You are here
Gay fashion designers
Although I have cited “The Advocate,” a major U.S. publication catering to homosexuals, on the gay domination of the fashion business, some people read so superficially that they would accuse me of using nothing other than my own assurance and pictures of the faces and physiques of fashion models to argue that the fashion business is dominated by gays, and this in spite of my quoting the following statement published in the Advocate:
To observe that gay men and lesbians dominate the fashion business may seem about as controversial as saying that Russians rule Moscow.
The tone of the statement above connotes pride, which shouldn’t be surprising given that plenty of gays are proud of being homosexual. Below, you will find some excerpts from Fred Goss in the 1997 issue (June 10, volume 735) of the Advocate that I have cited.
Few industries are seen as gayer than fashion. Stereotypes aside, the world of couture has indeed been molded by the vast numbers of gay men and lesbians working in the industry. Yet Seventh Avenue and its European counterparts remain strangely closeted. We've charted some of the brightest lights who've made no secret of their sexuality. But that's not all: In our cover story, on page 28, we meet the guru of Gucci, Tom Ford; menswear maverick Gene Meyer gets the spotlight on page 37; and jewelers Jelena Behrend and Trisha Alkaitis tell all on page 39. Each is compelling proof that fashion owes its very life to the gay sensibility.
I have bolded a sentence above because of its importance. Goss went on to list some big gay names in the fashion world within the past few decades:
Kevyn Aucoin: His book The Art of Makeup left no doubt that he is, above all, an artist. His canvas just happens to be a woman's face. Who could dispute that he's the heir apparent to Way Bandy (see below)?
Way Bandy: The master of maquillage. In his hands the makeup brush, sponge, or wand became a true tool of transformation. His AIDS-related death robbed the cosmetics field of a genius.
John Bartlett: One of today's most "in" designers, he's also one of the most "out." Bartlett's unapologetically gay stance in the often-closeted world of fashion makes him one of our heroes.
Mr. Blackwell: As Mae West might have said, when he's good he's very, very good, but when he's bad he's better. This merry viper has turned fashion criticism into a comic--if often deadly--art.
Raymond Dragon: In an era of the designer as media star, Dragon embodies the porn star as designer. His revealing clothes look great on those who have the body--like Dragon, a sometime Colt model--for making porn.
Perry Ellis: Perhaps the most notorious AIDS death in fashion was that of this great American innovator in sportswear. Ellis was to Seventh Avenue what George M. Cohan was to Broadway: a Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Jean-Paul Gaultier: He's been called the enfant terrible of fashion for so long, you wonder how much of an enfant he could still be. The king of sci-fi fashion, Gaultier drew his inspiration from his mother's foundation garments. And you wondered why he had Madonna wearing her undies on the outside of that nice suit.
Halston: Halston was the first designer-as-celebrity--not for him the obscurity of the faceless couturiers who labored unseen in their workrooms. Halston's society connections helped make him, and he in turn helped remake society. Go ask Liza.
David LaChapelle: Blessed with a sort of gay Midas touch, LaChapelle defies the classic contention that photography isn't really art. His vivid, offbeat photos often make his largely heterosexual subjects look like camp icons.
Bob Mackie: Since the `60s he has produced the glitziest costumes on TV, giving many Americans their most consistent exposure to the world of fashion. With his trademark baubles, bangles, and beads, he has dressed all our favorite network divas--from Cher to Carol Burnett.
Law Mizrahi: He's the garmento elevated to the level of movie star. His revealing star turn in the documentary Unzipped earned him scores of new fans. Known for a vivacious use of color and an uptown-meets-downtown sensibility, he's the designer you'd be happy to take home to Mom.
Thierry Mugler: Like fellow Parisian Gaultier, Mugler has a taste for the surreal. As much carnival as couture, his shows are notable for the inclusion of such porn stars as Jeff Stryker among his fantastically clad models. Where leather is concerned, no other designer has given us a bigger twist on Tom of Finland.
Todd Oldham: Propelled to New York by his talent for making--in true Texas fashion--bad taste look deluxe, Oldham made an MTV-flavored name for himself as the hottest purveyor of kitschy, campy, funky thrift-shop chic.
Willi Smith: Smith--our biggest black designer and one of fashion's greatest AIDS losses--took the look of the "street" and made it fashionable. Neither fashion nor the street has ever looked the same since.
Andre Leon Talley: This star maker's acute sense of what's hot and what's not in fashion--developed at Women's Wear Daily and Vogue as well as at Interview--has made him the Diana Vreeland of the `90s. Can a one-man Broadway show be far behind?
Gianni Versace: Since the `70s his mission has been to dress his female clients like high-class hookers. Versace's a favorite of rockers and Hollywood types of both sexes, patrons who could vouch for the truth in Dolly Parton's line "It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!"
Bruce Weber: He built a career on the glorification of male beauty. A true auteur of still photography, Weber spawned a generation of models who would rather die than make eye contact with the camera.
Although it is not mentioned above, Halston also died of AIDS. Lesbians are nowhere as prominent among top-ranked fashion designers as the statement about gays and lesbians dominating the fashion business implies, but the author is likely trying to not give the impression that the contribution of lesbians is less than that of gays.
More big-name fashion designers in the 20th century who also happen(ed) to be homosexual are mentioned below.
Calvin Klein (bisexual but mostly leaning toward homosexuality)
Yves Saint Laurent
The gay influence behind fashion is not just in terms of fashion designers:
In his book Hard to Imagine, Thomas Waugh argues that before the advent of gay liberation there was a "highly interconnected trans-Atlantic web of gay intelligentsia and denizens of high Bohemia," which included men such as Noël Coward, Cecil Beaton, George Hoyningen Huene, Jean Cocteau, and Horst, and which operated to define the image of glamor in the London and New York worlds of fashion, design, and show business.
Ross Higgins, in his study of gay men's involvement in fashion in Montreal, has shown that gay men were involved at all levels of the fashion industry there. The same is undoubtedly true throughout North America and Western Europe.
Increasingly men began to be portrayed as sexual objects in advertising. Calvin Klein's huge billboard advertisement for underwear is only the most famous example of this trend. New magazines aimed at a wider, heterosexual male consumer were published, but even here a gay influence could be perceived. It was not just that gay designers were creating the looks, but gay stylists, hairdressers, and photographers all exerted a fashion influence. (source)
Those interested in why homosexual men dominate the fashion business should read this.