Brownsville model slays the runway at New York Fashion Week

Earlier this month, Brownsville’s own Nolan Navarro turned heads when they walked down the runway at the annual New York Fashion Week extravaganza. The 21-year-old’s runway walk was even featured in a video of Anna Wintour’s favorite moments of NYFW.

Navarro, who uses they/them pronouns, has been modeling for several years now, slowly climbing the ranks of the modeling world from Brownsville to now residing in New York City. They hope to bring change to the modeling world, making it a much more diverse and inclusive place.

Navarro is currently in the Rio Grande Valley, preparing to celebrate their 21st birthday with friends and supporters at an invite-only modeling show in Brownsville on Sept. 25. I got to speak with Navarro to learn about their journey and upcoming event.

Neta: How did you first get involved in modeling?

Nolan Navarro: There was a time in the Valley around 2012 when modeling was in demand. We had modeling agencies and schools pop out of nowhere like crazy. I think that’s what gave the idea to many people down here to call themselves models. There’s even a meme that floats around every now and then that mentions something about being a model down here. Anyways, I was here for this demand, but I realized nobody was really pushing for diversity or professionalism. I began with opening up a modeling agency at age 14 and was hoping the people I started with would follow me through this journey. I ended up being serious about my craft and pushed myself the furthest. Initially, when my career really began to bloom, I was asked to intern for my current agent but got offered a modeling contract, instead, by her. If you stick to your craft, the right people will appreciate it and follow your journey.

Photo by Juliana Ramirez

Neta: What was your first modeling experience outside of the Valley?

NN: My first modeling experience outside of the Valley was Fashion Week San Antonio. I was actually sending my models from my old agency out to the castings for it. Then I decided to try myself. I ended up getting cast for one presentation, but it sucked, and I didn’t get paid. Nobody appreciated my look then.

Photo by William Cudd

Neta: What kept you motivated to keep on modeling and pursuing this path after you encountered that?

NN: I was obsessed with turning your average human into something they didn’t think they could ever be. I was casting boys with really androgynous looks for about two years from ages 17 to 19 and saw the success they received after they tried modeling. It encouraged me to work on myself and really figure out what I need to do to get past average and become androgynous. Once I found that, New York really took me all in. I am very blessed to be where I’m at. I was at the right place at the right time when I first traveled here [to New York City] and have continued to make great connects and friendships with people who are actually in this scene. No more games.

Courtesy of Nolan Navarro

Neta: I saw that you were recently involved in New York Fashion Week. How did this opportunity come about, and how was your experience at NYFW?

NN: This is actually my fourth season! I’ve been participating in NYFW since I was 19. I’ve been able to stay active in this scene by working with my agents. Recently though, I was dropped by Red Model Management. They’re a pretty big agency in New York, but after accepting jobs that were LGBTQ related, they began to hide my face from the public and refused to book me anymore, until they cut me. This all happened two weeks prior to fashion week. So everything I did this season was booked by me for me. I’ve never had so much freedom before, and this season I was able to test out a new look and be more of myself. It was a whole situation this season, but I came out stronger in the end.

Photo by Adrian Lopez

Neta: To people who aren’t familiar with the modeling scene, how would you describe fashion week to them and the experience?

NN: It’s the busiest month for models. We start going to castings like 2 weeks before [the event], with two to three castings a day. It’s just full of rejection and obscurity. It’s like the Olympics for us. We spend months preparing for this and those who come out the strongest are the ones who get booked on lots of shows. It’s like a game, and for once in my career, I can say I know how to play it. It’s odd seeing other people from the Valley attempt to jump out in the scene. They get pulled into this knock-off version of a fashion scene full of predators and people who like to steal your money. If you want to experience fashion week, just hit me up.

Neta: How do you feel being originally from Brownsville and now turning heads and becoming noticed for your modeling in New York?

NN: I take so much pride in being from Brownsville. I make it a point for people to understand I’m from Brownsville. The people I work with every day are very privileged people who grew up in big cities. They don’t understand the struggle. Turning heads in New York was my goal from the beginning, and all it took was the right mindset. People pay to be in this scene because they have the money, but I’ve made it this far for $0 all because of dedication.

Courtesy of Nolan Navarro

Neta: I saw that you are putting together an invite-only runway show. Is that something you can talk about publicly?

NN: This is the third year I put together a runway show on my birthday. Not just to celebrate my birthday but to celebrate fashion! Get this though— each year I decide to do this, I decide like 15 days before the 25th and start putting all my ideas to work! I’d like to think the reason everything turns out good is because it’s so spontaneous and done in good taste. Me and my fashion buddies, Juan and Vivi, are putting the show together in our studio in Brownsville. Like last year, the show will be at another old beautiful house filled with nothing but the best fashion down here. We’ve casted 20 beautiful models from moms, dads, kids to gay, lesbian, trans, and so on.

Courtesy of Nolan Navarro

Neta: One thing I love seeing that when you’ve done callouts for models for shows, you want models from all walks of life. Could you elaborate on why you feel it’s important to be so inclusive and diverse in your shows?

NN: Many people have this misconception about the fashion industry. When I mention I’m a model, they assume I’m joking because I’m tall and scrawny, but standards and times have changed. I’m part of that change! It would be wrong to reverse all this change and become less inclusive. I encourage it. It’s been a hard journey getting out of the masculine side of fashion. Once I entered the women’s division this season, I felt it was most important to celebrate diversity in the Valley for this upcoming show.

Neta: Any advice for others from the Valley who are looking to follow your steps on the runway?

NN: Brand yourself. Brand yourself good. And if that doesn’t work out, rebrand yourself.