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Ballroom floor to Paris couture: how Dominique Jackson became a Mugler muse

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As she returns to the runway for Casey Cadwallader’s AW21 extravaganza, the Pose icon goes deep on her relationship with the legendary fashion house

Casey Cadwallader’s SS21 Mugler show was an all-killer, no-filler fashion extravaganza, but there was one standout moment that blew half the internet away. 

Strutting down the runway in one of the designer’s signature slinky cut-out catsuits, like the indomitable spirit of Elektra Evangelista had once more possessed her, came Pose icon Dominique Jackson, in her debut runway appearance for the house that Thierry built (and Cadwallader is now taking great care of). 

That moment was a long time coming for Jackson. Moving to the US from Trinidad and Tobago as a child, by the time the actress hit her late teens she was embroiled in New York’s bubbling ballroom scene. Unsurprisingly, given her endless legs and supermodel silhouette, she was considered her community’s Naomi Campbell and christened Tyra, after Tyra Banks herself. 

But while the runways called out to her, and she longed for a career in fashion, her undocumented status in the US meant she was never able to make it to Paris, which at that point was far more progressive when it came to casting than NY. “When the house hired (legendary trans model) Connie Girl back in the 80s, it was kind of like ‘Yes! They are inclusive, they love us, we are valid,” she explains.

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Now, with one Mugler show under her (Versace) belt, Jackson returns to the Mugler runway as part of Cadwallader’s AW21 ensemble cast, in a new film debuting his killer new-season collection. This time around, things have been stripped back to a clinical white setting where the likes of Bella Hadid, Lourdes Leon, Jill Kourtleve, Kai-Isaiah Jamal, and legendary model Amber Valletta storm about in slinky, twisted slips, peekaboo bodysuits, and subversive tailoring, dripping with gold chains that swing tantalisingly from their bodies. 

Jackson, meanwhile, stares down the camera in a panelled cut-out corset and wipe-clean skater skirt, as fierce circa this Torso-directed film as she was the first time around, having seemingly cemented her place as a new-era Mugler muse. “Seeing people from my community, from the ballroom, sharing that first video and saying ‘This is where we belong’ was incredible,” she reveals, adding that returning for AW21 was “a no-brainer”. 

As the film lands today, Jackson opens up about inappropriate leather trousers, coming face to face with Mugler on the ballroom floor, and borrowing coats from Beyoncé, plus what being a Mugler girl means to her.

Hey Dominique! So first of all, I’d love to know the first time you became aware of Mugler and what impact it had on you? 

Dominique Jackson: The first time I was aware of Mugler was in the middle of the ballroom floor. I remember I was at a ball, and the Muglers were coming down the stairs, and they were wearing actual Mugler. As I grew across the next few years, it was always Mugler doing it at the balls – it was just so sexy and sleek, and it really pushed the envelope. Those tight catsuits and all the bodyshaping stuff, I mean come on! And then there was also the fact the house hired (legendary trans model) Connie Girl back in the 80s – it was always kind of like ‘yes! They are inclusive, they love us, we are valid’. So, Mugler played a small part in my own validation. 

And now it’s come full circle and you’re a Mugler model yourself. Could you talk me through how that came about? How did you and Casey meet? 

Dominique Jackson: So I got a phone call from a make-up artist who told me ‘Mugler wants you for a shoot’ and I just thought… no way, this must be some kind of game. It was right in the middle of filming the last season of Pose, around the time we were shooting the scene when young Elektra goes home to her mother and has a really traumatic experience, so it was quite a gruelling time. Anyway, I got my manager involved, and it turns out they really do want to work with me, and obviously I definitely wanted to do it, I didn’t care what was happening. My manager was like, ‘Dominique, you’ll be on set for 20 hours, with only a few hours break, and then you’re going to be filming again. How are you going to go three or four days without sleep?’ I was just like: ‘Listen, I have to’. Girls like myself don’t get these opportunities, and being on the runway was always my dream. 

So you’ve always wanted to model or be involved in fashion? 

Dominique Jackson: Oh always, always, always. The ballroom community called me their supermodel, I’m like their Naomi. When I was transitioning, and before I accepted and understood my truth, and realised I could still use my birth name after I got rid of all the trauma associated with it, my name was actually Tyra (Allure Ross Margiela). It was when Tyra and Naomi were in the middle of that feud they had, and the community was like: ‘Okay, you’re gonna look like Naomi, but we’re gonna call you Tyra’, It was a way of bringing the two together. 

It was a very frustrating time for me, because everyone kept telling me I needed to go to Europe to have a chance of becoming a model, that I was letting the moment slip by and that I was going to get old and never make it. But no one knew that my status in the US, at that time, wasn’t right – I didn’t have my green card, so I was completely unable to go fulfil my dreams because of the risks associated with that. And then, I got the call from Mugler, and it really felt like I’d finally got there. 

“It was always Mugler doing it at the balls – it was just so sexy and sleek, and it really pushed the envelope. Those tight catsuits and all the bodyshaping stuff, I mean come on!” – Dominique Jackson

And now you’ve worked with the house not just once, but twice. What was that first shoot like? What was it like finally being on the catwalk? 

Dominique Jackson: Let me tell you, I was tired. I turned up at six in the morning, because I had to get right back to (the Pose set). But as soon as I arrived, Casey and Haley (Wollens) and the whole cast and crew were just so beautiful and friendly. I was a little self-conscious, actually, because both my partner and I had come down positive with COVID and lost a lot of weight – even though we’d locked ourselves away and were washing our groceries down with Lysol and anything else we could do. You know, in the Black community and wherever you look on TikTok, girls are revered for these little waists and big butts, and here I was, already older, feeling quite low, thinking ‘Why are you even here?’ But as soon as I walked in they just embraced me, and when I stepped into that catsuit, it was just gasps all round from everyone – the other models, the make-up artists, Casey and Haley. Hunter was fantastic. I had this amazing sense of being appreciated, valued, and acknowledged, and that gave me the strength to move forward. It was a really beautiful environment and moment. 

Those gasps unsurprisingly extended way beyond the set – that amazing clip of you walking in that first show was everywhere across social media. How did it feel to see that? 

Dominique Jackson: It was incredible. You know, you might work and push yourself really hard behind the scenes, but people don’t see that – they only see a tiny snippet of what’s going on in the forefront. As a trans woman, a Black woman, and an immigrant, I’m being blessed with so many things right now, but behind the scenes, imposter syndrome can often build up and make me feel like I don’t deserve what’s happening. When it came out, I had so many people contact me and just go ‘You killed it, you did amazing’. Seeing people from my community, from the ballroom, sharing it and saying ‘This is where we belong’ was incredible. It really touched my heart, and was a reminder that, when you feel something in your gut, let that inner voice guide you. Lead with kindness and pursue your dreams. 

And so I’m guessing coming back for round two this season was a no brainer? 

Dominique Jackson: Oh, of course! My fiancé and I were actually shooting for British Vogue when I got the call, and they wanted me to fly out to Paris that very same day. Let me tell you, in that moment I started feeling full-time fancy. It was also really nice because it was a real affirmation that this wasn’t just a box being ticked – it was them putting me out there, again, and making me visible. Saying to the world, ‘trans people can be fantastic models’. And it was actually my first time in Paris.

Oh wow! Did you get to see much of it? Did you love it? 

Dominique Jackson: They took absolutely splendid care of us – the hotel, the fittings, the shoot, everything. I felt like royalty. And after we’d wrapped, we managed to do a bunch of touristy things – we went around the Eiffel Tower, we went exploring, shopping at Versace, up to Montmartre, and my partner and I even went and put our lock on the church (laughs). The streets are so full of culture and history. I loved it. 

And so thinking about the Mugler archives – is there any particular piece that stands out as one you’d want to get your hands on? 

Dominique Jackson: Oh gosh, wow. Honestly, how to narrow it down? Somebody get me a suitcase! But two things I’m thinking of would be the motorcycle corset and Linda Evangelista’s look from George Michael’s (“Too Funky”) video. Iconic.

Winding the clocks back a bit, could you tell me about the first moment you became aware of fashion and its power? 

Dominique Jackson: Growing up, it was always about fashion. So much so, that when I was young, I had a pair of leather pants I wouldn’t take off in Trinidad and Tobago in 90 degree heat (laughs). My school uniform had to be a certain way or I would cry. The trousers had flared legs, and I wanted them skinny, so I’d fold and pin them and do everything I could to try to get them to stay in place. I wanted to wear Reeboks to school, but my grandmother wouldn’t have that. When I migrated to the US, my mother was on the visa program and worked so hard – I have nothing but love and appreciation for the sacrifices she made for us. But when she took us into Kmart I was like ‘Oh, no, this cannot be happening!’ So I got a job very quickly so I could buy the clothes I actually wanted to wear. I didn’t really know about designers until I got into ballroom, but at that point, I didn’t have the money to actually invest in high fashion. It wasn’t really until Pose came along that I started cautiously getting a few pieces I really wanted. 

“When the house hired (legendary trans model) Connie Girl back in the 80s, it was kind of like ‘yes! They are inclusive, they love us, we are valid’. So, Mugler played a small part in my own validation” – Dominique Jackson

What was the first thing you picked up? 

Dominique Jackson: Well, it was my first pieces I have to say, because it definitely wasn’t only one thing. I got some Balmain and some Roberto Cavalli, because Cavalli was the first place I went that I saw a dress and it reached the floor, because I am tall, you know? And when I was younger, I always said I’d buy myself a pair of Guiseppe Zanotti shoes. Even back in high school, shoes have always been my thing – I had a pair of these sequined peacock-design pumps and people were just like… ‘Okay, you’re not from here!’ That’s where ‘Get the shoes, baby, get the shoes’ on my Instagram comes from – they’ve always been the foundation. 

And did you get them? 

Dominique Jackson: Of course! Actually, we just built a walk-in shoe closet in our new place, and I’d promised myself I wasn’t going to buy any more shoes. But actually, looking in it now I’m upset – I don’t have nearly enough. 

What’s missing? 

Dominique Jackson: I love, love Gucci, but Gucci doesn’t really have heels that I like, so mostly it’s Louboutins for me. My big thing is actually that a lot of designers don’t go up to a size 42. They stop at 41, which is usually too small, or the ones they do have are these ugly, orthopedic things. It’s a bit of an overlooked thing, but fashion needs to be doing more to make shoes inclusive. Just because your feet may be longer or bigger, doesn’t mean you can’t wear sexy or nice shoes. 

Who were your style icons growing up? And who are they now? 

Dominique Jackson: Charlize Theron, Janet Jackson, Angela Bassett. Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, and one of my favourites, Helena Christensen. And Grace Jones. I love Grace Jones. 

If you could play any character in a remake – perhaps of a favourite movie – who would it be? 

Dominique Jackson: Grace Jones in Vamp. And I don’t want to curse myself, but I love Queen of the Damned

Now you’ve got two Mugler shows under your belt, is there any other runway you want to walk? 

Dominique Jackson: I’d love to do Alexander McQueen. Alaïa. Tom Ford, because I love the balance of sexiness and chic his collections have. Jean Paul Gaultier, oh my god. Saint Laurent. Balmain, because I have been in love with that man (Olivier Rousteing) since forever. And if god’s willing and I do get married, then to have Zuhair Murad design my gown would just be a dream.

Did you manage to take home any of Elektra’s wardrobe when Pose wrapped? Some of her looks were insane!

Dominique Jackson: I wanted to! Analucia (McGorty, costume designer) and her team were just incredible. I mean, the caged Marie Antoinette look? The gold wings from the last season? She even had me in Beyoncé’s blue fur coat at one point. It was exquisite. 

Okay wow. How did that come about? 

Dominique Jackson: Listen, that was the fashion gods smiling down. When they told me, I was like, okay let me cuddle up in it. And I felt so close to Beyoncé. Like she’d reached out and touched me. 

I mean, there’s a real likelihood you got some of her DNA on you…

Dominique Jackson: Right? I’m basically Beyoncé now.