The fashion industry is experiencing its own sea change, as it deals with new business challenges, including customer awareness around ethics and sustainability, an evolving, direct-to-consumer business, and (of course) the importance of inclusivity in a world that’s often been marked as elitist and exclusive. Here are the three designers who stood apart from the pack in their own regard this year.
This story is a part of Out100's larger fashion and beauty package. Read the list's pivotal figures in beauty for 2019 and the faces at the forefront of change in the modeling industry.
This piece was originally published in this year’s Out100 issue, out on newstands 12/10. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, or Nook beginning 11/21.
This past September, Prabal Gurung celebrated 10 years in business—a major (and, sadly, increasingly rare) accomplishment for a designer who’s made New York his home. Unfortunately, his plans for his anniversary show were about to be completely upended in the eleventh hour.
The show was originally intended to take place at The Vessel, a public art installation located at Hudson Yards. But just weeks out from his place on the schedule, Gurung read the headlines: Stephen Ross, the billionaire behind Hudson Yards, was hosting a multimillion-dollar fundraiser for Donald Trump. So, he pulled his show almost immediately.
At his new venue, the models took their finale walk, each wearing sashes emblazoned with the words, “Who Gets to Be American?”—a boldly political statement not normally seen on the runways.
“I hope that my brand continues to be a leading force in starting important dialogues around social responsibility, diversity, and inclusivity,” he says, adding that his mission is to create “clothing that empowers its wearer and serves a deeper purpose.” But, unlike many of the other brands out there with similar, lofty claims, Gurung appears to walk the walk: Over 70% of his employees consist of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, and over 80% of his collection is manufactured locally in New York.
“Apathy is the only concern that I have in our industry,” he says. “In today’s dangerous political climate, we must be a voice for the communities we’re benefiting from, and fight to support them.”
One of the most exciting new labels in recent memory is—go figure—designed by a man who has years of experience at some of the most important houses in the world (among them, Miu Miu, Yves Saint Laurent, and Zegna). Stefano Pilati debuted his concept and brand, Random Identities, on the e-commerce site ssense.com in an effort to bring “head-turning provocation” to menswear. With Random Identities, Pilati introduced a “Worker Boot” with a three-and-a-half inch heel for men that’s now become something of a staple among queer kids in the know. Other design highlights include rompers, a button-down shirt with a bra screen-printed across the chest, and, of course, a pleated skirt. For Pilati, this idea of experimentation is what makes his work gratifying. “Seeing the impact my clothes can have on people finally learning to break free from a norm imposed by patriarchal structures—someone putting on a skirt and feeling fabulous with some of the weight lifted off their shoulders—is the chance I see for fashion to still be poetic in 2019,” he says. But ultimately, it’s not just the customer who has had the opportunity to feel a bit liberated by Random Identities. “I’m expressing my knowledge and years of experience while taking the liberty of being true to myself and following my vision, rather than trying to work towards the market’s expectations,” Pilati says. And in an increasingly hostile marketplace for creatives, what could be more freeing than that?
When the final model took her walk at Christopher John Rogers’s first full-fledged fashion show this past New York Fashion Week, the audience rose to its feet, delivering a standing ovation. Among the crowd, there was an outpouring of support for the designer, who at just 25 years old, has already established himself as both the man of the moment and, well, the future of the industry. But what many may not have realized, especially after witnessing what Vogue called his “sumptuous Italian silks, upholstered linens...airy Swarovski crystal-adorned silk button-down shirts, and emerald green slips” was that Rogers is pretty much doing this all by himself. “The other three members of my team work full-time jobs during the day,” he says humbly. “So running the business is truly a hustle.” Currently, he works from home (with no interns or assistant, he points out) and manages everything from production and development to dressing requests on his own. That can be pretty hard to believe, considering that this year alone, Rogers has designed a custom ensemble for former First Lady Michelle Obama, and also nabbed the prestigious CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize. Now, the designer has nabbed his first retail accounts, and is intent on creating his “own universe and inviting people with adjacent feelings to come in for a tour.” While “increased financial support and business mentoring for young designers” are among his hopes for the future, he has ambitious plans for his label, which include a “lifestyle brand inclusive of leather goods, jewelry, home, fragrance, and beauty,” all while continuing to offer “inclusive product” that “allows for many different people to feel at ease in the clothes, regardless of body type, age, or how they personally identify.”