Elton Ilirjani, an Albanian LGBT activist and genderless model, promotes international Asian culture and fashion. He has walked the runway for various Asian designers during New York and Seoul Fashion Weeks. As the founder of Dignity Global, he advocates for LGBT and women’s rights in the workplace.
Ilirjani’s interest in Asian designs began after discovering the unique offerings of 3NY, a SoHo-based boutique focusing on Asian designers. He strongly believes that the future of fashion will turn to Asia for emerging designers and encourages aspiring designers from the region to develop their international community online and leverage the metaverse to make their mark. As an LGBT activist, he fights for equal rights in conservative countries where the LGBT community faces prosecution.
Q: How would you describe yourself from the perspective of the outside world?
Elton Ilirjani: We are all global citizens and part of this world. There is the west, the east, north and south. I come from Albania, which is a small European country above Greece, and I am well-traveled and have been living in New York City since 2018. I see the world as interdependent; fashion is part of this global cycle. There is no “hub” of fashion, as the industry depends on every country for its talents, materials and future.
Q: What would you say were your biggest influences when it comes to fashion and art? and why.
My biggest influences in fashion and art are freedom for the LGBT community and dignity. I am the founder of Dignity Global, a non-governmental organization that helps the LGBT community and women find equality in the workplace and job interview process. This led me to becoming a genderless model on the runway of fashion weeks across the world, from New York Fashion Week to Seoul Fashion Week and beyond, to help raise awareness of the genderless model movement in fashion. I want to normalize genderless modeling. My favorite model who has had the biggest influence on me is Naomi Campbell.
Q: How did you become interested in Asian designs, culture and fashion?
I discovered Sam & Marvin’s shop 3NY in SoHo back in 2019. I started to buy clothes there, which focuses on Asian designers you don’t typically find in retail stores in New York City, so the designs caught my eye. I started to post myself on Instagram to my following while wearing the Asian designers clothes and tagging them in the posts. That led to a friendship with the designers, and some have asked me to walk for them at New York Fashion Week to Seoul Fashion Week.
Q: Who is Seokwoon Yoon to you? How have their designs changed your career?
Out of all the runway shows I walked at Seoul Fashion Week, my favorite was walking for Seokwoon Yoon. He is such a talented designer who bridges influences from the east and west—he lived for a time in Berlin, so his work is infused with this industrial flair, but also has traditional Eastern cuts, too. Seokwoon Yoon’s designs changed my career for every single time I have worn his outfits in public—and gotten many compliments on them. Walking his runway show was very memorable for me.
Q: Where do you see the future of fashion in the next 5 years?
More people will be looking to Asia for the next biggest designer. Just look at Chen Peng and the dress he designed for Cardi B at the Met Gala this year, it was called the scene-stealing look on the red carpet. Fashion insiders are calling Seoul the next big fashion capital and I can easily see why. People have to start looking beyond the designers that PR agencies are pushing upon us and really discover our own true style and taste. That delight of discovery comes from going outside your comfort zone, experimenting, and traveling and meeting new designers.
Q: As an LGBT activist, where would you say you have struggled the most to get your views and point across?
In conservative countries that don’t recognize the LGBT community as real people. There are people silently suffering in countries where the LGBT community are being prosecuted for being themselves. I always tell people “always be yourself, and be true to yourself, no matter where you are.” But some people don’t even have the privilege of doing such a thing. We must fight not only for ourselves but for the people who are in countries where their voice cannot be heard.
Q: If you had to only wear one color for one year, what would it be?
Q: Can you share a memorable experience or collaboration you’ve had with other Asian designers or artists?
Walking for South Korean designers at Seoul Fashion Week 2023. I walked for four designers during the week—including Maison Nica, MMAM, Greedilous and Seokwoon Yoon. They are all talented designers. Also be sure to check out Christopher Raxxy, who is blowing people’s minds with his puffy, cartoonish couture. I also walked for BESFXXK at New York Fashion Week’s Concept Korea showcase, which highlights young designers from South Korea. Also check out Absurd Laboratory,
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring designers, particularly those from Asia, looking to make their mark in the fashion industry?
Get me to wear your design! Kidding (not kidding). I think designers from Asia should truly focus on getting their work far and wide across this earth. It isn’t just with the big-name fashion weeks, either. Develop your own international community online, reach into the metaverse, find like-minded colleagues, and shine. Don’t ever give up in trying to get your name out there.
Q: Where would be the best place for people to reach out to you after reading this?
Reach out to me on Instagram @eilirjani or via the Dignity Global website.