Throughout queer history, fashion and music both stuck to a clear perspective: individuality and equality for all. Andre J, the only African American male (though they identify as non-binary) to grace the cover of French Vogue, says that it was icons like Diana Ross and Cher who inspired them to pursue a career in fashion.
“The magic that they exuded and the magic that they possessed is what I wanted to find within myself,” J tells Billboard. “That joy, that radiance, that shine. That for me was the most important thing.”
Queerness has always had a strong presence in music and fashion, taking what were once viewed as binary mediums outside of normalized gender constructs and demonstrating that the mediums are never strictly male or female — they are simply fluid and can be worn or enjoyed by anyone.
Designers like Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, Jean Cocteau and Christian Dior, have always been on the cutting edge of culture and expression with their nod to androgyny and display of queer lifestyle. Musicians like Lady Gaga, Boy George, Prince, Madonna and Cher, have always created music and art inspired by and for the queer community, often as an act of rebellion or celebration. Whether to fight against the AIDS crisis or to commemorate the Stonewall riots, fashion and music have served as vessels to be seen and heard.
In 2017, the estimated buying power of the LGBTQ+ community was $917 billion according to The Advocate, and the market has grown to almost 1 trillion dollars since. Forbes reported earlier this year that 8 percent of Baby Boomers identify as LGBTQ+, compared to 31 percent of Generation Z. Queerness has entered the mainstream, and it isn’t going anywhere.
“I think now with having so many trans and non-binary people in media, we’re realizing, at least for the youth, that we are people that are desired … and appreciated and we are human, and people want us there too,” says transgender model Devin-Norelle.
New York Fashion Week, which officially began on Friday, September 6, was a 5-day celebration of queer designers and musicians alike. DapperQ, a digital queer style magazine, used its preeminent voice in queer fashion and beauty to kick off the festivities with their 6th annual NYFW showcase at the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, September 5. Produced with the company’s creative director Anita Dolce Vita, DapperQ’s show featured some of the most influential up-and-coming designers, models and stylists — like Travis Oestreich, Stuzo Clothing and TomboyX, the official sponsor for the event.
“Being part of the queer community ourselves, we recognize what it’s like to not be included and to not be represented,” TomboyX’s owner and CEO Fran Dunaway says. “And so when DapperQ started putting on this [event] several years ago, we got involved early on because we thought it was so important to see ourselves being represented.”
DapperQ was far from the only queer experience to bring it to the runway during this year’s NYFW. Patrick Church wrapped up a fashion presentation and a gallery show into one experience, where pop-art clothes (in all shapes and sizes) were given to participants to wear while they stood in front of Pierre et Gilles-inspired set to be shot by a professional photographer. Pierre Davis, the first trans woman to send a collection down the runway last season, and her design partner Arin Hayes presented their brand NO SESSO (no sex/no gender), where powerful women strutted down the runway to the DJ stylings of Arielle Baptiste — a.k.a. Bapari. Ralph Lauren hosted a lounge-style runway accompanied a collection of jazz standards sung by none other than Janelle Monáe.
To close out this year’s NYFW, DapperQ and Hot Rabbit teamed up with Billboard Pride to host a queer dance party on Saturday, Sept. 14, featuring musicians like Neo 10Y, Ash B, Zenobia and Quay Dash.
Neo 10Y, known offstage as Nik Thakkar, is non-binary recording artist from London who’s music has been described as “cinematic grunge and industrial R&B.” They say that it’s important for queer people to express themselves multidimensionally whether it be through a look or sound. “Music is fashion because everything is connected in terms of creating content and a sound and an esthetic,” they tell Billboard.
For Ash B, Newark, NJ’s premiere “dyke, lesbian and queer” rapper, music has helped her live her truth in her masculinity and femininity. “Music is important to the queer community because it sets us free and helps us own our rights and allows us to be ourselves,” she tells Billboard. “Fashion is important to the queer community because… we create the latest fashions – we are the trend. We are the fashion culture.”