NEW YORK — 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."
The admirers are likely unaware that the beautiful blond 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 women 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.
Pejic graced the covers of 14 magazines last year, 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."
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.
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.
Pejic is aware of the fickle nature of the fashion business. He plans to attend college eventually, having deferred his acceptance to a university in Australia. He'd like to 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.