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1999: Queer Designers Come to Redefine (and Sex Up) Luxury

Queer Designers

By the time the '90s drew to a close, a clutch of flamboyant gay tastemakers had injected much-needed life into major fashion houses.

For 25 years, OUT has celebrated queer culture. To mark our silver jubilee, we look back at some of the biggest, brightest moments of the past 9,131 days.

From Cristobal Balenciaga to Karl Lagerfeld to Yves Saint Laurent, gay designers have always been a part of fashion, but the '90s saw a wave of audacious, very out gay men, with both huge talents and personalities, entrusted with the keys to the luxury kingdom.

In 1994, Tom Ford was appointed creative director of Gucci, which had fallen on hard times after a series of scandals and bad business decisions. Under Ford's guidance, the Italian label re-emerged with an aesthetic that fetishized sex and glamour, epitomized by provocative, often homoerotic ad campaigns. "Sex is just second nature with me," Ford later told OUT in 2007. "It's not, like, an obsession or anything."

Related | OUT100: Tom Ford, Artist of the Year

A year later, John Galliano took over Givenchy, replacing the retiring founder, Hubert de Givenchy, 43 years after he launched the label. Galliano parlayed his mantra that "style is wearing an evening dress to McDonald's" into a critically acclaimed haute couture collection that almost immediately led to his appointment at Dior, where he spent years titillating critics and consumers alike (before being dismissed for making anti-Semitic comments in 2011).

Back at Givenchy, Alexander McQueen stepped in for Galliano, and soon displayed the flair for high drama that would become his signature. His most celebrated moment at Givenchy came with his spring/summer 1999 show, which featured model Shalom Harlow on a spinning platform, being spray-painted by robotic arms. This was, after all, the man who declared, "You've got to know the rules to break them."

Meanwhile, Marc Jacobs had shaken up Perry Ellis, where he designed a controversial 1992 grunge-inspired collection, for which he lost his job. But he rebounded and started his own label before getting tapped to oversee Louis Vuitton, where he stayed until 2013. Revitalizing the storied French house, Jacobs introduced Vuitton's first ready-to-wear lines and made its iconic Monogram canvas ubiquitous.

Though the '90s can be seen as a heyday for gay designers, the decade wasn't without tragedy. Gianni Versace, a wildly imaginative voice in the world of fashion, was shot dead in 1997. Both Jacobs and Galliano struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. McQueen took his own life
in 2010.

Today, sexual orientation and gender identity are more inextricably bound to fashion than ever before, thanks in large part to these queer enfants terribles. And since fashion loves nothing more than a comeback, we again find ourselves embracing the colorful, sultry, and dynamic looks they brought to the runway some 20 years ago.

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