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9 Queer Fashion Designers Leaving Their Mark on the Industry
A strip of metal crossing the nose like a Band-Aid, an earring that seems to do everything except pierce the ear--Alan Crocetti's jewelry seems to adorn the body in beautiful, if unexpected ways. "I am fascinated by anatomy," the 33-year-old British designer says. "I like to think I don't take any body parts for granted." His pieces convey a certain fluidity despite their weighty material, blurring the lines between hard and soft, decadent and austere, masculine and feminine. "Jewelry has always been genderfluid in my eyes," says Crocetti. "My pieces acknowledge the complexity of human existence. They are not bound by the constraining ideas of female fragility or male strength. -- Harron Walker
Hana Holquist's work centers a specifically queer expression of femininity, exaggerating high-femme aesthetics until they become surreal--lushly draped fabrics and sumptuous textiles the 22-year-old creates herself. "As a lesbian I've never felt the need to cater to men or the male gaze," she explains. Working in fashion, Holquist has seen how feminine expression still centers that gaze, and she seeks to create a "feminine fantasy" outside of this heteronormative approach to fashion, specifically through exploring female homoeroticism, coding her clothing for gay femmes. Holquist's most recent collection sought to escape the narrative of women as muses for men, but in the future she hopes her work will focus less on defending femininity against men and instead on celebrating its more positive aspects. "I love being a high femme, and I love being gay," she says. "I want there to be a visual language that expresses that." -- Rose Dommu
On the back of the door to Gogo Graham's studio hangs a ribbed, white, cotton-polyester top with creamy silk ribbons laced up the back. It's a one-of-a-kind piece for Cecilia Gentili, the actress and beloved leader from within New York's transgender and sex worker communities, who would wear the garment at her solo show later that week. "She deserves every ounce of recognition she can get," Graham says. Born in California then raised in Texas, the designer, who now lives and works out of Brooklyn, has been making ethereal, feminine couture for trans women for more than five years. Her work is made entirely from upcycled material found in Goodwill bins and clothing gathered from their friends. She incorporated these elements long before major designers saw the value, or at least the dollar signs in sustainability, or in highlighting trans models and gender nonconformity in their collections without materially giving back to the people who made those "trends" possible. "That's larger than the industry. That's just the nature of capitalism," Graham says. "I just wish things were different." Until then, she opines: "Pay the girls. That's it." --Harron Walker
NIHL by Neil Grotzinger
When Neil Grotzinger started his brand, it was a man's take on couture for men. Bringing the rigor, beadwork, and hand-applied embellishments that had previously been reserved for women to men, Grotzinger aimed at questioning and subverting masculine stereotypes. But in the year since, the brand has changed and grown. Still revolving around subversion and contradiction, NIHL has become gender-agnostic. "It's actually very hard for me to clarify the specific person that I design for," Grotzinger says. "It's really just about anyone who doesn't necessarily want to conform to gender stereotypes on any side of the spectrum." In practice, the latest collection looks like skintight crop tops a la Christina Aguilera's early 2000s midriff era, printed with stills from vintage gay porn. It's the same clashing of ideas that was the impetus for the brand, but now in an easily accessible format.
South African brand RICH MNISI, named for its designer, straddles the worlds of fashion and furniture design, but Mnisi approaches both from the same point of view. "Clothing and furniture serve the same purpose: to support the human body whilst being aesthetically pleasing. It's the human body that I design for and not people's ideas behind them." Mnisi's clients are usually art enthusiasts who don't necessarily need to understand a piece to love it, responding instead to the bold colors and patterns, the tension between delicacy and strength, and the deconstruction of structure. After all, this is very much a part of his heritage -- Mnisi artfully confronts ideas of gender and race within South African culture. It's important for him to shoot lookbooks and campaigns where he grew up "because the reality of queerness belongs in those spaces and everywhere I exist." -- Rose Dommu
NO SESSO etched a point in fashion history when it showed at New York Fashion Week in February, becoming the first brand founded by a trans person to ever show on the official calendar. But the Los Angeles-based label achieved this on their own terms, underscoring the company's mission. "For me, success feels like knowing that we are putting our friends and other people on a platform so they can see themselves in mainstream fashion in ways that are not just typical for white models on the runway," brand co-founder Pierre Davis says. Working alongside Arin Hayes, they cast a lineup featuring exclusively people of color, with a few friends from the music business in the mix (Steve Lacy, Maya Mones, and Kelsey Lu), wearing the "business bitch"-inspired range. Next on the calendar? Hitting up Fashion Week again in September, and cementing that legacy.
Christopher John Rogers
Bubblegum pinstripes with sheer pink paneling. Zebra print stitched into black-and-white checkerboard. Chestnut fur on top of clashing, earth-tone flannels. To say that Christopher John Rogers doesn't scare easily would be an understatement. "Fabrics that others tend to shy away from, either due to the strangeness in color or in feel, are the ones that catch my eye," says the 25-year-old Brooklyn-based designer. "I love pushing the limits of fabric and color and exploring fantasy. I'm equally inspired by reality and pragmatism. I'm not a costume designer, so I really want people to function and live in the clothes we make." And when he says people, he means all people, regardless of size or gender. "I try to think about comfort and the ability for multiple types of bodies to feel empowered by the clothes," Rogers says. "That's one reason that I love generous volume--because it feels optimistic and democratic." -- Harron Walker.
KHIRY by Jameel Mohammed
It was partially on recommendation from an executive at Barneys New York that Jameel Mohammed found his way into jewelry. Though he was designing apparel at the time, a necklace he'd once made caught the person's eye, and with a little encouragement, Mohammed switched focus. But KHIRY, his brand, was conceptualized during the same year as the Ferguson protests in the aftermath of Mike Brown's death and the formulation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which means it's always been more than mere accoutrements. "I thought to myself, if I have this access to stores and media, then I have to look for something to say," Mohammed says. "So I decided that I wanted to use what I was going to do to advocate for Black people." Mohammed now does just that, sourcing Black culture and history as inspiration points, and designing for people who understand his worldview. This ideology runs through his high-end custom fashion jewelry business, which features 18-karat gold and diamond charms, as well as through to his fashion jewelry collection, which he plans to expand soon.
If you watch RuPaul's Drag Race, odds are you've seen something Diego Montoya has designed -- like Sasha Velour's final lip sync look in Season 9, removable mask and all. Masks have always been central to Montoya's work, creating an image that isn't bound by reality -- comparable to drag. Montoya's ornate creations are designed in collaboration with his clients, a symbiotic relationship he treasures. "The work I do builds upon what they've already created," he says. "I love working in this realm because it is all based on fantasy. We can be anything." While Montoya is busy creating costumes, he'd like to revisit his work as an artist, producing large-scale art installations in a "Bob Mackie meets Christo and Jean-Claude moment, maybe with robots." As a designer whose work has walked the Oscars red carpet -- he dressed Shangela for the 2019 ceremony -- the possibilities are limitless. -- Rose Dommu