Model Melanie Gaydos Has a Rare Genetic Disorder—And She’s Taking Over the Fashion World

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Melanie Gaydos doesn’t look like other models. She’s fine with that, even if other people aren’t. “When I’m at fashion week, I can tell what people think of me because of the way they interact with me,” she says. “I was never, ever bothered by the way that I look. It has nothing to do with me.” She is that matter-of-fact, that easy—and it kind of forces you to wonder why anyone worries about their appearance.

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Gaydos, 28, lives in Seattle now but grew up on the East Coast. She was born with ectodermal dysplasia*, an umbrella term for a host of genetic conditions that affected the development of her hair, teeth, and nails. She got her start in modeling while in New York City attending the Pratt Institute. Art school connected her with loads of other creative types, and one photographer friend asked her to sit for him.

“I was never, ever bothered by the way that I look. It has nothing to do with me.”

“At the time I was doing a lot of self-portraiture in my drawings that I did for school, and he just really liked how I portrayed myself,” she remembers. “So he asked me to pose for him. After that experience, I realized that I could do a lot more with modeling. I knew that I was the only person who looked like me. I was the only person who had my sense of vision and such a unique way of looking at the world.”

Unlike the typical model origin story, Gaydos wasn’t “discovered” by anyone. She just started looking for modeling gigs on sites like Craigslist and ModelMayhem. “Craigslist in New York, there’s actually quite a lot of different kind of photographers on there. I met so many who wanted to get away from their commercial work, who were bored with [what] they were doing. They just wanted a unique individual, a different kind of person, just a fun subject to shoot,” she says. “Me looking so different from other models, that’s really why I was able to book a lot of work.”

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She still works without an agent or manager. “I’ve been approached by IMG before and a few other agencies, but nothing has come to fruition,” she says. “I really want to find a talent agent, but I don’t know. I’ve been doing pretty well on my own so far!”

She definitely has. While she still finds gigs on Craigslist, Gaydos has modeled for major avant garde publications like i-D, Galore, and Love magazines. She rocks a whole editorial for i-D’s summer issue, on stands now. She’s also walked the runway at multiple New York Fashion Week shows, and has appeared in several films and video shorts.

The best way for her to figure out which projects to do next? Get someone to tell her something she’s not capable of. “When I first started out modeling, like the first year or two, I did get photographers who said, ‘Well, you’ll never do a commercial shoot.’ Or I’ve gotten people who’ve said, ‘You’ll never walk runways.’ I’ve walked the runway shows for the last, I don’t know, three years, I’ve been doing New York Fashion Week!” she says. “I really don’t like being told I can’t do something.”



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