Fish Fiorucci is anything, but a fish out of water — on the runway, at least. PAPER caught up with the nonbinary supermodel to get a taste of the chops it took for this Texas native to chew up the Big Apple (and, most recently, Paris, where they walked for Balenciaga Fall 2022). Yet, they recall some times, not long ago, when it wasn’t so easy for them to swim in their own stream.
Fish’s first splash in New York was something of a wet dream. They arrived on a school trip with $300 in their pocket (and quadruple that in ambition), but instead of following alongside the theater group they landed with, Fish broke out on their own. “I wasn’t going to Broadway with them,” they say. “I was over here doing photoshoots, meeting with casting directors. I was all on my own, acting like I knew what I was doing.”
They dove into the fashion scene head-first, striking a geiser in a provocative photoshoot with fellow Texas native Mateus Porto (widely known as @orograph), who was just finishing up his degree at Parsons at the time. The feisty images they created together cemented the two as rising names to watch, but the folks back in Texas had some choice thoughts, as well.
Top and collar: Possessed NYC, Dress: Cristobal Eolo, Thong: Liquid VInyl, Shoes: Pleaser, Grills: Damian Dempsey
Once Fish got back to their Brownsville hometown, they were met with mixed reviews. “[When I] returned from New York wearing all this high fashion, half naked? [That] was their first taste of Fish, I guess,” they say. Some celebrated, while others harassed Fish, even reporting them to the principal and calling their parents over a few Instagram posts. Despite that, Fish knew the idea of what was possible for themself “[had] never gotten any smaller.” In fact, “it just keeps getting bigger.”
Part of this growth lives within their ever-evolving identity. “My gender fluctuates a lot,” they say. “I don’t like [being seen] as male or female, boy or a girl.” Just a Fish, and to them clothes shouldn’t have any gender attached (“I wear heels just as much as I wear boxers”). This internal conversation surrounding Fish’s identity began at home. “‘Are you a girl?’ my mom always used to ask, just about nail polish," they say.
Even when the fashion industry started calling their name, Fish found themself discussing this constantly. In their early career, when nonbinary folks were largely cast aside by modeling agencies, Fish often wrestled over which model board they should work on. “I was always placed in the wrong environments with all these male dudes with big ass arms,” they say. “Once I started doing womenswear, I immediately felt more comfortable. I was walking [in shows] alongside girls still part of agencies I had dropped.”
Top and bottoms: Andrew Curwen, Chains: Lory Sun
This revelation led Fish to explore even deeper parts of themself. “It’s still a question whether or not I want to transition,” they say. “There’s a lot of things holding me back from pushing myself to be a little bit more... than I already am.” Fish has considered some steps associated with gender transitions, like hair removal, but still has reservations. “I don’t want to lose my family, that’s probably something my parents wouldn’t want me to do,” they say. “To them, it’s a loss — a stop sign that’s always there.”
Grappling with all this, however, is exactly how Fish arrived at their name. “It’s not like I’m saying I’m ‘fishy,’” they say. I’m still coming to terms with my identity.” The model says it started during childhood, when kids in school would bully them about the space between their eyes, insisting time and time again how much they looked like a fish. “I used to cry a lot; everything would trigger me every time someone would call me [that].”
It wasn’t until their days working in fashion when Fish would come to appreciate the beauty of their face and hone an identity through that. “I’ve blossomed into the Fish people always wanted me to be,” they say. “It has a totally different meaning now. I come from a fishing family, out of the best fishing ports in Texas, and I live by the damn ocean. I can’t run away from it.”
Dress: Lenshina Nchami, Corset: Andrew Curwen, Shoes: Pleaser, Chokers: Lory Sun
No stranger to making waves, Fish is becoming their own tsunami in fashion. Their first runway stomp happened for LUAR after relentless efforts. “I kept sneaking into as many [castings] as I could and I was so disappointed, never booked a show,” they say. “I’m pretty sure I never got invited to a damn casting, but I ended up booking one.” Fish hit the runway in a tight metallic dress that left them bleeding and “I never felt so beautiful and femme,” they say. “I felt like I had been practicing my whole life for that.” Soon after, Fish’s agent, Joseph Charles Viola, was answering calls from Palomo Spain and Charles Jeffrey Loverboy.
Then, Mother called. “I was doing a historical tour of a Catholic church in Brownsville and I got this email,” Fish says. It came from an unknown address and asked only for their SSN; the mysterious note arrived moments after Fish answered an unnamed casting call, which Viola had sent them. “They said, ‘We’re shooting in LA in two weeks, we have you on hold and we would love to fly you out from Texas,’” Fish says. It wasn’t until the moment they stepped on set that Fish realized they would star in the debut campaign of Haus Labs, Lady Gaga’s beauty line. “It was like I manifested this to happen,” Fish says. “Gaga must be the Devil or a witch.”
Of their dream collabs, Fish names Vivienne Westwood and Fenty for their commitments to activism, as well as Rick Owens. “If you’re out there, hit me up,” Fish tells Owens. “I’ve had wine with your wife before, and let me tell you, we looked good together. You should be jealous.” They laugh, “We met at a Love Magazine after party in London and we had one drink.”
Collar: Andrew Curwen, Grills: Damian Dempsey, Nails: Lory Sun
Maybe a Miley Cyrus collab would also be appropriate, considering Fish previously went viral toting a Hannah Montana purse at NYFW. “I found it in a shop in Brownsville,” they say. “A million people took pictures of it. I never got to wear that when I was young, so if I get to wear it now as a 24-year-old to Fashion Week? That’s just as cool as when I was a little kid. I actually own a lot of the Hannah Montana for Walmart collection. She carries all my weed and that’s what Miley Cyrus would want anyways.”
For their own future, Fish plans to continue their whirlpool internationally, but, more importantly, in Texas where the fight for gender-affirming care is pressing, right now. “I love being this supermodel, but at the same time I have to remember what's happening in my hometown,” they say. “We are still fighting for gay rights.”
Fish currently has a lawsuit filed against them for their role on Brownsville’s LGBT Task Force, which formed after a local homophobic attack. "When they start attacking me, it goes beyond the limits of what ‘conservative’ means down here," they say. "They think because we're creating a Non Discriminative Ordinance, that it's going against their rights. No one’s here to protect us, we are not taking anything away from the Christians."
Jumpsuit and mask: Andrew Curwen, Shoes: Pleaser
Still, the hate persists. “I have to be careful sometimes,” Fish says. “The homophobia here grows stronger every day, [but] fame comes with responsibility. Visibility is extremely important in our community.” And that’s exactly what Fish wants to bring to Brownsville. “I love scouting,” they say, picturing “these big, dreamy [fashion] shows. Brownsville has so many gorgeous settings. I want to change the idea of fashion in Texas.”
They denote seeing too many uninspired runway shows and fast fashion boutiques, all summarizing a Texas with which Fish does not feel associated. “When I go to New York it smacks me in the face a bit,” they say. “Like, there’s a million other people out here doing exactly what I’m doing, [but] everything I learned, I learned for free.” And they plan to pay it forward, dreaming as big as a concise Texas Fashion Week, comparable to those in Paris, London or Milan. “It’s for our community. I’m here to change [Texas], make it more real.”
Fish has already been recognized by Brownsville for their considerable efforts in the work they’ve produced. “If I can help [others] grow, that’s a lot to be thankful for.” We think it’s safe to say Fish won’t be belly up any time soon.
Balenciaga Bonus Round:
You just walked Balenciaga's Fall 2022 show. Was it as difficult to walk that runway as it looked?
I felt as if I was on my way from the Krusty Krab pizza. Felt like New York in February during a winter storm. No shivers, though, cause a hoe don't get cold.
What is it like looking back at videos of your appearance during the show? Does it feel surreal? Are you self-critical?
Looking back at videos, I catch myself smiling, nearly crying from how spiritual I felt during that moment. I’m extremely self-critical and felt so inclined to walk as fashionably as I could without being blown over by the wind, but later felt it was appropriate to just let the energy of the show take over. I felt so relieved after I returned backstage, as if I had just gone through a runway challenge on America’s Next Top Model. This was the final challenge.
How did you prepare for the show? What were the days leading up to it?
I think I’ve discovered that I have OCD in the days leading up to it. I kept knocking on wood and pinching myself until I was in that dressing room with my look already on, ready to hit the runway. I’ve come to find that I’m not the only model who gets worried about getting released from a show, but how could anyone get rid of lil' Fishy. I cried in my hotel room the night before the show and smoked the fattest joint. It’s what I deserved.
Did you meet anyone interesting and new backstage?
I met myself, bitch.
How did you initially learn to walk? How would you describe it?
It's always been in me. I started walking in heels at age 14; by week two I was already coaching other girls on how to strut. My walk requires a "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" before I get on the runway. Stretching required to take all three.
What have been your favorite shows this fashion month?
What do you think fashion needs the most, right now?
First, no more Men's Week. Second, more fish — not just me, but people like me. Trans, nonbinary, queer and people of color. I couldn't have picked a better year to make my debut with Balenciaga. It's the year of going beyond gender norms and forgetting that society made clothes associated with gender. I hated working with straight men in fashion five years ago, but seeing many of them walk in heels for the first time was entertaining. Thank you, Balenciaga.
How have you seen fashion evolve since you first started modeling?
I've seen myself evolve with my identity since I first started and see fashion falling right behind. Although fashion changes every season, I still want to be walking in heels. Thank God my feet haven't grown since the age of 16. Women's 10 is a perfect size.
Model: Fish Fiorucci
Photography and styling: Hadriel Gonzalez
Makeup: Clara Rae (at Honey Artists using MAC Cosmetics)
Hair: Isaac Davidson
Styling assistant: Andrew Curwen (@andrewcurwen)
Production assistant: Virgo
Balenciaga interview: Justin Moran