In the cutthroat demimonde of the Paris fashion scene, walking the runway is a lot like walking the plank—a few unlucky missteps can lead to canceled bookings, editorial antagonism, and lost viability of the glamour circuit. Fortunately for models with more good looks than grace, class is now in session. “Beauty doesn’t move you down the runway,” says J. Alexander, an American model who is quickly making a name for himself as Paris’ leading professor of catwalk calisthenics. “Walking is an art. You have to move against the music with confidence and attitude.”
Although he has modeled for some of the world’s top designers as both a man and a woman, Alexander found that the initial curiosity and enthusiasm about his unconventional image—at six-foot-three, an elegant, androgynous silhouette—soon faded to indifference in an industry obsessively looking for the next new thing. Now very much in demand as a paid runway tutor, Alexander finds himself with a growing roster of clients (many sent to him by executives at Elite Paris, the high-powered agency that represents him), rekindled interest in his modeling career, ,and offers to open his own school. He has advised top model Karen Mulder, and his paying pupils have included Tatiana Patitz, Nadja Auermann, Claudia Mason, Meghan Douglas, and Susan Holmes.
But, while Alexander’s newfound notoriety has landed him spots on the syndicated Fashion Television program, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Euro Trash show for the BBC, and many European newspapers, he remains ambivalent about the fickleness of media attention. Burned by a German tabloid that manufactured a non-existent squabble between Alexander and supermodel Naomi Campbell, he studiously refuses to serve up the juicy dish that everyone wants to hear. “Let’s just say that a lot of these girls are not nice backstage. And you can print that, honey.”
A native of the South Bronx, the sixth of nine children, Alexander cultivated his ambulatory talents at Xenon, Palladium, and Area in the heady disco days of New York in the mid ‘80s. “It was all about fashion and performance.” His two biggest influences, he reports, were Diana Ross and Sunday services at his local church. “The best fashion show you can watch is a bunch of black women going to church in their Sunday finest,” he decrees.
As for the current vogue of using drag queens in fashion shows—Connie Girl at Thierry Mugler, RuPaul at Gianni Versace, and Billy Beyond at Todd Aldham—Alexander resists attempts to lump him in with performers who do drag to entertain. “I’m about glamour,” he says. “I’m not about trick or treat.”
This article originally appeared in the May 1994 issue of OUT.