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Image: Andrej Pejic receiving makeup
Richard Drew  /  AP
Transgender model Andrej Pejic says he’s perfectly happy being gender neutral. Some in the fashion industry see Pejic as a sign of a new gender fluidity.
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updated 2/9/2012 5:32:05 PM ET 2012-02-09T22:32:05

On a chilly winter afternoon, Andrej Pejic settles into a Manhattan cafe with a cup of Earl Grey tea, sitting gracefully, long legs crossed. The blue-eyed fashion model gazes out a window, unaware that almost every man sitting at surrounding tables is transfixed.

A man in a black leather jacket walks up to the window, presses his face against the glass and kisses it. Pejic giggles and admits: "I find it flattering."

Story: Models form rights group ahead of New York Fashion Week

The admirers are likely unaware that the beautiful blonde is actually a man.

As Fashion Week gets under way in New York City, Pejic is one of the most recognizable — and controversial — faces in the industry. He's the only top-tier fashion model who can walk down the runway as either a man or a woman. And his androgynous beauty has turned him into a trendsetter in an industry that's always seeking to push the envelope.

"He's just this beautiful thing that everyone wants a piece of," says stylist Kyle Anderson, who dressed Pejic for a German magazine cover.

He has the kind of face that makes even the vainest woman jealous: high cheekbones, flawless skin and plump, shapely lips. When he speaks, his ever-so-slight Adam's apple is the first sign of his masculinity.

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Though Pejic isn't trying to be a woman, many in the transgender community have already claimed him as their own. He is seen as a bit of a maverick, someone who has embraced his sexuality without any need for explanation or justification. Last year, the gay and lesbian magazine Out named him "stylemaker of the year" and put him on its cover wearing a bridal veil and flowers in his hair.

Pejic graced the covers of 14 magazines last year alone, including an ad campaign for a Dutch pushup bra. In 2011, he was the face for a fashion line by designer Marc Jacobs. He has walked the runways for heavyweight designers, including John Galliano and Jean Paul Gaultier.

French designer Gaultier was so enamored of Pejic that he used his gender-bending look as a source of inspiration for his 2011 men's and women's wear shows, both of which Pejic modeled in. In the Gaultier men's show, a pistol-packing, bare-chested Pejic wore a sleek black suit as "James Blonde."

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That was in stark contrast with the women's show, where Gaultier crowned Pejic with the prized piece in the women's wear collection: a couture bride's dress.

Slideshow: Best of Fashion Week Fall 2011 (on this page)

French photographer Sebastien Micke, who has photographed transgender models, says Pejic's femininity is effortless.

"Andrej's got this thing that supermodels have — how to pose in front of the camera," Micke says. "It's just natural."

From refugee to model

Image: Andrej Pejic modeling during a photo shoot
Richard Drew  /  AP
The gender-bending model has appeared on runways for both male and female fashions.

But life hasn't always been so easy or glamorous for the 20-year-old. Born in Bosnia, Pejic spent much of his childhood living in a Serbian refugee camp before his family fled the country for Australia. He was discovered by a talent scout while working at a McDonald's as a teenager.

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From an early age, Pejic exhibited qualities thought of as traditionally feminine, for instance, preferring Barbie dolls over toy cars. As a teenager, he often hung out with girls and was once busted for stealing makeup from a drugstore. Pejic says acceptance from his friends and family made him comfortable in his own skin.

"I'm lucky in that sense," he says. "If I had big muscles and were hairy with a beard, I might not be comfortable with that."

At 6-feet-1, he's rail-thin, a women's size 2 or 4. His shoe size is the most problematic. Technically a women's size 11, he's forced to squeeze his feet into a size 10 to walk in women's shows.

Slideshow: Wackiest Fashion Week styles (on this page)

Gene Hogan, a representative at DNA models, the agency representing Pejic in the U.S., says dozens of calls pour in every week touting a slew of hot new androgynous models: "They say, 'Oh, you've got to see this guy! He's the black Andrej Pejic!'"

For Pejic, every fashion season brings a new surge of headlines and opportunities, including talks of a fragrance line or a possible reality TV show. With New York Fashion Week — when designers debut their fall collections — beginning Thursday, it's unclear which shows he will walk in — if any at all.

With the frenzy of media attention over the past year, industry insiders say Pejic runs the risk of overexposure. Given his very niche look, Pejic's ability to stay relevant may become difficult. And as his star rises, it's possible designers could hesitate to book him, fearing his persona may overshadow the clothes.

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Pejic is all too aware of the fickle nature of the fashion business. He plans to attend college eventually, having deferred his acceptance to a university in Australia. If fashion doesn't work out, he'd like to go back to school and major in economics or law.

Although open to discussing almost anything, Pejic remains secretive about his sexual orientation. When asked whether he prefers men or women, he coyly smiles.

"Love has no boundaries," he says.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Celebs wear red on the runway

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  1. Red on the runway

    Crimson-clad celebrities took to the runway on Feb. 8 for the 10th annual Red Dress Collection show by the Heart Truth awareness campaign, promoting women's heart disease prevention. Take a look at which stars wore red designer frocks.

    Left: Christie Brinkley models a flowy Pamella Roland gown. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Jennifer Nettles

    The singer presents a dress by designer David Meister for the Heart Truth's Red Dress Fashion Show in New York on Feb. 8, 2012. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Patti Stanger

    The "Millionaire Matchmaker" star wears a Marc Bouwer design at the Heart Truth's fashion show. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Aisha Tyler

    The actress and comedian models Badgley Mischka at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Minka Kelly

    The "Friday Night Lights" actress walks on the runway wearing a Diane von Furstenberg design at the Heart Truth's Red Dress show. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Jenna Elfman

    The actress models a dress designed by Alberta Ferretti during the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Elisabeth Rohm

    The "Law & Order" star models Nicole Miller during the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Debbie Phelps

    Debbie, mom of Olympic champion Michael Phelps, presents a dress by designer Adrianna Papell for the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Giselle Blondet

    The Latin actress models Oscar de la Renta during the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Seeing red

    An overhead runway view at the Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection fashion show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Feb. 8, 2012 in New York City. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rebecca Romijn

    The former model and "X-Men" star models a Marchesa gown during the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Gloria Estefan

    The singer, songwriter, and producer models a Narciso Rodriguez dress at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Chaka Khan

    The music legend models Chris March during the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rose McGowan

    Wearing Marc Bouwer, the actress models for the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Collage of red

    The celebrity models pose together at the conclusion of the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show in New York. (Amanda Schwab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Posing pretty

    A glowing Christie Brinkley, wearing a Pamella Roland gown, arrives for the Heart Truth's Red Dress show. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Three's company

    Singer Chaka Khan, actress Minka Kelly and Gloria Estefan prepare backstage at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Theo Wargo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Minking it

    Actress Minka Kelly arrives for the Heart Truth's Red Dress show in New York. (Carlo Allegri / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Group hug

    Rebecca Romijn, Aisha Tyler, Jennifer Nettles, Christie Brinkley, Elisabeth Rohm, Gloria Estefan and Debbie Phelps pose backstage at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Theo Wargo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Prepping Patti

    Reality-TV star Patti Stanger prepares backstage at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Theo Wargo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Mirror, mirror...

    Actress Rose McGowan prepares backstage at the Heart Truth's Red Dress fashion show. (Theo Wargo / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: The Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection 2012 Fashion Show - Runway
    Amanda Schwab / AP
    Above: Slideshow (21) Celebs wear red on the runway
  2. AP
    Slideshow (12) Best of Fashion Week Fall 2011
  3. Image: The Blonds - Runway - Fall 2011 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week
    Fernanda Calfat / Getty Images
    Slideshow (45) Wackiest Fashion Week styles

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