The Must-See Exhibit: Queer Fashion at FIT
By Max Berlinger
Above: Clockwise from top left: Gay Pride “Kings and Queens 3,” 1989; Gianni Versace, leather evening dress, Autumn/Winter 1992 (worn by Naomi Campbell); Jean Paul Gaultier, orange shirred velvet dress, 1984; model Jenny Shimizu, Helmut Red campaign
This fall, Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and her co-curator, Fred Dennis, set out to expose the vital, if sometimes unsung, contributions the queer community has made to the fashion industry. “What people will find is that there is a multitude of gay aesthetics,” says Steele of their exhibit A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, which includes everything from Versace’s leather bondage dresses (a nod to backroom debauchery), Gaultier’s conical bras and skirts for men (a camp take on sexual politics), Saint Laurent’s tuxedos for women (which helped put androgyny on the map), and an 18th-century dandy’s suit worthy of Oscar Wilde. The show’s timely coda features a selection of same-sex wedding ensembles. Ultimately, Steele and Dennis see it as a more accurate portrayal of fashion’s past, which has too often been scrubbed clean of any sexuality. “By deliberately acknowledging what gay people have done for fashion,” Steele says, “we’re shedding a whole new light on the subject.” Opens September 13.
Photo credits: Joyce Culver (Kings and Queens 3). Versace photo courtesy Fashion Group Foundation. Gaultier photo courtesy The Museum at FIT. Mark Seliger: Shimizu