Fashion’s 11 most memorable tributes to queer culture

Fashion’s 11 most memorable tributes to queer culture 

From Chanel brides to Grace Wales Bonner’s collections inspired by the great writers James Baldwin and Essex

Hemphill, here are some of fashion’s most memorable tributes to the LGBTQ+ community.

The history of fashion has always been partly intertwined with the history of queer culture. Several generations

of LGBTQ+ designers have left a definitive mark on fashion, from post-war gay designers to fashion visionaries

like Rudi Gernreich, Willi Smith and Stephen Burrows. In his book Work! A Queer History of Modeling, Elspeth

H Brown sees Stephen Burrows’ participation in the legendary “Battle of the Dressmakers” in Versailles in 1973

as the first event to introduce a white and European audience to the incredible energy of the fashion shows that

were held within the black and queer community, a culture that would later be referred to as “vogueing”. However,

the reciprocal influences of fashion and queer culture have only come to light in more recent times, and questions

remain about the sometimes subtle line between collaboration and reclamation. 

Vogue has gathered here some of the most unforgettable moments of fashion’s celebration of the destinies, movements

or communities linked to queer culture. 

1. Thierry Mugler spring-summer 1992 Adidas Dame 3 Boys Lypsinka at the Mugler spring-summer 1992 show

Photography Condé Nast Archive

Mugler’s sassy and extravagant aesthetic has produced many unforgettable and decidedly queer moments. For his Spring/Summer

1992 show, held at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, Mugler brought in transformist artist Lypsinka, whose art

blended the classic age of Hollywood (actress Joan Crawford) and high fashion (1950s model Dovima). In her act, she

sings in playback while revealing four outfits, each one hidden beneath the previous one. She starts in a 1950s evening

wear revised by the prism of the 1980s to finish with a simple black slip. This incredible performance is just one

of the nourishing exchanges between fashion and the world of drag queens. 

2. Walter Van Beirendonck spring-summer 1996 Walter Van Beirendonck at the Menswear spring-summer 1996 show

photography Getty Images

The time of AIDS has hit the fashion world deeply, and the silence and shame surrounding the many disappearances

has only compounded this pain. Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck, a provocateur who has always struggled

with that silence, made his 1996 Killer/Astral Travel/4D-Hi-D collection an explicit response to the epidemic.

The show, which celebrated the freedom and rebellion of queer nightlife, featured bright colors, lots of plastic

(a reference to both fetish costumes and condoms) and farting pillow masks with slogans like “Get off my Dick”

and “Blow Job. 

3. Jean Paul Gaultier Spring-Summer 1998 Couture NIKE AIR FORCE 1 Air Force One High Skate shoes Leather Upper FSR LQRPS0408 Gaultier Haute Couture spring-summer 1998

Photography Getty Images

In the small cenacle of the world’s great designers, the enfant terrible Jean Paul Gaultier is known for his extravagant

aesthetic, whether it commands him to dress men in skirts or to play on the homoerotic motif of the sailor suit

(evocative of Jean Genet’s world of bad boys). Over the years, Gaultier has found in Tanel Bedrossiantz a friend

and muse, with whom he has created many striking and sensational images. In this Enlightenment-inspired fashion

show, Bedrossiantz appeared in a corseted puffy dress worn over a shirt and tie. This resounding image was featured

in the Met’s 2022 exhibition catalogCamp: Notes on Fashion.

4. Alexander McQueen Fall-Winter 1998 Alexander McQueen Fall-Winter 1998

Photography Paul Vicente/EPA/Shutterstock

A history of fashion from a queer perspective cannot be limited to explicit statements of sexual desire and identity,

but must also embrace a whole continent of subtle signs and knowing glances, including the secrecy surrounding the

homosexuality of many famous people. Alexander McQueen’s Fall/Winter 1998 collection – a dark and powerful vision

of mesh, earth tones and geometric shoulders – was inspired by Joan of Arc. With her mania for cross-dressing, the

Maid of Orleans has often been seen as a proto-queer figure, including by Vita Sackville-West who speculates on her

lesbianism in her book Saint Joan of Arc, and even as a harbinger of trans identity. If this is not the approach chosen

by McQueen, he will however comment after the fashion show: “everyone can be a martyr for a cause. Maybe I was a martyr

for homosexuality when I was six years old”.

5. Chanel Haute Couture spring-summer 2022 Chanel Haute Couture spring-summer 2022

Photography Kristy Sparow/Getty Images

The bride is omnipresent on the catwalk. She often offers a dramatic conclusion to the shows, often appearing alone

and sometimes chaperoned by a date. This is a striking image of the heteronormative aspirations that continue to

run through the fashion world. Various designers have tried to mess with this, such as John Galliano, who proposed

different configurations of couples in his spring-summer 2022 collection, or Dilara Findikoglu and her inclusive

collection of wedding dresses in 2022. In 2022, Karl Lagerfeld paraded two brides hand in hand on stage as the finale

of his couture collection, displaying his support for the law for marriage for all in France, passed the same year.

6. Raf Simons spring-summer 2022 Vans Classic Slip On Black Embroidery Blanc Raf Simons Menswear spring-summer 2022

Photography Indigital

Some queer artists have established themselves as essential references for designers in the last ten years.

Whether it’s director Derek Jarman (cited by Burberry Prorsum in its Spring/Summer 2022 show and Matty Bovan

for its Spring/Summer 2022 collection) or painter David Wojnarowicz (Jonathan Anderson has teamed up with his

heirs for his Fall/Winter 2020 collection), these avant-garde figures allow for interesting reflections on the

status of art and the different ways in which a work can be called up. For his Spring/Summer 2022 men’s show,

Raf Simons teamed up with the executors of Robert Mapplethorpe’s will, presenting incredible monochromatic works

by the photographer on a series of garments. Each of the images (from close-up nudes to portraits) transformed

the fabric on which it was printed into a moving canvas. Raf Simons also asked permission from each of the people

depicted, which was a major disruption to the design process.

7. Ashish fall-winter 2022-2022 Adidas Superstar Femme Fleur Asish fall-winter 2022

Photography Estrop/Getty Images

At Ashish Gupta, irreverence and a taste for what glitters combine to form the designer’s signature, recognizable

from afar. Political engagement and queer identity are also central to Gupta’s creative process, whether

expressed through slogans or brand-independent photography projects. His fall/winter 2022 collection was

no exception: it featured glittery rainbows, and a man named Frankie, a real daddy, wore a T-shirt that

read “Why be blue when you can be gay!” [Why be sad when you can be gay]. The following season, Gupta

ventured into darker territory, his spring/summer 2022 collection was inspired by queer witches.

8. Burberry spring-summer 2022

Adidas Superstar Classic Backpack

Adwoa Aboah for the Burberry spring-summer 2022 show 

Samir Hussein/Getty Images

The fashion’s use of the rainbow flag has sometimes been questionable, questioning the reclamation of queer symbols

and imagery. But Christopher Bailey’s farewell collection for was a heartfelt ode to the LGBTQ+ community: himself

gay and from a disadvantaged background, he was leading a new generation of queer creatives. In addition to managing

to put the rainbow in the traditional Burberry check pattern within a powerful runway show, the brand also offered

material support to the LGBTQ+ community by donating to three associations.

9. Thom Browne Menswear Spring/Summer 2022

Air Jordan 3 Black Green Original Box Original Shoes 136064

Thom Browne Menswear spring-summer 2022

Photography Indigital 

For his Spring/Summer 2022 show Thom Browne sought to reflect from a child’s perspective on the male gender. Presenting

a pair of his gold-covered baby shoes in the middle of the runway, Browne explored the overly strict sartorial

expectations boys faced growing up in his show. To the soundtrack of Sally Potter’s 1992 film Orlando, the designer

presented a series of designs that included striped skirts and elegant button-down dresses paired with suit jackets.

But the highlight of the show was undoubtedly this hybrid wedding suit, a tuxedo with a white train. The following

year, Thom Browne’s Fall/Winter 2022 show worked around the prints of Una Troubridge: a sculptor and companion

of author Marguerite “John” Radclyffe Hall.

10. Wales Bonner Spring/Summer 2022

ASICS® Gel-Kayano 25 – Men’s White/Blue Print

Wales Bonner spring-summer 2022

Photography Indigital 

Grace Wales Bonner’s beautiful designs are built around many references and connections, most of which reflect

on the place of black masculinity and the history of African diaspora narratives. For her Spring/Summer 2022

show, she provided guests with a booklet to read that included an essay by Hilton Als on love, heritage,

and queer black art titled James Baldwin/Jim Brown and the Children, images from The Homoerotic Photography

of Carl Van Vechten by James Smalls, and a poem by Essex Hemphill. She also cited Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s

Room as one of her inspirations.

11. Opening Ceremony Spring/Summer 2022

 Sasha Velour in drag for Opening Ceremony Spring/Summer 2022

Courtesy of Opening Ceremony

In recent years, the fashion industry has seen the emergence of many young designers offering a renewed approach

to sexuality and gender: NO SESSO, Telfar, Christopher John Rogers, Art School, Gogo Graham, Patrick Church,

Ella Boucht, Nicolas Lecourt Mansion, Luar, and Hana Holquist to name a few. This corresponded to the birth

of a debate about queer visibility in fashion at all levels: from the casting of the shows to the types of

consumers targeted. Opening Ceremony’s Spring/Summer 2022 show offered a great example of an event that gave

queer designers a prominent place by reimagining the runway format as a cabaret show presented by drag artist

Sasha Velour (winner of Ru Paul’s Drag Race) with over 40 LGBTQ+ performers and models.

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