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When I walk into the casting call in Weslaco, Texas, I feel like I’ve walked into an exciting side quest in the video game that is South Texas. The gift is fashionable. The room is filled with a masked mix of sexist Hispanic kids wearing chunky platforms, dyed mules and denim miniskirts. Today’s showrunner Nolan Navarro towers over me in ten-inch patent leather thigh-high boots. Silent techno plays over a Bluetooth speaker as potential models get their measurements taken.

Confident and warm, Navarro, who uses the nickname Fish Fiorucci, founded the f10 (internet talk for f10rucci) modeling agency last September. Based in Brownsville, the agency primarily represents Latino and non-white faces in and around the Rio Grande Valley. Run by queer people, for queer people — although being queer isn’t a requirement — the agency allocates a good portion of its roster to non-binary, gender non-conforming, and transgender people. His models have appeared in fashion shows for brands like Hardeman, Bode and DYNE, as well as local RGV designers like Data-Mosh and Max Tijerina. Some of them, like Anissa Garza and Isaac Garcia, have even signed with international modeling agencies such as Wilhelmina and Major Models.

As the founder and “mother agent” of f10, Fiorucci (who uses the pronouns they/them) is tapped into a casting call network for editorial and commercial work. Once they hear about a job, they go through their list of fifty faces and decide if someone would be a good fit. Then they send “digitals,” the industry term for simple, unedited photos of a model’s front view and profile, to the casting agent in hopes of securing a placement. .

“There’s something that happened here in the valley that held us back for so long as artists,” Fiorucci laments between shots of their new perspectives. “But I did my job, came back, and now I’m just here to share all this information.” Although they are only 23 years old, their experience is vast. Fiorucci has participated in major shows for designers such as Luar and Spain at New York Fashion Week. In 2019, they were operated by Lady Gaga to serve as the face of the music superstar’s beauty brand, Haus Laboratories. Then the born and bred Brownsvillian brought that expertise home. Fiorucci is the main organizer of Brownsville Fashion Week, through which they staged avant-garde fashion shows along the border wall and at historic venues in Brownsville.

Fiorucci is no stranger to the ins and outs — and shadows — of the commercial modeling world. They hope to keep young RGV models away from exploitation and abuse, which can include low or no paid gigs, mistreatment on set or, especially for genderqueer models, discrimination in the industry. In the process, they hope to showcase the often overlooked beauty of the valley. “There’s a huge opportunity right now for South Texas to finally get the light it deserves,” Fiorucci said.

Model and F10 founder Fish Fiorucci photographed in Brownsville in December 2019.
Model and f10 founder Fish Fiorucci photographed in Brownsville in December 2019.
Brenda Bazan

f10’s queer identity adds a level of comfort for transgender and non-binary models, who are forced to navigate an industry that almost always separates gigs into “male” and “female.” Until the industry starts to see gender as a spectrum, the key is openness and communication, Fiorucci tells me. “I always make sure models are comfortable with job bookings before confirming. Forcing non-binary models to work in cisgender atmospheres can be very harmful and triggering for many people, including me.

Over the next four hours, more than twenty ambitious young faces show up for the casting, eager to be part of the fashion community that Fiorucci cultivates at RGV. There’s Liz, the classic Mexican-looking beauty with strong bangs and an even stronger jawline. Kaleb, who has movie star looks and American Eagle biceps that make you wonder how he hasn’t been spotted before. Marisol poses confidently for the camera wearing a rock band choker and tank top, armpit hair on full display. Mat (they/they), eighteen, is delicate and shy, but feels comfortable exuding femininity in his shots. There’s even Trish, a twelve-year-old transgender girl who comes in with her aunt and little brother. “I want the world to know me,” she says, with an infectious sparkle in her eyes. “I want to be on the billboards. I want to be everywhere. The store owner lets Trish dress up and the bubbly middle schooler jumps at the chance. (It baffles me that she isn’t famous on TikTok yet.)

Although f10 is still new, Fiorucci has long served as a mentor to undiscovered talent in the valley. And while most Texas agencies don’t even have divisions for trans or non-binary models, f10 makes it a point to lead with them. “My faces are special because they are the brave of the valley,” Fiorucci tells me. “They were the ones who put themselves forward and wanted a little more out of life.”

In Brownsville, according to 2019 census estimates, 94% of residents are Hispanic and nearly 30% live below the poverty line. The border town is rich in culture, but full of residents struggling to make ends meet. “The hustle and bustle to survive is real,” says new model Marisol. “For me, living in the Valley is a constant struggle for justice and expression.” For many of these young people, modeling is an escape. For those who want one, it might even be a ticket out.

It’s rooted in the f10 philosophy to not only embrace otherness, but to seek it out. The city of Brownsville lent its support, giving Fiorucci several proclamations and grants to hold fashion shows. Fiorucci is one of the founding members of the very first club in Brownsville LGBTQ Working Groupa city-sponsored program that was created last year by local drag queen Beatrix. Despite the city’s support, Fiorucci says there’s still a long way to go before changing residents’ attitudes toward equality. “We hoisted our first equality flag a few months ago at the city’s visitor center, and the place was vandalized and someone stole the flag,” Fiorucci tells me. “People are not allowed to dream here.”

The end of the day is approaching, but before returning from a cigarette break, Fiorucci issues a stern reminder to the team: “Don’t forget to ask people what their pronouns are. There are non-binary people here, but don’t be afraid to ask.

F10 model Katrina Ortega pictured in Brownsville in May 2019.

Katrina Ortega, an f10 model pictured in Brownsville in May 2019.

Fiorucci fish

F10 model David Danko filmed in Brownsville in November 2020.

David Danko, an f10 model pictured in Brownsville in November 2020.

Fiorucci fish

The next day, we meet at Fiorucci in downtown Brownsville for a little throwback with some of the f10 models. Despite the agency’s queer ethos, not all models identify as queer. There are straight, cisgender faces like John Judas20, who works at Walmart and looks like he could be the male lead in the upcoming Pedro Almodwherefilm var. alexander, 23, walks around offering everyone cheese and crackers. “Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by machismo or toxic masculinity,” Alejandro tells me. “I didn’t feel empowered to fully express myself. But f10 welcomed my authentic self with open arms.

I’m beginning to understand how f10 isn’t just a modeling agency: it’s a small, reinvigorated community leading the paradigm shift in Brownsville. “I always imagined Brownsville to be the focal point between New York and Los Angeles for fashion,” says Fiorucci. Geographically speaking, this comment makes sense, but it also touches on the untapped potential of a place like RGV. “If anything the people coming out of Brownsville are producing amazing results because growing up no one expected us to make noise which only added fuel to the fire “, adds Alejandro.

Their lyrics ring true to me, a queer Latino person with strong ties to Brownsville. When you’ve been surrounded by general intolerance towards homosexuality for so long – not to mention the growing number of Latino Trump supporters in the border region – it almost pushes you to be even weirder, to be even more Continued queer. And with so many people from big cities like New York and Los Angeles migrate to texasBrownsville is poised to become a new creative hot spot.

I imagine Fiorucci walking down the street with her stripper heels, shaved head, and tattooed face, and I realize that they must sometimes attract unwarranted attention. “I’ve been approached many times around town, even when I look normal, by people who just want to fuck with me,” they tell me.

My mind kept returning to Trish, the twelve-year-old trans girl who lit up the room when she walked in. Too often, the queer experience is defined by the moments when your identity is ripped away from you. “My parents hid my heels the longest,” Fiorucci tells me. “It really cost me dearly.” Many of us have moments like this. But Trish’s infectious zest for life, along with her family’s unwavering support, signals a change for queer dreamers in the Valley. “I’m so lucky to be born into a family like this,” says Trish.

As I take the freeway home, I pass the new SpaceX South Texas launch site. One day, rockets are supposed to be launched from the coast. But Fiorucci and their chosen family of young trendsetters are already launching the Valley into the future, turning potential energy into kinetics and turning looks into added bonuses. “You have to put it in their face,” says Fiorucci. “Or else they won’t pay attention.”