Take Two: Maye Musk and Krow Kian on Inclusivity in the Modelling Industry
Trends come and go, but the success of mega-models Maye Musk and Krow Kian proves that inclusivity is more than just a passing fancy.
Modelling is not a forgiving occupation, let alone one that encourages longevity. Historically, by the time a model is in their mid-20s, their career is over. But this isn’t a story about leaving the spotlight behind; it’s about a pair of models who have defied the odds and come to realize that their time to shine is just beginning.
Maye Musk — a registered dietician, an author, a public speaker and a mother of three (including tech entrepreneur Elon) — is enjoying the kind of career that many famous faces can only dream of. She has spent much of her life in front of the camera posing for catalogues and magazines. The now-71-year-old was cast as an ingenue in the 1960s, and in the ’90s you would see her on the cover of Today’s New Grandparent as a doting nana. “I was a mother of the bride at 28,” she laughs over lunch at our cover shoot, explaining that she was living and working in South Africa at the time and was “the oldest model in Johannesburg.”
Today Musk counts luxury brands like Tiffany & Co. and Moncler as clients, and in 2017 she signed as the face of CoverGirl’s Simply Ageless line. While she has two Master of Science degrees and spent time as a research officer at the University of Toronto, her increasing visibility in the fashion landscape is what has largely bolstered her status as an icon. That’s because we live in a world where women’s aging is rarely acknowledged positively, let alone viewed as a professional boost.
“It seems that, worldwide, older women are being ignored,” Musk says about how popular culture and the media routinely refuse to position females without a specific context—that is, as anything other than a grandmother—once they reach a certain age. She’s noticing a sea change, though, and finds that she’s being hired to speak at events with the goal of communicating to an older population that they are indeed important. “In the past when I was doing public speaking, I would always talk about nutrition or entrepreneurship,” she says. “Now, [conference organizers] mainly want me to talk about aging being great.”
With this statement, Musk glances knowingly at the person beside her—a young model who has been listening keenly to the seasoned supermodel’s story. It’s Krow Kian, a 24-year-old British Columbia native who graced 10 covers last year and kicked off the second act of his modelling career after walking in the Louis Vuitton women’s Spring 2019 show. While Kian is not a novice in the industry (he started modelling at the age of 12), his saga is one that has made headlines because he began his career as a female model.
In the documentary Krow’s Transformation, Kian shares his journey as a transgender model. Much like with Musk and her demographic of senior fans, he has found himself to be a beacon of comfort to those—particularly youth—who are struggling with their identity.
“Typically it’s younger people who see the doc and reach out to me,” Kian says about how social media allows for greater access between a role model and their followers. “A lot of them thank me or ask for advice about coming out to their parents and friends. Or they ask if there are any places I know that help with transgender health care. I’m able to give them a lot of tools that can help them improve their lives, and that’s something unique.”
Kian’s latest foray into the fashion industry comes at a time when the concept of gender fluidity is at an all-time high in terms of approval. The menswear shows in January—where dramatic evening gowns and luxurious embellishments like pearls were showcased by multiple labels—confirmed that we’re moving even closer toward neutrality and acceptance in terms of what’s worn by men, by women and by those who identify as something else. And Kian sees the style set’s embracing of these blurred lines as fundamental to a larger paradigm shift. “It’s really inspiring to see that fashion is normalizing the idea that if you want to wear something because you think it’s beautiful, it doesn’t matter what gender you are and it doesn’t matter what gender that clothing is supposed to be for,” he says.
Similarly, Musk applauds designers like Christian Siriano and Maria Cornejo for casting her in runway shows; in February, she walked in the Milan Fashion Week show for designer Philipp Plein. She has also made appearances front row, perhaps most notably last fall when she wore a neon-pink and grey bobbed wig to the always-anticipated Moschino show.
Indeed, it seems like Musk is up for anything, sartorially speaking, and champions the idea that dressing for your age should be banished permanently. “‘I wonder what age that is’—I love that quote from the CoverGirl commercial,” she muses.
Yet for all her advocacy for the promotion of more vivacious seniors in the industry, Musk notes that the appearance of models like herself in campaigns and on catwalks is still quite novel. But that’s likely to change as more brands realize that models who are 60 plus don’t just inspire those their same age. “I had one person say to me, ‘I’m 19 and now I’m not scared of being 71,’” recalls Musk.
Despite being a positive influence on her peers and fans alike, Musk notes that there was a time when she was just an anonymous mannequin—someone meant to simply wear clothes and not necessarily represent a major cultural moment. “You packed up and left through the back door,” she remembers about her runway gigs that predated today’s instances of inclusivity.
This is in sharp contrast to Kian’s experiences. He finds that kinship and kind words follow his turns on the catwalk and says that positive feedback comes from editors and everyday observers. “I really like doing runway even though it can be very stressful,” he says. “After the show, I love being able to talk to the people in the crowd. It’s cool to be an inspiration to them.”
Photography by CHRIS NICHOLLS. Styling by ZEINA ESMAIL. Creative direction by GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Hair by KIRSTEN KLONTZ FOR P1M.CA/JOICO. Makeup by VERONICA CHU FOR COVERGIRL. Makeup assistant: NEIL SILVERMAN. Manicures by NAOMI MISU FOR P1M.CA/TIPS NAIL BAR. Fashion assistants: SAMANTHA BEST FOR P1M.CA and BRANDON LAUGHTON. Prop styling by CAITLIN DOHERTY. Photography assistants: CLIVE CHIAO, ANDREW FEARMAN and BRANCO KARAN.