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S Mag Women of the Year issue | Tshiamo Modisane - The new face of beauty

For her gender non-conforming advocacy, Tshiamo Modisane is our Woman of the Year in fashion & beauty

Tshiamo Modisane is our Woman of the Year in fashion & beauty.
Tshiamo Modisane is our Woman of the Year in fashion & beauty.
Image: Steve Tanchel

An unexpectedly boisterous laugh fills the set. The origin of the commotion can be traced to the back of the studio, where the hair and makeup stations have been set up. Wrapped in a white robe with “Tshiamo” embroidered on the back is the source of the joyous noise.

Celebrity stylist and beauty ambassador Tshiamo Modisane began her climb to stardom in the fashion closets of True Love and Move magazines, before joining The Citizen newspaper as a lifestyle reporter. Having received countless accolades — and with many more doubtlessly to follow — Modisane is intentional about striking gold in everything that she can set her well-manicured hands to.

As a youngster in Daveyton township, Modisane was determined to make the best of herself. She used fashion as her all-access card to a world of colour and limitless boundaries, a world far away from her reality then. “I always sought a life that was larger than my own,” she says.

“Growing up, I always knew I was different. I used to do my mom’s hair and makeup. My mom was a real-life doll. I would get her dressed and style her hair. In a way, fashion gave me that nod of acceptance to be fully expressive, without any concerns.”

Surrounded by impeccably stylish and larger-than-life role models in her family, Modisane lapped up the lessons in personal style and demeanour.

“What I picked up from both sides of the family is that fashion and style and clothes are places of fun. My grandfather’s friends used to call him ‘Can’t Get’, because some of the stuff he wore you just couldn’t get,” she says. “And my grandmother was such a pure lady. She introduced me to the world of sophistication — of how a lady should look and present herself.

“Because I was brought up in a family where people wore the clothes and not the other way around, I embody that attitude, and it has become my persona. Whatever I am wearing must be well executed and carried out to its best. It [the outfit] looks good because it is on me,” she says.

“My mother taught me at a young age that you should never look like your frustrations, and that is something I do to this day. I always tell people that, on the days when I look jaw-dropping, you must know that I’m going through the biggest hurdle ever,” she says jokingly.

Image: Steve Tanchel

As recognition of her contribution to the industry grew, Modisane’s brand scaled new heights. In 2019, she became the first non-gender influencer to partner with beauty brand Lux.  Last year, she made her acting debut portraying a non-binary character in SABC 1 series African Dreams, and earlier this year she also appeared in e.tv soapie House of Zwide.

But her fame is not coincidental, nor is she an overnight success. “Everything I’ve done thus far has been intentional. I consistently push myself within the parameters of what I know. When I started styling, I made sure that I ticked all the boxes and would present the best of the best. When people speak of me, I always want them to speak of my work rather than me,” she says.

“I never set out to be famous for the fame. Before Instagram, people knew of me because of my work. If Instagram were to die, I would still have a career. Styling is my craft and what I bring to the industry. It mustn’t just be ‘Oh, Tshiamo, that stylist.’ It must be ‘Tshiamo, the stylist.’”

Modisane credits her gift of authenticity for her ability to manoeuvre and adapt to the turbulent fashion and beauty industry. “If you are authentic, everything else kind of gels. Else I would consistently be putting myself in compromising positions where I’m not doing justice to myself. Or that hinder me from performing at my optimal best. At the end of the day, it has to be authentic and it has to be my best.”

Modisane has blazed a trail in the public eye in terms of gender-nonconforming representation. But her transformation has been a private matter. It wasn’t until after the death of her mother that she gave herself permission to fully become herself.

“After losing my mother in 2017, I realised that I had spent all my years trying to make her happy. It wasn’t that she’d asked me to but, as a child, we always want to honour our parents. Yet the truth is that when we honour ourselves, we honour our parents,” she says. “When my mom died the last thing she said to me was, ‘I’m proud of who you are and how you’ve lived your life.’”

When asked about how much further she has to go in her transformation, she replies: “Soon, and very soon, all the questions you have will be answered.”

Nowadays, becoming the kind of woman her grandmother and mother would be proud of is Modisane’s focus. “My grandmother and mother were pure ladies. And that is most of my brand — just being a lady. Everyone is trying to be an independent woman and we forgot our beauty, subtlety, and softness. When a man asks me what I bring to the table, I always say, ‘I bring my beauty for the both of us,’” she says in amusement.

 “Because I know that my personality is so hard, I choose to wear clothing with simple lines to appear soft and approachable. I don’t look closed off. This extends to my makeup, which is always clean and soft.”

Reflecting on her 11-year tenure in the fashion and beauty world, Modisane says her experience, knowledge, and willingness to learn set her apart in the industry. “When I was working in magazines, I used to ask the makeup artist questions. Makeup differs according to facial features. Soft makeup is used to soften hard features, and the softer features need to be brought out,” she says.

“Fashion and beauty are the one place for people to be unicorns. Unicorns in a way where you are allowed to become this figment of imagination. Fashion gives you permission to push boundaries and explore. To play and have fun with colour and fabric.

“I’m grateful to be in such an industry… Even though at first I wasn’t so sure. And because what I brought to it was authentic and because I only had pure intentions, people were able to resonate with it.”