Back in 2018, Alessandro Michele debuted arguably his weirdest (and most wonderful) collection at Gucci to date, featuring models carrying prosthetic replicas of their own severed heads. But while it was those macabre accessories that grabbed headlines most, they were matched in visual impact by look 57, which saw the breakout male model of the season, Oslo, nursing a Game of Thrones-worthy baby dragon in a black, bishop-sleeved tunic and skirt bedazzled with crystals.
After a string of high-profile runway appearances that also included Moschino and Kenzo, the 22-year-old model moved to New York City and has continued to jet around the world walking runways for some of the worlds biggest brands. But when lockdown hit, Oslo found himself returning to his family home near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—and documenting, along with his cousin Benedicte Lyche, the day-to-day life of hanging out with five of his seven brothers.
“Up until I was 14 years old, I was the eldest of three, and although it was an idyllic childhood, it was also a very, very intensely cloistered bubble,” Oslo explains over the phone from California. “I think I realized within about a month after moving away to college what being transgender means, and that I had been trans my whole life, and that was also around the time that I discovered the term non-binary. It was all from Google and Instagram, but it was like a lifetime of understanding culminated in that moment—when I saw those words, it instantly made sense.”Photo: Benedicte Lyche
Oslo’s queer identity isn’t the only factor that has made his journey different to his fellow rising models in the fashion industry, but also the unusual circumstances of how his family came together. In 2012, Oslo and his biological family had formed a close bond with a friend who was Fijian, and was working in the U.S. to send money back to support her family. “She hadn’t seen her kids for almost three or four years when we met her, and she couldn’t stand to be away from her kids anymore, so she was going to move back,” Oslo explains. “Her eldest son Luke had been living with us for a while, and my parents said, ‘Well, why don't you bring your other two kids back from Fiji, and we’ll see how it goes?’”
A trip to the mother’s home island of Viti Levu followed, where Oslo met his siblings for the first time. “When I met them, there was just an instant connection—we felt like we had known each other our whole lives,” he says. “It just evolved into this crazy family unit.” After the mother received citizenship, the rest of the family moved in time for Christmas of the same year, marking the first step towards the family unit they have now become. “They just sort of showed up, for lack of a better term, and we became a family that night,” he adds. “And it was never really the same from there, in the best way.”Clockwise from far left: Waisea, Tomasi, Asher, Oslo, Malcolm, Chad, and Tristan at a soccer game in 2014. Photo courtesy of Oslo
In 2014, however, the family was left reeling when Oslo’s father passed away suddenly. While Oslo describes the time as one of intense grief, as the years have gone by, he notes that it has only made his bond with his siblings stronger. “There were few words, but we just had this mutual understanding of what had happened, and worked slowly together to try and rebuild,” he adds.
Another turning point came with Oslo’s transition in 2017, and the variety of responses it prompted from his family members. “I remember having an important conversation with my mom telling her that I wanted top surgery, but it was another few months before my brothers heard about it,” he explains. “I think especially after dealing with grief from my father, the last thing that I wanted was for them to feel like they were grieving yet another family member, so that was hard for me to reconcile. But my mom was always on board, it was just confusing for her. Honestly, in the beginning, people can react in fear-based ways when they don’t know what something is, it’s a typical human behavior, but I’ve always had the luxury of knowing that my family loved me no matter what.”Malcolm, Oslo, and Asher play Jenga. Photo: Benedicte Lyche
Growing up with seven brothers has also shaped Oslo’s understanding of what masculinity means in 2020, and how his own identity has, in turn, shaped his siblings’ own coming-of-age journeys. “My whole childhood I strove to be as masculine as possible, even if I didn’t fully know what that meant,” he explains. “It could be heartbreaking at times, because you have a portrait of exactly what you want to be all around you, and it seems utterly unreachable. But I have to remind myself that having many young men around me and around my age is beautiful, because I can see the differences and the similarities. I can see what toxic masculinity is, I can see what masculinity at the highest form is, and how it can be different for each man.”
And while Oslo has plans for the future to move into acting—as well as a keen interest in both marine biology and archaeology—he’s finally reached a place of confidence within the world of fashion that has been, in large part, prompted by the safety net of his close-knit family. “It has been really weird being in the modeling industry and being transgender and non-binary, I really didn't have a mentor that I could say, I’ve done that before,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years being uncomfortable and being in really unfamiliar spaces, so throughout traveling, knowing that I have them to return to has been invaluable. It has been the most unbelievable gift having this unit, because my brothers are the most intense well of joy for me.”