her experiences of sexual misconduct in the fashion industry the following year. Each revelation came like the sweep of a blade: highly visible, radically honest, and at total peace with the risk of losing opportunities or ruffling feathers. In the time since, she has settled comfortably into the role of champion for those disenfranchised and abused by her industry and the world at large, not only in terms of their advocacy, but as a living example of stunning success.
It was in this spirit that she was selected as one of six faces for Maison Margiela’s latest fragrance, Mutiny — an olfactory ode to the destruction of barriers, the celebration of freedom, and the rebellion of womankind in ethers of mandarin, tuberose, saffron, and leather. Catching her in a rare free moment, we caught up with the model and activist on what life and liberty look like for her today.
So, this fragrance campaign feels unique — it was always about this one fantasy ‘face’ who embodies everything about a scent in the past. Instead, with Mutiny, we have a group of faces, each of you powerful and different. What does this group represent for you? What do you bring to the table?
I think this group and the diversity of our backgrounds and where we come from and what we’re are doing with our lives is really indicative of the 21st century. Hanne Gaby, for example, is an incredible intersex rights activist, Sasha Lane is an incredible actress, I’m transgender. The combination of women and identities makes Mutiny something very cool and interesting.
Maison Margiela has been a key show of yours each season, and you maintain a special creative relationship with its leader in John Galliano. How have you experienced the world of Margiela prior to and throughout your professional relationship to the house?
Margiela has always been such an incredible house for me to witness. I was such a fan of fashion growing up. I followed Martin back in the day and was always so inspired by him, and that carried through to my modeling career. Before I was a top model, I was a model in the showroom for the buyers during John Galliano’s first collection for the house. So since his very first collection, I’ve had this very special connection with the brand. Now as a model for Mutiny and continuing that relationship, it’s really been incredible.
For me, this brand has such a strong identity not just in fashion, but in culture as well. It’s so relevant today. John’s work is my favorite in the business. He’s just the most incredible designer and I am so proud to work with him. He delivers such beautiful clothes with incredible purpose. I think that everything he touches, particularly with Margiela, is done with such strong intent. And I think that the same intent is something that I love to celebrate in my daily life and something that the fashion industry has chosen to celebrate as well. He’s in his own league and Margiela is the current vehicle for him to relay his creativity through.
Your Instagram has always been amazing — not only because of the killer images we get of you and your wide-ranging inspirational images, but also because it’s been a space for you to voice your stances, opinions, and evolutions in a highly visible and diverse way unprecedented by earlier social media. How did you engage with the internet while you were growing up?
I’ve always been interested in image, so the internet for me has always been this place to find great images. It started with Google image searching, then blogs, then YouTube and Tumblr... I love that the internet is a place where people can share what they are creating. And it’s become this incredible platform that connects us all. Instagram is part of that. But in 10 years there will be something else, then something else… Instagram has allowed for me to show the world what I find beautiful and to find things that inspire me. And I think that to have a platform for inspiration is really special.
You are a confrontational figure addressing many of the most pressing issues plaguing the fashion industry and beyond today. I can only imagine how exhausting this must be. How do you conserve and replenish your energy?
Ugh… good question! I like to go out, I like to party. For me that’s how I let loose. I go out and dance with my friends. I put on a beautiful outfit and I get to sit and relax and do my makeup. Getting glam is almost a religious experience. I get ready (including putting on my Mutiny) and I go to the club and I can express myself through the rhythm and the beat. It’s a way to let out anger or emotion in a constructive way. I don’t just bottle it up and rant on Instagram. What really helps me get back to my baseline is good night of dancing.
You’ve walked basically every show under the sun, each with its own distinct point of view. Do you get into a certain character for each of them, or are you always utterly yourself?
In the beginning I did characters. When I started, I felt like it was important for me to be what I thought the brands wanted me to be. But slowly I found my own identity walking all of these shows. And now at this point in my career, yes, I’m walking for Margiela, or another brand, but I’m walking it as Teddy. Finding that sense of self with so many different personalities in the industry is really special. I’ll change something if a designer asks me to, but I’ll do it as Teddy as that character. I always bring a piece of myself into the equation.
You make a strong case for success in self-determination and have exhibited a lot of bravery on that front. What would you say to a person doubting their ability or fearing their opportunity to break from convention or expectation?
Just do it!! Have the courage to do it. Because at the end of the day, all you have is yourself and you have to be proud of your accomplishments. If you’re doing it for someone else, it doesn’t feel as good. Be who you are. Be unapologetically yourself.
It seems like everyone is calling for a revolution in one way or another, whether in the world of fashion or the world at large. What’s the first step to making it happen?
Having the bravery and courage to say what’s on your mind. But also being able to respectfully disagree and still love the people who disagree with you. One of my biggest lessons from this year is that I don’t necessarily have to have the same beliefs as somebody — in fact, I can vehemently disagree with them, but I can find something else to love in them. Finding common ground is what makes them come to my side. If I want someone to understand me, it’s not screaming in their face and yelling at them that they’re wrong, it’s showing them that my opinions are valuable too. They should listen to me because I can respect them despite the fact that we have these disagreements. That’s the state of the world we’re living in right now. It’s very politicized, but it’s not that black and white. There could be people who hold a terrible belief about one thing, but are amazing in other ways.