Joseph Altuzarra, a French-American designer known for his ready-to-wear women's brand, Altuzarra, started a "genderful" brand called ALTU in December 2021. The second brand, prompted by the designer's personal experiments with gender, showcases a more creative and intimate label than the 14-year-old brand he started with.
In a feature for Vogue, Altuzarra discusses the ALTU label's first collaboration in partnership with Alvin Baltrop's estate, which was released earlier this month. The late Bronx-born photographer was known for documenting the pre-AIDS epidemic life of the gay community in the 70s and 80s along the piers of the Hudson River in lower Manhattan.
After noticing the ALTU brand appealed more to customers identifying as cis gay men, an identity the designer shares, Altuzarra acknowledged the subtle and important differences between gay culture - which usually focuses on the experiences of cis, gay men - and queer culture - which includes everyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, with an emphasis on trans and gender non-conforming people.
"I began to think of ALTU as a reflection of queer culture, but more specifically gay culture," he said. Some of the photos in this collaboration between ALTU and Baltrop's estate feature American Horror Story: NYC heartthrob Isaac Cole Powell.
This played into his decision to include a pair of leather pants featuring a print of a man in a jockstrap with his back facing the camera a la Baltrop's The Piers (man wearing jockstrap), c. 1979. The pants also include a matching jacket with Baltrop's The Piers (couple having sex), c. 1979.
The photos are intentionally printed directly on the garments, as Altuzarra is a collector of gay art and wanted the clothing to be unaltered as though it were presented in a gallery.
Baltrop himself, who passed of cancer in 2004, never saw any fame during his life. "He is such a wonderful documentarian of a specific time during which being gay was really radical," said Altuzarra. "What is special about his work is that, to me, it's really about love and intimacy, the fact that gay men had to go to the fringes of the city to look for love and real connection."
When he reached out to the Alvin Baltrop Trust, he discovered there were thousands of never-before-seen negatives that Baltrop was unable to afford to develop while he was alive. A portion of the proceeds from the ALTU collection will go to developing and preserving these images.