Miss J Alexander: 'I’ve been comfortable in my own skin since birth'

The former America’s Next Top Model judge and catwalk coach talks big bows, the power of Pride and a surreal meeting with Imelda Marcos in Manila

This jolly outfit, which I wore to the Oscars last year, was very simple. I found the opera coat on the floor in the Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta. André Leon Talley recommended me to the school and I used to fly in [to cast student shows and teach them how to walk] in between filming America’s Next Top Model in LA. The coat was one of the student’s prototypes but I was told they’d finished with it.

The bow, I kid you not, I made at 7.40am on the morning of the Oscars. After I did the bow, I realised I had to do big hair so I ran to get the wig at about 10.45am. Walking on to the red carpet when you’re 6ft 4in, your freaking afro makes you damn near 7ft tall, with your big oversized overcoat and big bow – people are looking at you. Someone said to me: “Can that bow look any bigger?” I said: “Yes, but it would have to have sticks to hold it up.”

Miss J Alexander: ‘I didn’t realise the importance of my presence in the community until 2016.’
Miss J Alexander: ‘I didn’t realise the importance of my presence in the community until 2016.’ Photograph: Stewart Cook/Rex/Shutterstock

I’ve always made a lot of stuff, including all the judging outfits I wore on Top Model. I think it comes from being number seven of 10 kids and always wearing hand-me-downs – I would take them and make them look a little different. Things I couldn’t afford to buy I would try to create.

I’ve been comfortable in my own skin since birth. I was never a follower. I march to my own drum. I’m a gay man but I didn’t realise the importance of my presence in the community until 2016. When I went to Pride for the first time all the young gay teenagers were screaming “Miss J, Miss J, Miss J!” The love caused my lower lip to quiver and cry. People are out, they’re free that day. But I’m free that day, the day before, the day after.

A few things people have said to me in the past have helped me. My grandmother said to me: “Just promise me, if I die tomorrow, respect young, black, white, green, purple, because manners will carry you where money cannot”.

Then, in April 2012, I was in Manila hosting a dinner for my book-signing and Imelda Marcos [the wife of the former dictator of the Phillipines, Ferdinand Marcos, who was convicted of corruption] showed up. I thought: “Oh my God, Imelda fucking Marcos.” What do you say to her? Let’s talk about shoes, jewellery, corruption! Where do you start? I remember her saying to me that she had been a fan of the show and that: “It’s hard to be hated, but harder to be envied.” I thought she was talking crazy but in some ways it made sense.

The pandemic has had an effect on everything worldwide [including] the Black Lives Matter protests. We’re dealing with corruption and corona at the same time. We are in a very scary place and I say catwalk down to your polling station to make voting great again.


As told to Ellie Violet Bramley

The GuardianTramp

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