Rules To Live By Fashion

Fashion Muse Raya Martigny Feels Best on the Runway or Covered in Accessories and Nothing Else

Raya Martigny. Photography by Jacqueline Landvik. All images courtesy of Martigny.

“People often ask me where I learned to walk. I learned in the streets, because that's where I needed to survive. When I walk down the runway, it's my survival work that has reached the highest level of validation,” lets out Raya Martigny.

The model grew up on Réunion Island, just east of Madagascar, but left for Paris before she turned 18. Over the past five years, she’s walked for the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Mugler, been featured in dozens of editorials, and become a fixture of fashion weeks everywhere. Martigny (who is trans) also works with Requeer, an organization fighting for LGBTQIA+ visibility on Réunion, and has appeared in a handful of indie flicks including Dustin and Terror, sisters! As Paris Fashion Week enters turbo mode, CULTURED sat down with the modern muse to talk about thrift store revelations, her spite for small bags, and a boozy tip for surviving fashion week. 

Photography by Edouard Richard.

Who taught you how to dress?

My family. When I was little, they had a shop called PLUG IN on Réunion, the island I’m from. They were basically selling only 2000s clothes like MISS SIXTY, Energy, and Diesel. One of the salespeople was a drag queen. For my island, it was quite crazy to have access to a queer environment. And they were doing a fashion show every season, where they’d present new collections. The models would be covered in oil, wearing jeans, hoodies, and heels.

That’s a part of my childhood that really allowed me to understand who I was. The drag queen, Erica, allowed me to express my sense of style and personality and basically be more aware of freedom. It was a period of my life where I definitely needed representation around me and people I could relate to. I was not really aware of who I was yet, but I was working on it.

Do you remember how you developed your own style?

That happened after. My family became a bit more close-minded after closing the shop, so I decided to leave when I was 16 to go to Paris on my own. That’s when things started to take shape. I would go to secondhand shops with friends. There would be one euro boxes of clothes; with 10 euros, I could shape a full look. I was cutting a lot of clothes, gluing them because I didn’t know how to use a sewing machine, or sewing them by hand to make sure they’d stay put for one or two nights. Those moments allowed me to find a sense of silhouettes and proportion. I used a leather jacket as a skirt. I wore high heels all the time because I have a shoe fetish, a lot of makeup… We were learning how to create a new persona for every day of the week.

Photography by Jacqueline Landvik.

Who did you look to for inspiration?

Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Storm… All of those super strong female characters in cartoons. In terms of designers, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Tisci… McQueen’s sense of imagination was beyond limits. He opened a lot of portals that allowed me to exist in so many different ways without having to justify my existence. And Gaultier has such a twisted mind that no one can relate to. He’s such a genius; there should be more people like him in this world.

Tisci for Givenchy inspired me a lot when I was 14 or 15. He was working with Lea T and Willy Cartier, and there were so many pieces he did that inspired me. There’s a sense of a classic that’s been reinvented with a touch of fantasy. In terms of everyday beauty, it’s always been more about something really bold, classic, and gender neutral. I don’t really wear dresses during the day. I like wearing suits, pants, feeling comfy. Or I love to be naked with a lot of accessories. Rings are like armor for me.

You started modeling very young. What did that experience teach or afford you?

I just love to be on stage with people looking at me. I don't need to excuse myself or apologize for my existence. When you're on that stage, you just have to give everything you want to give and be everything you want to be, and people will respect that because they all want to escape reality. People come to a fashion show to forget about what's going on in the world and the sadness of their lives.

We get into fashion because we also want to create a world that goes beyond imagination. When I walk a show, I feel an energy that is really therapeutic, and no one can take that from me. People often ask me where I learned to walk. I learned in the streets, because that's where I needed to survive. When I walk down the runway, it's my survival work that has reached the highest level of validation.

Photography by Edouard Richard.

Do you have any Paris Fashion Week rituals?

Taking care of myself, drinking a lot of water, going to the gym. Every time I walk a show, I close my eyes and think of everything that's allowed me to get there and be really thankful for where I am and what I'm doing. Life is not always nice to me, so I think it's important in this moment that I just tell myself the best and give myself credit.

Where do you go to unwind?

Nowhere. There's no place to relax. In between shows, often I go home because I want to spend time with my dog and my boyfriend. After a long day, maybe I’d just go chill at La Perle, something central. There’s always something going on there. It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Sometimes in between shows I’ll stop by a random bar on the corner of the street to take a shot. Everything goes by so quickly during these moments; we need to celebrate sometimes and do something that actually makes us feel happy.

Whose closet would you pull a Bling Ring for?

Daphne Guinness. She has so many amazing archive pieces from McQueen. She's also like this really crazy witch. I also would love to have a look in Patti Smith’s closet because she must have a lot of clothes that have beautiful stories. I would want to know the story behind the clothes, not just a thing you wear to [an] award ceremony but something you've been living and sweating in. Another one would be Cher because she’s a show girl and has so much archival Bob Mackie.

Photography by Edouard Richard.

What is the most underrated item of clothing? Most overrated?

I can't stand small bags. It's such a waste of time and energy for a woman to have a bag like that. You can tell that it's actually men that design bags that small; they don't know what a woman has to do. They just think we are Cinderella and happen to be beautiful like that. I go with a big bag or no bag. Underrated, I would say gloves. Like really high, hand-embroidered gloves. There's so many things that can transform your hands into a work of art, but I think people should reconsider gloves. Also beautiful belts! You can find one in a secondhand shop for five euros and look fantastic.

What would someone have to wear on a date with you for you to walk out?

I can't stand tiny socks, like ballerina socks. When I saw my boyfriend the first time he was wearing them, and I said, “You're gonna change that right now.” They make the feet so much uglier. But honestly for a first date, someone could be dressed as a clown and I could fall in love with them. For me, the crazier the look, the more you will attract my attention.

What’s next for you?

I just finished a long movie, so the movie is going to be out. I'm also writing a movie with my boyfriend Edouard [Richard]. The character I play is going to be fabulous. My dream is to do a residency in California this summer and live as the character for a month. We want to make a mockumentary style film, so I'm excited to get to know that girl more.

In general, my future is gonna be a lot about letting things go and creating my own world. I need to experiment with a new kind of freedom, one that would be mine. I want to focus more on the acting side of my career because I feel like there are so many narratives that aren’t explored. I've been doing a lot already, but I want to do more.

Photography by Jacqueline Landvik.

Raya Martigny’s Rules to Live By:

1. Breathe in and breathe out.
2. Respect every soul that helps you feel your best.
3. If you feel you cannot be 100 percent yourself in a room, you are probably not in the right one.
4. If you don’t feel it, don’t do it.
5. Allow yourself to deconstruct and rebuild.
6. Take some time to think. Focusing on your mind will allow you to learn more and quicker from life.
7. If you feel tired, give yourself quality time and appreciate it, so you’re able to give the right energy again.
8. Travel, don’t hide! Discover the world’s different cultures. You will feel more grounded and inspired.
9. Close your eyes, and listen to what your body has to tell you.
10. Don't forget to have fun, life is so precious.