In her new role as one of the faces of international retailer H&M’s sportswear line, H&M Sport, Caitlyn Jenner is using fashion to champion acceptance for transgender people everywhere. Jenner recently sat down with InStyle to discuss her collaboration with the clothing giant, talk personal style and, yes, even share some of the key pieces of advice she’s received from stepdaughter Kim Kardashian.
After shooting scenes for the H&M Sport campaign film she’ll appear in this summer—the film, along with the sportswear collection, debuts next month in advance of the Rio Olympics, where H&M is also dressing the Swedish Olympic and paralympic teams—Jenner emphasized the importance of bringing trans issues into the national conversation.
“Sportswear and sports are great ways to bring out a message and to create understanding,” Jenner told us of the campaign, which features her wearing leggings, jackets, and other items from the new line. “The things we have to deal with in the trans community are huge. This is an issue of humanity. It doesn’t have borders. It affects every race, every color of skin. It doesn’t make any difference who you are. To be involved with H&M on a global basis, to bring understanding, is really important.”
It’s appropriate timing—Jenner became a household name 40 years ago, after winning gold in the men’s decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. For her, the partnership with H&M offers the chance to reach a new generation of people, and deliver a message of hope and perseverance that goes far beyond athleticism.
“For so many years I was defined as a human being by 48 hours in my life,” she said. “It was a great moment and I wouldn’t give it up for anything, but there was so much more to me than that.”
In the film, H&M will highlight other athletes and celebrities around the globe who have defied odds to achieve personal and professional victories. Its focus is the “champion” that lies within each person, and, as Jenner explains, her greatest accomplishments go far beyond gold medals.
Do you feel society is as receptive as you would like it to be to images of transgender figures in pop culture?
"Trans issues have been swept under the rug for so many years. Nobody could talk about them. Nobody knew anyone who was trans. Kids have a very difficult time when they’re young and dealing with this issue, and that’s where the big suicide rates are. But you shouldn’t have to move, or change schools, in order for your child to live authentically. Hopefully we are showing people that it’s OK to talk about it. Obviously we have a long way to go, but at least the door is open and the conversation is started."
H&M reaches a lot of young people. What is the significance of this campaign?
"First of all, I hadn’t been able to do a lot of shopping—fun shopping—for a long time. When we were shooting I Am Cait in New Orleans there was an H&M on the corner and I had never been inside one. So I go in and there are a lot of very cool, very young people there, because it’s affordably priced. I bought a couple of little things; Courtney, my hairstylist, bought a couple of things; and Kip, my makeup artist, bought something—and I just said, 'Throw it all in, I’ll take care of it,' and all of it was, like, $264. I went, 'Is that for one outfit or the whole bag?' We need stylish, affordable clothing. But more importantly, they’re going to put a lot of effort behind this campaign. I think it can really help bring a lot of understanding with its global reach. This kicks it off and I’m going to make sure it keeps going."
Do you feel the campaign reflects your own style and desires?
"Yes. First, their sports clothing is extraordinarily good. I really loved the photo shoot today, because it was in a lot of ways more 'me.' It was activewear, which basically is what I’ve worn my whole life. Since transitioning it’s been kind of interesting. Everyone asks, 'What’s your style?' and I’m going, 'Uh, I don’t know!' Now that I can actually go out and buy stuff I’ve had to learn: What can you wear every day? Because, you don’t get dressed up every day; you’re not completely glammed up. Although, I am very careful when I go out, because I get photographed all the time. So I have to take it seriously, because you get one really bad shot and you’re dead, as Kim [Kardashian] says. 'You gotta’ rock it all the time,' Kim says."
The campaign talks about victories in life. What are yours?
"My biggest victory was raising 10 wonderful children. That’s the toughest job you’ll ever have and all my kids are hardworking and morally good. Nobody’s more proud of them than I am. Also personally, overcoming the obstacles that I’ve had to deal with since I was a kid. I never felt comfortable; I had all this turmoil inside me. By far my biggest in-my-soul victory, is being able to live my life authentically."
You’ve said that you didn’t display your gold medal when your kids were young because you didn’t want them to feel like they needed a medal to be successful.
"Going out there and winning gold medals is not even close to being the definition of success. So I never had anything 'Olympic' around the house. My kids certainly knew what happened, because every time we’d go out people would say something. They were very proud of what I did, but I didn’t want it to define who they were. They had to find their own thing."
For more on this campaign, and others featuring transgender models and celebrities, read Eric Wilson's "Look Smart" column in the July 2016 issue of InStyle, on sale now and available for digital download. Excerpts from this interview originally appeared in Wilson's column.