The Queer Fashion Event Not Enough People Are Talking About
New York Fashion Week has an inconsistent commitment to diversity at best, but on its first night, there's one event that can consistently claim to be pushing the envelope of representation and accessibility in fashion: DapperQ’s annual runway performance at the Brooklyn Museum, which spotlights queer style as radical self-care and resistance.
DapperQ, a queer digital fashion magazine turned multi-platform brand, has been working to reclaim what it means to create fashion for LGBTQ+ people for the past few years with its annual showcase of queer designers. This year's show, titled "Pursuit" (a reference to the museum’s Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future exhibit), is the sixth annual event. And despite fashion’s recent interest in diversity, it feels more important than ever that this ongoing act of resistance persists.
While mainstream designers have definitely been dipping their toes into the idea of gender as flexible, there’s something off about the industry’s approach to (and appropriation of) queerness, specifically its interpretation of androgyny, and who gets to do that interpreting in the first place.
As DapperQ owner and editor-in-chief Anita Dolce Vita said to me on the phone a few days before the event, “The mainstream has interpreted [androgyny] as just kind of white, masculine-of-center, and absent of any sort of femininity, and I think that’s lazy.”
She continued, “We know that’s not what androgyny is, right? It’s both masculine and feminine, and neither masculine nor feminine. It’s like they decided neutral is masculine and white, and blackness and femininity are read as just other.”
As a black queer femme, she’s adamant about the fact that queer fashion is so much more than a white, masculine-driven “bow tie and suspenders” vibe — and as both DapperQ’s owner and the curator of designers for NYFW’s largest queer runway event, it’s well within her power to flip the script on what queer fashion can be. That’s exactly what she’s done, for the past six years, and will continue to do so on September 5, at the show that marks DapperQ’s 10-year anniversary as a publication.
Lauren Zelaya, Director of Public programs for the Brooklyn Museum, says that the show’s approach to inclusivity is what sets it apart from the rest of NYFW programming. "The event is intentional in centering communities that are historically marginalized from the art and fashion worlds, which can be alienating and elitist spaces,” she explained. “It's for anyone who is seeking access to options for clothing that affirms and reflects their identity.”
And while some queer-owned brands have been invited to sit at the proverbial fashion table — Chromat, for one — according to Vita, that table remains otherwise largely homogenous. One reason for the disconnect between queer brands that show at main stages during New York Fashion Week and the queer brands that choose to show at DapperQ has to do with the commercial viability of the clothing, versus the (very queer) idea of fashion as performance: “This show is larger than just selling the clothes that you see on the runway. It’s a celebration of our identities. And I think that the clothes are very political and very performative, and we want to celebrate the full experience of queer fashion and queer style.” It's a kind of radical self-affirmation that she says is generally lost within the rest of NYFW.
That's not to say that the brands being showcased in this year’s runway performance aren’t commercially viable. On the contrary, Estée Lauder is sponsoring the hair and makeup, while the event itself is sponsored by TomboyX, a gender-inclusive underwear brand that’s raised around $25 million in funding.
Brands showing on the runway include STUZO, owned by a queer women of color couple who have dressed the likes of Lena Waithe; plus Travis Oestreich and Landeros, both of whom have dressed Billy Porter.
Designer Andre Landeros Michel says that his brand has been gender non-conforming from its beginning, and, “To show in a revered, established space such as the Brooklyn Museum legitimizes our community's efforts towards gender non-conformity.” The collection he’ll be debuting, which he describes as dark and romantic with lots of references to ‘80s nightlife and subculture, will be right at home on the DapperQ stage — both are committed to diverse runway casting and unconventional beauty. “NYFW should adopt this fresh approach and support emerging designers at the forefront of this change,” he says.
Models cast for DapperQ’s 2019 show include well-known figures in the queer community, including Jari Jones, a black trans femme model and writer; Ady Del Valle, a Latinx plus-size male model; and Jazzymyne Robbins, a body-positive influencer also known as JazzmyneJay.
As Zelaya put it, “People in our community still face discrimination and violence for how they choose to present in public spaces. Putting the spotlight on a range of our creative expression in a museum can be an important vehicle for shifting the culture.” And allowing queer people to drive that vehicle is key.
Catch DapperQ’s Pursuit as part of Brooklyn Museum's year-long "Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall" exhibition on Thursday, September 5, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets here.