But the last decade has marked a shift in the notoriously exclusive fashion and modeling industries. More people of color, plus-size models, trans and non-binary individuals and nontraditional beauties are appearing in fashion shows, editorials and ad campaigns. As many critics and watchdogs will remind us, it's not enough, but it's a start.
Through work in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and back home in Brownsville, self-described "non-binary supermodel" Fish Fiorucci factors into this shift in more ways than one.
Growing up in South Texas, Fiorucci — who uses they/them pronouns — was regularly picked on by kids who told them they "looked like a fish."
"I hated that word for so long, and it made me feel bad about how my face looked," Fiorucci told the Current. "I always had a weird appearance growing up [and] didn't grow into my body until my late teens."
Those adolescent experiences inspired the moniker Fish Fiorucci, which marries that reclaimed insult with the poppy Italian fashion label Fiorucci.
San Antonio start
Armed with otherworldly style and a keen understanding of walking — they even coached Miss Brownsville and Miss McAllen, among other teen queens — Fiorucci began navigating San Antonio fashion circles as a teen.
"I spent so much time in San Antonio in my early years of modeling," Fiorucci recalled. "That was actually where I got my break into the industry. I started attending Fashion Week San Antonio probably at age 16. I would beg my parents to let me go up there ... and just try to get my foot in the door."
That led to Fiorucci assisting stylists, collaborating with the multimedia collective Essentials Creative and cutting their teeth on local designer Agosto Cuellar's Runway en la Calle during Una Noche en la Gloria.
"I think the first time I ever walked in heels was at Runway en la Calle," said Fiorucci, who has since mastered the task. One collaboration with Cuellar involved giving Fiorucci a slightly alien look by bleaching their eyebrows.
"That was the first time I ever bleached my eyebrows," they said. "And the first time I kind of migrated to where I am now today — with no eyebrows [laughs]. I definitely had a start in San Antonio ... in terms of gender identity and playing this non-binary, genderless role in fashion."
That genderless role has attracted major attention over the past few years.
In 2019, they were among the diverse talent tapped to star alongside Lady Gaga in the premier ad campaign for her cosmetics line Haus Labs — a gig that entailed flying to Los Angeles and working with Mother Monster herself for four days.
Fittingly, avant-garde fashion designers celebrating gender fluidity have gravitated to Fiorucci, who's walked in shows for Luar, Palomo Spain and Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.
As an extension of their modeling work, Fiorucci also runs F10 — a niche agency that represents emerging models and boasts a broad network of collaborators.
"I [represent] non-binary people, trans people, straight men, queer women," Fiorucci said. "It's a wide range of people, but they're all POC."
A diehard chameleon, Fiorucci says they've "been through every look," but settled on one last year that took their career to new heights.
"I spent two years growing out my hair and it was really curly," Fiorucci recounted. "I knew if I got a straight perm that I would have the long luscious hair I've always wanted. (Laughs.) So, I got a straight perm, but it wasn't giving the kind of energy that I wanted it to give. [I wanted] a look that you'd find more on female models — and just went for the bangs."
As wacky as it might sound, Fiorucci believes those bangs helped pique the interest of Demna — creative director of Balenciaga, founder of Vetements and one of the most influential people in fashion today.
"I had my agent [Joseph Charles Viola] submitting me to Balenciaga for like three years," Fiorucci said. "It wasn't until I got bangs [that] I finally hit the right look and got a response back from them. And this was a direct booking — no casting, meetings, anything like that. ... They were on my agent's ass about just flying me out to Paris for the show."
That Fall/Winter 2022 show turned out to be among the most talked-about spectacles of the season. In a glass rotunda resembling an epic snow-globe, models battled wind machines and artificial snow while trudging through ice, some carrying totes resembling garbage bags. A dramatic gesture addressing the atrocities of the Ukraine-Russia War, the show also referenced Demna's family escaping war in Abkhazia, Georgia in 1993 when the designer was just 10 years old.
There's often a defiant bent to Balenciaga shows, and the "snowstorm" only upped the ante.
"The kind of excitement that Balenciaga brings to the runway is something you can't prepare for," Fiorucci explained. "They had rehearsals with the wind going at a certain speed but the day of the runway they cranked that shit up — and they didn't tell us! That was the hardest runway I've ever walked on before."
Three months later, Fiorucci was handed an entirely different challenge during Balenciaga's 2023 Resort Collection show. Wearing a black suit and a latex mask fit for a fetish club, Fiorucci stomped through the New York Stock Exchange in front of a high-profile audience that included Kanye West, Megan Thee Stallion and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
"I had to learn how to deal with my anxiety when I wear stuff like that with no breathing room," Fiorucci said.
Balenciaga storming the Stock Exchange with an ominous procession — on a Sunday morning, no less — naturally got the internet in a tizzy. Once again, that placed Fiorucci in the middle of one of the buzziest fashion conversations of 2022.
"It's rare that you see bigger brands casting trans folks and non-binary folks," Fiorucci said about their work with Balenciaga. "So, I'm really happy that this was the beginning of a breakthrough in my career — and for it to be respecting my identity in the way that I want it to be respected. So that feels like an accomplishment to me."
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