Fashion, even at its current “inclusive” height, is not an industry that warmly welcomes the weirdos. This is why Jovel Ramos’ runway debut at Hood By Air’s fall ’16 presentation was such a monumental feat. Standing at only 5’5”, the rising 19-year-old model stormed Skylight at Moynihan Station, powering past seasoned editors—Anna Wintour included—forcing them all to widen their slim standards for male beauty.
Ramos defines for himself what it means to be male and beautiful, with his unapologetically queer presentation, blood red hair and ultra-short, skinny frame—that is, of course, without his favorite heeled HBA boots. “I always want to look a little extra gay,” he said, putting together looks as we hung out in his Bushwick summer sublet and listened to “247” by Ian Isiah, another HBA associate. He’s a provocateur with purpose, aiming to carve out more space in fashion for all the “freaks” until his like-minded peers won’t be labeled as such anymore.
Change is inevitable and Ramos is at the forefront—a rebellious, radical voice in a time when extreme feels like the only promising path to progress. Get to know the catwalk underdog, below:
What was it like growing up in Boston?
From my perspective, Boston’s nice—super family-oriented. I didn’t grow up in the city; I grew up in the suburbs, so everything was super conformist. You grow up in that town, you have kids, your kids take over that house—it’s a cycle. So when I was 17, I graduated high school and was like, ‘I’m getting the fuck out of here,’ and moved to New York.
Both of your parents are immigrants. Did that affect your experience in Boston?
Kind of. The first place I grew up in was a super Latin community. That’s why I love living in Bushwick—there are places that have lots of artists, but then at the same time, there are places where you see Latin families playing in the park and Spanish music playing in the distance. I appreciate that so much, it’s nostalgic. Growing up in a Latin community is something you can’t describe—going to the ice cream truck or going up to a house where you’d buy frozen ice. You’d knock on the door and be like, ‘Hi can I get one?’ You’d pay a quarter for it. Those are memories that I’ll hold onto forever.
Why’d you decide on New York?
Me and my best friend spent the summer here when I was 16 and that changed my perspective on everything. I went to my first gay club, got a tattoo, got my first fake ID on St. Marks—that’s when I was like, ‘Okay, I need this to be my life. I need to move to New York.
What was the first club you went to?
It was something, to be honest, super tacky in Midtown—like super gay with drag queens everywhere. When you’re 16 and in that situation, you’re like, ‘Wow, this is everything.’ You go from going to school and coming home to watch TV, to seeing all these lights, characters and colors. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a whole world out there.’
When I got my first fake ID, my worldview expanded so much. I think it’s an important part of growing up.
I got mine on St. Marks. My friend was like, ‘Look at that sign, it says “Passports Here.”‘ She’d read online in an article that meant they also made fake IDs. I was like, ‘Shut up, you’re on Buzzfeed too much.’ We went in and she was like, ‘Can I get an ID?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah come to the back room.’ It was this piercing parlor and there were pictures of nipples and belly buttons all over the walls. They sold sunglasses in the front—a typical St. Marks place.
Amazing—mine came in a toaster. So now you’re studying fashion merchandising at LIM College?
I always knew I wanted to work in fashion. I can’t sew for my life, so I was like, ‘How can I incorporate this?’ Fashion merchandising was the first thing where I was like, ‘This will get me in and from there I’ll figure out what I want to do.’ That’s why modeling was a good gateway because I’ve been able to see everything from a different perspective. Even when I’m not contributing to the overall picture, I still get to see it firsthand, which is awesome.
What’re your thoughts on school?
I’ve condensed my weekly schedule because I hate school so much. My school is definitely very business-oriented. A lot of people go to LIM because they want to work with numbers. Going into it, I thought it would be really creative and have a lot of freaks roaming the halls, but it’s really not. It’s just the same type of girls throughout the school—dirty blonde, trust fund, ballet flats—and I just walk around in a huge pleated skirt, hoodie, bright red hair and an eyebrow slit. I probably confuse a lot of the people there.
What perspective do you bring to fashion?
I think I’m everything fashion hates. When I first moved here, I went to these castings and at the time had a shaved, bleached head, bleached eyebrows. I was 5’5”—the farthest thing from sample size—and I’d go to these castings where there were 20 cookie cutter brown-haired boys and the occasional bleached model. Some casting directors loved me, some casting directors hated me or didn’t take me seriously. Even now, I’m just this redheaded boy that comes in and they’re like, ‘What?’
What do you hope to accomplish through modeling?
I want someone to look through a magazine, like a young queer kid and be like, ‘Wow, that can be me.’ Because when I was younger, I’d flip through magazines—i-D, Numero and AnOther Man—and be like, ‘Wow, there’s no one that looks like me—no weirdos, no freaks.’ That’s what I want to bring to the table. Walking fashion week was a big thing for me because no one looks like me. I’m 5’5” and look like an alien.
Do you think fashion is moving in the direction toward accepting more people like you?
I think it’s definitely going in that direction, but I feel like everything’s like, ‘Meet the blah blah blah,’ and you’re looking at them like they’re a freak show.
Definitely tokenism. It’ll be like a beautiful trans model, for example, and they’ll really stretch that out. It should be like, ‘Meet the trans model and let’s celebrate it,’ or, ‘Meet the weird model that’s 7 inches shorter than a male model, but he’s out here kicking ass in campaigns and on runways and we’ll celebrate it.’ That’s the direction I want to push fashion.
Describe your experience walking Hood By Air’s runway.
It was so intimidating. Before that, I had modeled, but I never pictured myself doing runway. For me to be on a runway at 5’5” and look like this was just crazy. I remember walking in and there was a table for signing in that directed you to hair and makeup, and the woman there was like, ‘Are you with hair and makeup?’ and I was like, ‘No,’ and she was like, ‘Are you one of the models?’ She directed me backstage and I remember thinking, ‘How did I get this far?’ I was walking around backstage in the tiniest thong and feeling so comfortable, butt naked in this thong watching everything—so surreal.
Walter Pearce cast you in that show. How was it working with him?
The first time I met with Walter was at the office Downtown and he’s like, ‘Show me your walk, right now.’ There were people on the street, but I walked and he told me, ’Walk like you’re late. Walk like you’re in a rush, or you’re going somewhere. Walk like you’re going to miss a flight.’ And I did it and he was like, ‘Ok. I think you’re gonna be a runway queen.’
Hood By Air Fall ’16
Who’re your role models?
I was raised by my single mom, so she’s always been someone I’ve looked up to—one of my biggest role models. She’s this badass Latina woman. She’s always changing her hair, always changing her look. She actually got remarried in Vegas, which is my favorite story to tell.
My mom got married to my step-dad in Vegas, who’s awesome. My stepfather is everything. He helped raise me, too. One summer they were like, ‘We’re going to Vegas and getting married.’ My mom got her dress that day in Vegas and her jewelry that day and now I have the choker she wore, which is cool. They have the cheesiest pictures in front of that fake Eiffel Tower and the pictures are spread out in our Massachusetts home. It’s cool to see this little suburban home with these badass pictures of my parents getting married in Vegas.
Do you think you make people feel uncomfortable?
To a certain extent. Whether I’m walking down the street or on the subway, people usually look at me twice, like they’re not sure what to do with me.
That’s something to take pride in.
It’s definitely something I take pride in. I’ve learned to embrace it. Hood by Air has brought out this side of me where I’m really comfortable with myself, as a gay man or as a ‘freak.’ I’m comfortable in my own skin and beginning to really tear it up.