“I started as an intern at Cosmopolitan and eventually rose to become the fashion editor. Although I have faced a lot of naysayers in my life, it never stifled my ambitions and I always dreamt big!
There is no secret formula, other than an unwavering desire to succeed, putting in hard work, and, of course, fate. Even when I suffered from bouts of low self-esteem, fashion has always defined my identity. An interviewer once told me to take ‘fashion is my passion’ out of my resume but I refused! When Cosmopolitan closed, there was a period of self-reflection and growth. I had to unravel my genuine self and explore elements of my soul beyond the smokes and mirrors, fancy job title, or the label of the back of my jacket. I realised my sense of self is tied to so many other things, like my deep sense of empathy and kindness.
When I first started freelancing, people often told me my style was too flamboyant for a conservative market.
Back then, I concealed my authentic self by dressing in a more ‘acceptable’ monochromatic style so I could appeal to the wider market. It always felt like I was wearing a mask.
When COVID-19 restrictions came into place, all my styling jobs were cancelled. With nowhere to go and no one to style, I reconnected with my 17-year-old Deni: the passionate geek who loved creating content. I wanted to channel my creative energies into different avenues. I started by chronicling my style and thoughts on social media. I relinquished expectations and limitations I put on myself and I found my audience growing.
I started experimenting with my style and pronouns at home. I felt the most comfortable and beautiful when I embraced my true inner style. I gave myself permission to truly feel the emotions I had long suppressed, and this correlated with a more brave and courageous approach to my outer self. By embracing my authentic self on the outside, I also underwent a transformation on the inside. I documented this change and my followers were so supportive. While the fashion industry told me I was ‘too much’, I realised their perception did not define me.
When I first heard of the concept of being non-binary, I felt like I could finally breathe for the first time – like I had been holding something back all this time.
I used to wear pearls and makeup when I was younger and got into trouble. But when I came out as ‘nonbinary’, it was more difficult than coming out as gay because there is much less non-binary representation. My parents have always been supportive of who I am, but my dad’s reaction was still a pleasant surprise. He said: “Deni, we’ve known who you are since you were three.” My mother was supportive, but worried about the repercussions from the outside world. She feared the judgement and potential harm that the world may throw me.
People who truly love you will accept your authentic self.
If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing, it’s that you should never be ashamed of the quirks or differences that make you unique. I was made fun of for being a boy who danced instead of playing sport, and for studying fashion. But these things that once made me feel so small are what have been an asset to my career. What some people deem silly about you, others may love. If you try and appease everyone, it ends up being self-defeating.
I used to feel the pressure to keep taking jobs with prestigious titles because I needed external validation.
Now, I’m being booked because of who I am as a person, rather than what I’ve done or who I know. I don’t take projects to pad my CV, but because they align with my core values. Being part of The Body Shop’s self-love campaign has been the highlight of my career. I always shielded my true self, having been told that my style was not compatible with mainstream Australia. But The Body Shop has shattered this perception and allowed me to communicate the things I’m most passionate about on a national level: gender identity and pronouns.
There was limited representation for people who were ‘different’, mostly because corporations thought there wasn’t a market. But we’re starting to realise that instead of shying away from the unknown, educating the public can open a dynamic conversation and spark movements. I am now the representation that I wish I had growing up!
And it’s not just The Body Shop’s philosophy that resonates with me. I love their Drops of Youth Range, I use the entire range every night and they have become holy grails for glowing skin. Being in the fashion industry for so long, one of my best beauty hacks is using a q-tip to perfect my eyeshadow in the inner corners of my eyes. You wet a q-tip with setting spray, dip it in the desired eyeshadow, and put it in the inner corner just above the top water line: it elevates your whole eye look and makes it pop.
I always knew I wasn’t going to be the rich magazine girl in Prada.
I am from Geelong, I am ethnic. I wanted to make fashion more accessible and remove that polished veneer – which is why I mixed flamboyant fashion with comedy. People often roll their eyes at the word ‘authenticity’, but I am living proof that once you shed the mask and embrace your real self, more people will gravitate towards you. Don’t be afraid to flaunt your true colours like a peacock.
Story by Kristina Zhou. Holding shot by Teva.