“I never thought in a million years I’d be the face of a fragrance!” admits Teddy Quinlivan. For those who have followed her rise in modeling, it may not be as surprising. Quinlivan was already a catwalk and campaign regular before coming out publicly as transgender in September 2017. Now, she’s an activist for the trans community as well as an outspoken advocate against sexual assault in the industry. Her inspiring career, strategic use of her platform, and bold spirit is why John Galliano tapped her to be one of six women—including Princess Nokia, Willow Smith, and Hanne Gaby Odiele—representing his first-ever fragrance, Mutiny by Maison Margiela.
“I remember when I was a teenager, I’d look in the mirror and pretend to be in fragrance commercials,” she reminisces. “When anybody starts modeling, getting a fragrance contract or campaign is really the ultimate goal. It’s the most important job you can book.” Below she tells us why this campaign is especially important to her.
The Window: Are you someone who is into fragrance and perfumes?
Teddy Quinlivan: I am a major scent collector, and I know my fragrances. I actually spend lots of time in the basement at Barneys sniff, sniff, sniffing everything! I am drawn to something that’s a bit floral and a bit spicy and is strong and impactful. I like a fragrance that lingers, like the memory of someone being there. I love when people have a signature scent that you can smell in the air.
Do you have any early associations with someone’s perfume or scent?
I remember smelling my mom’s bathrobe when I was little. It was like a concoction of perfumes and hairsprays—the things that conjured my mom. I’ve always felt like scent was super important. My makeup and hair can be a mess, but if I smell bad…no.
How did this collaboration come about?
When I heard it was John Galliano’s first fragrance for the House of Margiela, I was automatically onboard. I’ve been working with John for years and have never missed a show. In fact, Margiela was the second show I ever walked. John and I really get each other. We come from different walks of life, but we have this understanding and respect for each other. He’s gay, I’m trans…we both come from this LBGTQ community and are creatives, artists. I think he saw a bit of himself in me, and that’s part of why we get along so well. I was never the most beautiful or interesting-looking girl. I didn’t get the campaign because of the way I looked; I think I got it because I have such a strong connection with John and Margiela. Plus, I love fashion, and he knows how much I love it.
That must have made shooting the campaign special.
It did! When I went in to shoot the campaign I didn’t feel like a model, I felt like a friend.
You’re considered a Mutinist in this campaign. What does Mutiny mean to you?
I knew the word mutiny, but it wasn’t until I was talking to John that I really understood his intention. He told me he was inspired by the Women’s March and this revolutionary point in history—people taking to the street demanding equality and their rights. I felt like it was such a great moment for that kind of representation in fragrance and in the beauty industry in general. This campaign really embodies something completely new and different, and there was a lot of risk in that. Everyone in the campaign is a minority of some sort. There’s a lot of diversity in this advertising. Being a Mutinist is being unapologetically yourself and being totally unafraid to really be independent and show your strength. It’s about being bold and brave.
What gives you the courage to be a Mutinist?
Life is too short. There are too many oppressed people and a lot of people who try to get away with marginalizing or abusing others, and you have to call it out and correct it. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to come out as transgender. It’s really about this moment in history that has allowed it to happen. You have to approach everything with a sense of bravery. You have to be brave enough to not give a shit.
What was it like for you coming out as transgender? Did you feel empowered or scared or both?
It was a little bit of both. You have to be willing to sacrifice and face consequences when you do something brave. I came out as transgender and a sexual assault survivor, which are very polarizing topics. When you have something to say, there are going to be a lot of people with opinions and who don’t want you to have your freedoms. When I became successful, I was like, How can I take this career and the honor of walking these fashion shows and being in the public eye and do something with it—and I decided to use my voice. I didn’t have to, but I chose to. I was already a top model before I came out, but it was about making a difference. I wanted to prove that you could be transgender and beautiful and strong and independent and aspirational. I hope my story inspires other people to be brave.