(Re)Introducing It-Girl Jovel

(Re)Introducing It-Girl Jovel

Story by Bailey Richards / Photography by Anna Koblish / Styling by Erik Ziemba / Hair and makeup by Shaena Baddour

The stillness of quarantine was a far cry from the fashion industry’s perpetually fast pace, but it was the breath of fresh air that some, like model, entrepreneur and aspiring actress Jovel, needed. For Jovel, these months were more than a period of reflection — they were the perfect catalyst for her long-postponed metamorphosis.

Jovel has lived and breathed fashion long before she moved to New York at 17 to study it. After arriving, she was scouted almost immediately, dropped out of school and has been making waves in the industry ever since, fronting campaigns for Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Opening Ceremony, Milk Makeup and Sephora. She was originally scouted as and spent several years as a male model — a period in which she was both praised and condemned for her gender nonconformity.

"My identity almost became out of my control," she tells PAPER. "It was the way other people marketed me."

During quarantine, Jovel distanced herself from her job. Because it centers so heavily on physical appearance and often places facets of her identity in the hands of others, modeling obscured her understanding of who she was and who she wanted to be. And, for the first time ever, she was financially stable enough to set aside the time and energy needed for introspection of that caliber.

"I thought a lot about the things I wanted to accomplish not just in my career, but in my life," she says. "And I wanted to be a mom and a wife and an actress and a sister."

After transitioning in every sense of the word, Jovel wasn’t sure how her relationships, family or career would be affected, but says she was "welcomed back with open arms." Ever since, the model-turned-multihyphenate has been booked and busy, most recently with her infamous "SEX WITH YOU SUCKS" baby tees (as seen on Kim Petras, Coi Leray and Chloe Cherry), which are now influencer staples. Jovel has blossomed into the bonafide it-girl she was always destined to be — and it’s time for a formal reintroduction.

"I have seen the industry from a man's perspective, woman's perspective and then an [almost] in-between perspective," Jovel says. "I'd like to take control of my narrative, my story."

PAPER took a trip to Williamsburg’s McCarren Park to chat with Jovel, who looked fairy-like under her favorite tree, about fantasy, family and what she’s been up to these past two years.

Clothing and accessories: Blumarine

Tell me about your big comeback.

I came back and I did the Moschino campaign with Jeremy Scott. He's the sweetest person ever. When I first met him, he was telling me how he was a Midwestern kid from the middle of nowhere but saw fashion as another world. I told him about my thesis paper [which was about Scott’s work], and I told him also about how in high school I used to work at the mall and save up to buy... He had just taken over [Moschino] as a creative director and he had come up with all those collections. There was the McDonald's one with the french fry phone case and the Barbie phone case. I would work retail at the mall to try to get [the cases].

Have the people you surround yourself with changed since reintroducing yourself two years ago? Have you found a new community?

When I first moved here, I found solace in working in fashion and I was also going out a lot at night. I was immersed in nightlife and that was the first time I ever saw trans women, drag queens... I was surrounded by gay men, lesbians... Where I felt the safest when I was 18 was the nightclub. That was where I found people, like trans women I still know today, that took me under their wing, and people that I think of as family. I'm so grateful for that. That's such a really cool thing that we get to experience as people that are othered a lot. I don't really like the cliché of "chosen family," but that's essentially what it is. To answer your community question — if I found community after — I think I've always had it since I was 18 here. And I think it was kind of a natural–

Having that community is part of what made [transitioning] possible?

Exactly. Having that community is what made it possible. I’ve always been surrounded in my adult life by trans women, trans men [and] queer people.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve experienced or witnessed in the industry since the last time you spoke with a publication [in 2019]?

It's honestly such a night and day difference, just from being a male model to kind of doing both to stepping into the woman's boards. It’s given me a newfound respect for women and femininity as a whole. You go through so much more.

Are there any specific examples you can share?

I feel like so little is expected from men as a whole, and then when you put that around a career that involves image and the way you look... There's so much pressure on feminine people, women [and] girls to look a certain way and be a certain way. When I was a male model, you kind of just show up. It's very cut and dry. Not to say that it's the easiest thing in the world, but there's a major difference.

Clothing and accessories: Saint Sintra

Tell me about the Parade campaign you just worked on.

That's one of my proudest career moments, just because it was the first time that I was more than a face for something. I was asked to be a consultant on this project. Parade was expanding to cater their undergarments to a wider variety of gender identities. Everybody wears underwear, right? But underwear isn't made for certain body types. So they had a group of trans people come in and we acted as consultants and were also the faces of the campaign. I got to sit in and go into fittings and meetings about product development and put in my input. It was the coolest thing ever to be in a boardroom setting with a bunch of trans people. I remember having an out-of-body moment being like, "This is the coolest thing ever." This is something that you dream of as a little kid, that I've been able to take these two things that I'm really passionate about and evoke change, even if it's in the slightest smallest way. It was special.

The times that I felt the most fulfilled and happy in my career is when I've been able to inspire other people, inspire young kids. I've been able to help put this thing out into the world that I wish I saw when I was younger, that I wish I saw at the malls when I was a kid. That would have really helped me and probably would’ve changed the course of my journey. It would have been really validating to see.

So this was your first time on the other side of a campaign?

The things that I've been able to do in the past are more creative, like having input on the way I'm being seen, having input on makeup and creative direction and clothing. So that was my first time really sitting down and consulting. I would like to do more of that. If a brand is going to make change, then they should get people from that specific group, really sit down and ask them, "What is it that you need?" I feel like that's the only way that it can be authentic and organic.

Tell me about the tees — how did that start?

I didn't come up with "SEX WITH YOU SUCKS." I saw it [on a shirt] in a shop window and I thought that was the funniest thing ever. Basically, I placed an order for different colorways, I picked out different baby tees for it to go on, I gave them to my friends, and I saw slowly it was going viral on Pinterest and Instagram and TikTok. TikTok had a big influence on it. Then I came out with the one-shoulder [top], and that one really took off and went viral.

What actually inspired you to start selling them?

I really like the fit of them. I like the idea that they're almost upcycled because they're genuinely baby tees from a different time. I like the shock value behind it. When I first gave [shirts] to my friends, just hearing the stories that they would say about going on the subway in them, and walking around and people's reactions. I think that's funny. It's cool when something that you're wearing gets such a visceral response from people.

Are there any especially good or funny stories?

This girl in high school bought one, and she got sent to the office and forced to change because she wore it to school. I think that's really funny. I like the idea of a rebellious teenage girl being like, "Fuck you."

That’s better than a five-star review.

Yeah, exactly. "I got sent to the principal’s office."

Are the shirts a way for you to bring more humor, light-heartedness and rebellion into the industry?

That's been a natural thing. I've always identified as — I don't want to say a rebel — but I think I've definitely existed outside a lot of lines. So that's something I've not really tried to do, but has just always been part of me.

Is there anyone in the fashion industry — or just in general — who’s inspiring you a lot right now?

The first person that comes to mind is Richie Shazam. I love her. I think she's the coolest person in the world. She’s a perfect example of somebody who's created this persona and this version of herself, and isn't just a face but is an artist and inspires people. The way I look at her, I would love to be that for someone else. I love Hunter Schafer. We kind of started at the same time, we were going to the same castings. When it was announced [that Schafer would be Euphoria], it was the most validating thing because it felt like anything is possible.

Do you want to be an actress?

I'm actively trying to pursue acting. I've auditioned for a lot of major stuff. I know that the right thing will find me at the right time.

Is that your philosophy about acting because it’s been true for your career thus far?

To an extent. I want to do something when it feels right. I want to do things that make me excited. Modeling taught me at a young age the idea of becoming a character and becoming someone else for a day and that's been my favorite part: fantasy.

Is it also because of where you are in your career now, because you don’t have to jump at every opportunity anymore?

Yeah. In the beginning, you're taught to say "yes" to everything. I definitely try not to say yes to every single thing. If it feels right, if it makes sense, if I believe in it.

Clothing and accessories: Saint Sintra

Has your relationship with your mom and your family changed at all these past few years?

Yeah, it's fully changed. Growing up, they weren't equipped to really take care of — I mean, they didn't even know I was trans [and] I didn't really fully understand that at the time either — but I don't think they were equipped to deal with that. I'm first-generation, my family’s from Guatemala. My mom was a single mom for a lot at the beginning of my life. For a while, I was very angry, which led to why I'm rebellious in a sense. But growing up and looking back, my mom was the coolest person ever. She's so badass. I have such an appreciation for women because of her. I never had this idea that a woman can't do something and a man has to because I saw my mom do everything. That's, at my core, a driving force for me. I want to be as hard-working and inspiring as she is. We're best friends now. It's girl time all the time. It's cool because we're making up for lost time. I'm almost a teenage girl with her now. I really am thankful for that. Because I know a lot of people don't have that. She’s my number one cheerleader.

So if you're doing something like this interview, your mom's the first person to hear about it?

Yeah, and it's funny too because sometimes I do risqué stuff and sending it to her, it's so funny. Like me with my boobs out in Nadia Lee Cohen's book.

Would she ever wear the "SEX WITH YOU SUCKS" shirts?

Oh, I would love that. Probably offensive to my dad, but I think that's funny. That'd be good shock value, her at the supermarket in Massachusetts in the baby tee.

Have you had an "I made it" moment yet?

I don't even think I fully had it yet. I don't know, sometimes it's little things. I have friends now that have moved to New York that will be like, "I followed you in high school," and they'll tell me things that I did that they were inspired by. That makes me feel like even if I stopped working tomorrow, I’ll know that I came into an industry and changed something, even if it was for the smallest bit. Knowing I had that impact, that gives me an "I made it" moment — any time that fashion and this industry have made me feel purpose in that way because it can feel shallow and vain and silly so fast.

That’s huge, to have that kind of impact on even one person.

Another thing that goes hand in hand with it is I got tagged in a TikTok, and it was a teenager's bedroom and it looked so cool. It was a quintessential teenage bedroom: pink, covered in posters wall-to-floor. It looked like what they would make a teenager's bedroom look like in a '90s movie. And I saw [a collage of] fashion articles, posters, and I saw my sticker, my merch on the wall. Somebody tagged me in it and I literally started crying. I used to do that. I used fashion as escapism so much. I used to stay up super late, and cut out things from magazines and tape them on my wall. I looked at fashion like it was this other world.

And now you’re part of the other world.

Yeah, now I’m behind the curtain a little. That's cool to me. I cried when I saw that TikTok.

What’s next for you?

I really want to work in film. I really want to act. I really want to continue making clothes. I want to continue making things that inspire people. I really don't want to be known as being just one thing.

Clothing and accessories: Saint Sintra

Photography: Anna Koblish
Styling: Erik Ziemba
Hair and makeup: Shaena Baddour