The "Visibility Through Fashion" Storytelling Show at Fashion Institute of Technology on Friday, April 6th, 2018.
Write-up by Eric Ulloa
Do you remember the first time you put your tiny feet into the oversized depths of your mother’s heels and walked around the house?
Do you remember the first time your parents allowed you to dress yourself and the outfit that you created?
Do you remember what you wore the first time you went to a gay bar?
All of these moments share not only the common link of fashion, but the idea that fashion and sexuality have been intertwined for as long as we can remember.
Friday, April 6th, The Generations Project in collaboration with the Fashion Institute of Technology presented “Visibility through Fashion” at the FIT Pomerantz Center.
FIT Professor Ron Amato kicked off the the evening with a warm welcome to FIT and embracing the exciting new collaboration with the Generations Project.
We were then treated to a beautifully created video (compliments of FIT Professors Ron Amato and Michael Huss with FIT Film students, Shoshana Robinowitz, Emiliano Sanchez, William Mun, and Brandon Gacer) that dipped our toes into an evening of discovery and empowerment through fashion and let us meet some of the storytellers we would be hearing from as the night progressed.
The Generations Project Host Kyle Post took to the stage, empowered in a Greg Barnes designed pair of high heels, to welcome us to the Storytelling section of the evening and to remind us all why we walked in those doors that night. That by being in that auditorium we were not only hungry to learn more of our history, but that we were choosing to become part of it and continue to spread our shared LGBTQ dialogue.
FIT professor Patrick Boylan and FIT student Kyle Brogan have a shared commonality aside from a life dedicated to fashion, they both began life with a facial anomaly. Though neither have let that define them and each found their own path to fashion.
Patrick went from singing “Soliloquy” from Carousel while making toilet paper gowns for Barbies as a kid, to moving to NYC and finding his voice in the world of fashion. He arrived at the onset of the AIDS crisis and watched as his mentors and colleagues died one by one as he struggled to find the “box” he fit in within the city’s gay scene. He insisted on “creating beauty” during a time when there was little joy or happiness as this plague swept the city.
Kyle was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome and partially deaf, spending most of his childhood in gymnastics. Love for fashion soon came into his world and he threw himself into his craft, defining his own point of view.
As fate would have it, Patrick became Kyle’s professor at FIT and a beautiful mentorship and friendship was born, with both men (as Patrick states) “refusing to fit into a gay box, but instead designing their own.”
Legends always have great stories as to their place within LGBTQ history and Transgender Hero Connie Flemming is no exception.
Born as a boy in Jamaica, Connie still has a scar on her hand from when she tried to iron pleats into a pair of school uniform shorts, attempting to make them look more like the skirts the girls would wear. School, and the incessant bullying that came with it, were the years of hell for her and she eventually dropped out, receiving her GED later.
In NYC, she started to do shows in drag at Boy Bar and soon became (in her own words) “famous below 14th street.” That world soon allowed opportunity for modeling at nightclubs, with fashion designer Patricia Field’s discovering her.
Connie took the fashion world by storm and appeared in many runway shows for extremely famous designers, and in her first season no one knew she was a man in drag. The sudden rise of popularity for RuPaul and the “Supermodel” video in the early 90’s created a fad at having drag queens on the runway, but as with all fads and ending was eventual. Soon after the height of popularity to this trend, there came a backlash and drag and trans models, Connie included, were soon unemployed by designers and no longer welcome in runway shows.
Connie’s view on the world of fashion continues to be bright and vibrant and she believes that her story belongs not only to her, but to “the people who saw ability in her before they saw color or gender.”
John Bartlett grew up like many other boys in Cincinnati, Ohio, yet strived for a little something more. He attended undergrad at Harvard, and it was there that he not only came out of the closet, but started to experiment with fashion. He decided that his next step was to move to New York City, attend FIT and surround himself in the craft of fashion. John would spend hours honing his craft and practicing every little detail as he wanted to really find his voice and become a master in all aspects of menswear. At the same time though, the city was in the midst of the AIDS crisis and John found himself as a caretaker to dying friends at the age of 23. Soon after the AIDS related death of a close friend, he found inspiration and decided to start his own line.
The late 70’s masculine “Marlboro Man” look was seen to be the “face of AIDS” as the crisis was taking many of these very men. On the runways, the more slender “Heroine Chic” look was gaining popularity as designers sought to look away from any looks that could be associated with the AIDS crisis. John decided to fight against what the industry was doing and crack the stigma by having his very first runway shows feature just these very looks that all others were avoiding. His show had the “Marlboro Man” type look, with high sexuality and an embracing of leather and other motifs that had become taboo.
John believes that for a successful future in the world of fashion, one must practice constantly and surround themselves in every detail of the business so that they have a full and complete perspective.
To wrap up the evening, The Generations Project likes to show where our community is going with what is called “3 Voices.” 3 different voices and stories that somehow intertwine with commonalities, showing how close we all are and how far we continue to go.
Bradley Miller, Paige Curtis and Ben Copperwheat were all bullied as children for the eccentricities and uniqueness inherent within them. Bradley asked if he was a girl by other students, Paige being called “dyke” for her boyish quirks and Ben having to change schools due to the severity of the taunting. Yet all three of them, through fashion, found not only who they really were inside, but a pride and love for this person.
Bradley found his tribe as he first moved to San Francisco and then eventually settled in NYC. He embraced wearing female fashion and makeup and now inspires those who can’t yet find their own inspiration. By facing himself and his gender, he can now proudly declare his catch phrase, “Boys CAN look like this too!”
Paige came out to friends when she was 14 years old, yet remained closeted to her conservative family. College liberated her as she was mentored by a transgendered professor and a move to NYC gave her the city she knew she could blossom within. Though still struggling with coming out to her family, Paige recently cut all her hair off and finally saw the woman she had always known inside was now staring back at her from the mirror.
Ben started to find his voice with the music of the early 90’s, which in turn influenced his fashion choices. Once in art school, he fell in love with neon colors which not only became his artistic staple, but his passion. He feels that if the colors he wears and designs can make people smile, then his job has been fully achieved.
Fashion will always be entwined with not only the memories that defined us in our journeys of sexuality and discovery, but the armor we chose to wear when we had to defend ourselves through it. Something as seemingly common as a t-shirt has a history deeply woven into by what that article of clothing represented to us. Every heel has walked enough paths to press a multitude of stories into it.
With a culture teeming in vibrancy like the LGBTQ one does, it’s no wonder that fashion walks hand in hand with us.