Interview by Jana Letonja

Supermodel, actor and activist Valentina Sampaio took to the scene in 2017 by appearing on the cover of Vogue Paris, titled ‘Transgender Beauty’, which was the first Vogue cover worldwide to ever feature a transgender model. Valentina is a trailblazer with many notable career highlights, which include becoming the first transgender model to apprear in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit issue, becoming the first transgender model signed to the VS Collective by Victoria’s Secret, and being appointed the first transgender beauty ambassador for Armani Beauty.

full look PRADA

Valentina, what made you choose modeling as a career and what challenges have you faced in your career as a transgender model?

As I child, I wanted be a fashion designer. I drew dresses from a very young I and would also make my own clothes, even out of umbrellas. I loved losing myself in that creative process. I went to university at 16 years old to study fashion design. It was there that people started asking me if I was a model and if I would be open to modeling for them. 

At first, it was just for fun. But then a friend who was a makeup artist encouraged me to try modeling professionally. It was very challenging at that time because people were afraid of me as a trans woman to represent their brand. I faced a lot of ignorance and fear. Social media and my first film really helped me launch my professional career as a model because it helped me secure my first agent in Sao Paolo.

You took the scene in the industry by appearing on the first Vogue cover worldwide to feature a transgender model. How special was this moment for you, and how important for the fashion industry?

It filled my heart with joy and hope because it was a step toward more inclusivity, a major milestone for me personally, as well as for the entire LGBTQ+ community. As a community, each personal success is a step forward for all. Every first is precious.

clothing & shoes DOLCE & GABBANA

A few years ago, in 2020, you made your debut in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, becoming the first transgender model to appear in the issue. What is your most cherished memory from this special moment in your life?

Sports Illustrated has been a deeply meaningful achievement. My experience on set with the team was the best I have ever had. Everyone was amazingly kind. They made me feel very comfortable, safe and empowered. We shot on Scrub Island and it was truly magical from start to finish.

How would you describe your personal style? Do you have a favorite trend at the moment?

It’s kind of undefinable. I love playing and transitioning between different styles. It’s really fun to be able to see myself in different ways. 

At the moment, I love oversized blazers. 

gloves WING & WEFT
bolo tie Vintage

What does beauty mean to you? Do you have a favorite beauty ritual?

Beauty is subjective. It means different things to different people, but I believe beauty is the transmission of essence. Beauty is something that transcends our body, it comes from the soul.

I shower, cleanse my skin and invest time in carefully hydrating my face and body. Especially during winter time. Also, I use sunscreen every day and drinking a lot of water is very important.

Looking back, how would you compare your dreams growing up to where you are now in your career?

I’ve always been a very dreamy girl. It’s so important to dream, our dreams are the reason we move forward. I’m very proud of myself because despite so many humiliating and traumatizing experiences, I never lost faith and hope in myself.

suit Stylist’s own
gloves WING & WEFT
full look R13

Besides fashion, you are also a committed activist and an active partner to GLAAD and Pride Live. You don’t shy away from speaking about the challenges facing the trans community. How has the situation changed in the recent years and what are some of the biggest changes that still need to happen for the trans community?

The reality of what my community faces on a daily basis is heavy and challenging. Trans people around the world are still greatly disrespected, marginalized, beaten and killed every day. There are many places in the world where it is a punishable crime to be trans. This needs to stop. It cannot just be trans for trans or one nationality for one nationality. We live on one planet, we are one human race. 

All support of the trans community contributes to the possibility of a safer and more dignified existence of trans people everywhere. That level of compassion, empathy and inclusivity benefits society as a whole. Everyone wins, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. I believe there is enough room in the world for all of us to exist in our own unique way, as long as there is respect and humanity. We are human and have the right to exist in harmony with the rest of society.

talent VALENTINA SAMPAIO with The Lions @valentts @thelionsmgmt
photographer PETROS KOUIOURIS @petros_koy
stylist ALTORRIN @altorrin
executive producer MAY LIN LE GOFF at Aries rising projects @maylinlegoff @ariesrisingprojects
makeup BILLIE GENE at OPUS Beauty @billieegene @opusbeauty
hair DAVEY MATTHEW at The Only Agency @daveydidmyhair
manicurist LOUISE CORBET at 10 Piece Nails @nettlenails
production designer FRANCESCA CARUSO @hifrau
motion dp KEVIN CHIU @kchiucinematography
photography assistants VASILIOS SMARAGDAS, RICARDO LARA, PHILIP LEWIS, CHRISTOS JOVANOVIC FOKAS @vasilios.smaragdas @thericardolara @phlipisme @christos_jov
styling assistant SIONÁN MURTAGH @sionanstyle
makeup assistant RANIA ZOHNY @raniasmakeup
studio GREENWOOD STUDIOS @greenwoodstudiosnyc
editor TIMI LETONJA @timiletonja
interview JANA LETONJA @janaletonja
cover design ARTHUR ROELOFFZEN @arthurroeloffzen