Name: DD Smith
Agency: Self Represented
Claim to Fame: Smith is the first nonbinary person to appear on Project Runway.
Lounging in the Miami sun everyday is the ultimate dream for some but for a hustler like DD Smith, the laid back lifestyle was not appealing.
“The thing is Miami is very slow paced. If I want to be on the beach I’ll be in Miami, but if I want to get my life on the road, then I want to go to New York where I know there’s a lot of opportunities for me, for people like me,” Smith told HelloBeautiful. “This is where their home is,” they added.
The aspiring actor turned major model knew that moving to New York would be difficult but they were determined to make it happen. At just 17 years old they left behind the sun and the shade to search for the spotlight.
“Nobody ever told me that New York was going to be easy. And New York is not easy at all. Um, you’re gonna attempt to, you have to grind here where it gets good, it’s going to be hot,” said Smith.
Their parents couldn’t fathom why they would want to leave the comfort of their family to struggle elsewhere and left the door open for them to return home.
“They didn’t understand that”, Smith said. They added that their parents were constantly saying, “Like you, you know, you can always come back to Miami and live here.”
Smith was inspired by another family member who had made the sojourn to New York City and come out changed. Their cousin-Sergio Wonder.
“I ended up getting into modeling because my cousin, um, was doing this fashion show. Sergio wonder is a really great fashion designer. His first fashion show, he said, ‘I want you to be in it. And I’m like, no, are you kidding?’”
As a graduate of a performing arts school who had only previously focused on their acting skills Smith wasn’t sure.
They protested repeating, “I don’t know how to walk.”
But their cousin insisted. “He was like a mentor in a lot of ways. He’s an older cousin, so kind of like the uncle if you really think about it. He was like, ‘I believe in you and I think you can really do it.’ And, and building that confidence in me is what really inspired me to start modeling. And once I did it, I just knew it was a passion I definitely needed to embark on.”
As Smith seriously considered the potential of a modeling career they continued to do whatever it took to avoid accepting that plane ticket back home.
“Oh I definitely had another job. My first job here was Panera Bread And I always remember that because it was probably the worst Job I’ve ever had. I’ve worked at so many different places, you name it. I worked as baristas like most of my life. You know, you always have to, you have to grind. I always know that, you know? And that’s what my parents always told me.”
They brought commitment and resilience to the grind placing themselves in every situation possible that might result in a gig. They worked to make sure that every avenue for growth was explored but those avenues could be uncomfortable and lonely for a non-binary person.
“I noticed when I started that a lot of people weren’t looking for my look or my aesthetic. Um, androgyny wasn’t really huge, and I couldn’t really find the agency. And because of that, I bought even harder to be in places where I wasn’t necessarily called for it. I would go to a casting, even though they weren’t looking for androgynous people, I would go anyway to show how talented that I am and hoping that my talent will hopefully get me somewhere.”
They also showed professionalism by setting up spec shoots to create a suitable portfolio, a step many models without connections or independent wealth have to take to get noticed.
“I worked with tons of photographers who are underground, who are just starting out like me. I think it’s important to, if you’re gonna start from the bottom. I really did. I literally worked with undiscovered photographers and just built my portfolio as much as I could. I would just try to push myself in any direction as far as modeling, just so that I can have a good portfolio base. Um, just so then I did get that question of like, any do you want to be on Project Runway? Couldn’t wait. They said, okay, make sure you send all your information and all your photos and all of this. If I didn’t have those photos then I probably wouldn’t be on there.”
The pictures were just part of the process. They also had to audition in person standing alone in a room full of models who were accompanied by agents, managers, and publicists.
“I was the only model there without an agency, which baffles me sometimes,” said Smith.
They were in a state of disbelief when chosen.
“I was like, Oh my God, this can’t be really real. Like when I really get a first non binary person on the show, like, are they gonna really gonna let this happen? And they did. I remember going for the first, uh, the first fitting and I saw all the other models there and they all, I was honestly scared. I was so scared, so nervous. I had no reason to be.”
They were treated extremely well.
“I felt like everyone on the show, everyone, all the models, all the backstage people, everyone’s treated with utmost respect. I didn’t have one person misgender me at all, which I really, really love and yeah, it was great.”
They received positive feedback from viewers as well. The experience motivated them to aim higher.
“Being the first nonbinary model on Project Runway. I know I definitely open the doors to a lot of people already. Um, a lot of people even messaged me and telling me there, a lot of moms message me and tell me that their, their child has come out as non-binary, which I feel is so beautiful and I feel so blessed to even inspire people in that way,” they said.
“I hope this will just help everyone understand that fashion can be so androgynous and fashion doesn’t mean you have to be male or female. You don’t have to wear what males are supposed to wear. You have to wear females. Well, you can wear whatever you want.
Smith is focused on sharing this message in the future so that others can have similar opportunities.
“I’m really proud of myself and I want to keep pushing myself in this direction,” they said.
“I want to break the binary that exists in fashion. I want to open the doors for other non-binary and trans people.”