Fashion

Culture & Couture: The Most Iconic Fashion Tributes to LGBTQ+ Culture

Here are all the memorable runway shows that remind us of the LGBTQ culture's immense impact on the fashion world.
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Over the years, fashion has been widely influenced by queer culture. Taking a look back at some of the most influential designers of the past century, many of them were gay; from Yves Saint Laurent to Christian Dior to Cristóbal Balenciaga. However, during their lifetimes, they were forced to be closeted due to societal oppression. Finally making waves in the ’80s, fashion icons including Rudi Gernreich, Willi Smith, and Stephen Burrows began to introduce queer culture in their runway presentations and collections. 

Similar to the ’80s, we are beginning to see a reemergence of queer culture in the fashion world today. Young fashion designers like Christopher John Rogers, Kelsey Randall, Patrick Church, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, and many more are bringing queer visibility back into fashion throughout their collections, from casting to the garments themselves. These proud self-identifying LGBTQ+ designers are fostering a long-overdue modern community of queer acceptance in fashion that goes deeper than ad campaigns for one month out of the year. 

From Chanel's lesbian “couture” brides to Sasha Velour partnering with Opening Ceremony to spotlight and celebrate drag in the fashion world. Below, L’Officiel USA takes a look at some of the most memorable tributes in fashion to LGBTQ+ culture.

1. THIERRY MUGLER SPRING/SUMMER ‘92

The King of Camp left the fashion world in 2002, only to come back in the past year solely to design Kim Kardashian West 2019 MET Gala form-fitting latex dress. Mugler is widely known for his exaggerations of the body by using corsets and hip pads to create defining curves outlining the body. In the early ’90s, while most designers were following the minimalist trend, Thierry Mugler’s fashion shows were more of a party with performances and acts.

The 1992 show was everything but short on camp. It was held at the Century Plaza Hotel in LA and opened with the famous drag queen, Lypsinka. The iconic drag performer known for her old Hollywood Joan Crawford impressions walked the runway while lipsyncing and slowly revealing four different Mugler looks layered one after another. The entire opening lasted about 5 minutes, ending with Lypsinka crawling the runway and lip-screaming in a manic way the whole route to backstage.

2. JEAN PAUL GAULTIER MENSWEAR SPRING/SUMMER ‘96

Known for bringing the homoerotic sailor motif to fashion in his work, the French designer took it another step in his 1996 show, titled “Pin-Up Boys.” This show was a look into the male sexuality retrospective within the gay community. One of Gaultier’s most recognized designs, the colorful suit worn by actor muse David Fumero, as well as the sailor suit, were produced during this collection and recently on view at the Met’s 2019 Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition. To this day, Jean Paul Gaultier expresses queer culture in his designs. His latest haute couture show this past January was deemed more of a spectacle, featuring dramatized scenes, latex and corsetted looks, and notables such as Dita Von Teese, the "Queen of Burlesque".

3. WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK MENSWEAR SPRING/SUMMER ‘96

Designer Walter Van Beirendonck helped memorialize many talents in the fashion world in his 1996 runway show, from Willi Smith to Halston, who we lost in 1990 due to the AIDS epidemic. The Belgian designer was known for his extravagant and explicit representation of current events in his work. Embracing the queer nightlife scene the collection was comprised of leather and latex (a nod at safe sex practices) featuring bold and bright colors that popped off the runway. Models donned whoopee cushion face mask that read several provocative sayings from ‘Get off my Dick’ to ‘Blow Job.’

4. JEAN PAUL GAULTIER HAUTE COUTURE SPRING/SUMMER ‘98

The 1998 Age of Enlightenment-influenced couture show was one of Gaultier’s first when he began couture only a year earlier. Jean Paul Gaultier was never a designer to present a straight interpretation of a theme. Interpreting the Versaille styled theme the “Gaultier way,” models, both men and women, wore frock coats in untraditional camo, beaded headdresses, and ruffled gowns accompanied by tight corsets over shirts and ties. The look was most notably seen on Gaultier’s muse, Tanel Bedrossiantz, and later appeared in the Met’s 2019 Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition.

5. ALEXANDER MCQUEEN FALL/WINTER ‘98

After exploring the element of water in his ‘98 Spring show, McQueen took a darker contrast exploring fire for his ‘98 Fall/Winter show. Inspired by the catholic martyr Joan of Arc of the Romanov family (portrayed a medieval crossdresser). The collection itself featured strict tailoring, chainmail dresses, armor, and printed Romanov children patterns. The show featured Alexander McQueen’s signature tartan and the red lace dress that covers the face was later worn by Lady Gaga to the MTV awards a decade later. The show closed with a direct tribute to Joan of Arc (who was burned at the stake) with a model trapped in fire wearing a beaded red dress that covered her face and sinched tightly around the neck.

6. CHANEL HAUTE COUTURE ‘13

Inspired by German Romanticism and Neo-Classicism, Karl Lagerfeld’s 2013 show deviated from Haute Couture tradition and sent out not one, but two brides to close the show. An hommage to lesbians, who have rarely had any representation in the fashion world, models Ashleigh Good and Kati Nescher walked on the runway hand in hand to represent the brand’s support for LGBTQ+ rights. All of this happening at a time when equal marriage opportunity for same-sex couples was a big conversation in France. Seen as a controversial political statement at the time, it was a fashion vote for equality. Later that year, France passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.

7. JW ANDERSON FALL/WINTER ‘16

Jonathan Anderson presented his menswear and womenswear collection together, telling fans and critics to view the collections as conversations rather than separate gender norms. He also announced that the collection would be live-streamed via the infamous gay hookup app, Grindr. The app has around a million users in the gay community who would have access to the collection’s runway first hand.

Since the unsuspected JW Anderson x Grindr collaboration, we have seen many fashion partnerships with the app on the runway in recent years.

8. RAF SIMONS SPRING/SUMMER ‘17

Raf Simons dedicated his Spring/Summer ‘17 collection to the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Mapplethorpe was known for his work capturing gay culture in New York, from notables on the scene to more provocative NSFW images from the late ’60s to the ’80s. Mapplethorpe's work was heavily censored and not widely accepted during that era, so Simons decided to highlight the great photographer’s work by appliquéing full, uncensored images from Mapplethorpe’s archive onto shirts, jackets, and trousers.

9. BURBERRY SPRING/SUMMER ‘18

Christopher Bailey paid tribute to his own self-identified queer culture in his farewell show to the fashion house. Typically, when rainbows are incorporated into a fashion collection it can be perceived as questionable. However, this isn’t the case in Bailey’s Burberry collection, as he sticks to the roots of Burberry while also acknowledging parts of his personal life in a tasteful way. 

Model Adwoa Aboah walked the runway in a long white skirt printed with a vertical rainbow while another Burberry favorite, Cara Delevingne, wore a faux fur rainbow cape with the traditional Burberry plaid exposed underneath. Christopher Bailey also donated to LGBTQ+ serving organizations, including the Albert Kennedy Trust, The Trevor Project, and ILGA.

10. THOM BROWNE MENSWEAR SPRING/SUMMER ‘18

Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer ‘18 collection focused on rejecting the gender norms that have been forced upon us by society. The designer took a step back to look at gender from a “child’s perspective,” looking at clothing through a nonbinary lens. One of the standouts of the show was a pair of Thom Browne’s own baby shoes dipped in gold. Brown rejects the societal standard with a series of designs including his famous pin-striped skirts and seamless button-down dresses matched with a tailored blazer on the male models. The show closed with a male model styled in hybrid tuxedo gown complete with white lace train.

11. WALES BONNER SPRING/SUMMER ‘18

Queer culture in the Black community to this day is still highly rejected, leaving many black queer individuals afraid to come out to their family and friends. Many of Grace Wales Bonner’s designers explore the narrative of queer culture in the Black community and the ideal of masculinity.

Her Spring/Summer ‘18 show was inspired by James Baldwin’s 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room. The designer included a printout of historical references like Hilton Als essay about James Baldwin and pictures from The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten for guests attending the show. The collection itself was minimal and concentrated on mastering the tailoring of each look.

12. LOUIS VUITTON MEN’S SPRING/SUMMER 2019

Virgil Abloh’s Wizard of Oz themed show paid tribute to the LGBTQ+ community in a very obvious way, with a 650 ft long rainbow runway. The collection, "Color Therapy", was a message for inclusion and diversity within the fashion community. Each model was cast from a different continent, representing diversity in race, while the runway represented the inclusion of different sexualities.

13. OPENING CEREMONY SPRING/SUMMER 2019

Designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon collaborated with RuPaul's Drag Race season nine winner, Sasha Velour, for a collection designed to celebrate the wonders of drag. Models for the show included other iconic queens, like Miss Fame. 

Madame Velour opened the show in a houndstooth ensemble complete with a statement headpiece and platform heels. All of the model’s cast for the runway were part of the LGBTQ+ community as well as the majority of the production team. Leon and Lim wanted to highlight the community as fashion representatives. Only recently have we started to see drag queens heavily involved in fashion runways or invited to events like the MET Gala, which two other RuPaul’s Drag Race winners, Violet Chachki and Aquaria, attended for their first time in 2019. 

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