For India, ‘queer’ disposition is not a modern-age concept. Ancient mythological epics respectfully display queer characters Shikhandi and Hindu deity Ardhanareshwar or the androgynous form of god – the concepts that are now being realised by designers as a source of inspiration.
A social reformation in itself, decriminalisation of homosexuality marked an important landmark in the welfare of mankind. Fashion has been a forum of expression to dismantle otherwise eschewed flaws of community. While last year’s Pride saw sunny breeze of appreciations, the pandemic and movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ render Pride move 2021 an introspective buoyance.
In India, the Lakme Fashion Week illuminated by celebrities like Prateik Babbar and Ranveer Singh reshaping the gender-based clothing norms by walking the runway in men’s skirts, wraparound bottoms, sleek oversized pullovers with vibrant hues and detailing, aimed to bring the gender veil down. Having won Amazon’s latest and popular design competition ‘Making the Cut’, Jonny Cota has evolved as a designer activist in LA, designing for equal recognition for youngsters from LGBTQ with his first ‘gender-free’ accessories and footwear brand. “My designs are uniquely designed to fit equally in comfort, durability and quality — something which is often missed when compared between ‘women’s’ designs versus ‘men’s’ in the footwear industry,” Jonny said about his footwear designs. He is also known for executing and starting ‘Equality Fashion Week’.
More than a social revolution, for the businesses and retailers linked to fashion industry, queer fashion is opening new possibilities, a change from the contemporarily held beliefs. The best part about the concept is that it’s limitless, ungoverned by conventional dress rules. Not only are designers across the globe breaking stereotypes, but also uplifting the vision of freedom of expression for everyone.
The Lakme Fashion Week saw one of the inaugurations of gender neutrality in fashion designs on Indian grounds. In her label Chola, designer Sohaya Misra, introduced ‘Bye Felicia’ opening the range for dressers to express themselves as they wish to, irrespective of stereotypes. The show invited men dressed in frills, deep plunging neckline, and bold makeup, as much as women in sporty outfits, minimal makeup, body and facial hair.
“My brand is gender-neutral. I don’t design gender-specific pieces. It epitomises the basic principle that style is an individualistic and artistic reflection of who we are from within and by fearlessly breaking stereotypes,” said Sohaya Misra.
When asked about his thoughts about fashion for LGBTQ community and scope for designers, Jonny Cota said, “Real equality looks like equal access, equal treatment and equal opportunities for all people across race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic status without discrimination.” He started the highly praised initiative of designing masks for LGBT center at Los Angeles. Jonny further averred, “Equality means that as a gay person, a trans-person, a Black person or as any marginalised person, the social contract you have with your surroundings, community and authority is identical to the agreements shared by the dominant population in the same surroundings.”
Founders of American brand, Stuzo Clothing, Stoney Michelli and Uzo Ejikeme advocate for rights of Blacks and LGBTQ, expressing their view that people’s lives should matter more than other attributes. Themselves part of the American black community and the LGBTQ, Stoney and Uzo make clothes ‘for people, not genders’. When asked about their vision of fashion industry’s future, the designers said, “We would like to see a more inclusive narrative. We want to be recognised for the work we do, not because we are Black or LGBTQIA but because of its purpose.”
Corey Rae, a fashion influencer, designer and social activist based in America, exclaimed that fashion needs to be more inclusive for transgenders and minority gender groups and individuals. She added that people should not be judged on the basis of their gender, personal tastes, differences and complexions. The designs portray a need for ‘equity’, which according to the influencer, is to be able to grasp similar opportunities, and societal support that cis, hetero and white skinned people possess. Further adding to the way her work has been influenced by recent movements, she stated, “This movement has made me want to ask new hard-hitting questions to potential fashion partnerships. What are these fashion houses doing to employ more people of colour and LGBTQ+ individuals? Do they have a charitable component? Are their designs made for every type of person?”
Speaking of gender equity over equality, an idea being espoused in design inspirations by fashion designers and influencers, Creative Director of Radimo, Jordi briefed, “When there has been an overwhelming imbalance of power, to balance the scale, my brain doesn’t go to wanting just equality. I want equality plus interest.” The designs reflect a story that revolves around struggles of homogenates and transgenders going against the prior-held beliefs. Asked about the changes he wants to bring on to fashion industry, Jordi conveyed, “Divestment. I want to see larger companies, a majority of them being owned by white men, siphon the resources they are monopolising to marginalised creators”.
Designer Eduardo Lucero finds it equally troublesome for minority communities to establish themselves at par with others, and keep their presence maintained. “I would love if funds were set up to help more diverse minority voices,” he said. Another designer activist, Paige Mycoskie, also the Founder of Aviator Nation, is driving campaigns to support the LGBT community. In his words, “There is no doubt this movement has inspired us to want to do more, and I think the best thing we can do is to create garments that bring attention to the cause while also raising funds to support it”.