From Designer Coco Chanel to model Casey Legler (with all of you inbetween)
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“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” - Coco Chanel
From the mad pulse on the digital streets today of LGBTQ fashion design and modeling, these words offered by French fashion designer Coco Chanel hold true today. Alternative masculine fashion is hitting a high as more fashion designers, seamstresses, pattern makers, etsy & FB entrepeneurs, and models are coming out or coming into the limelight for their brave and adventureous contributions to a world where butch / masculine cis-gendered women and transmen have increasingly more opportunities to purchase a shirt, suit, shoe, bowtie, or pair of britches made Just For Their (our) Bodacious Bods.
How excellent that Ford Models signed on art maker Casey Legler as one of their “male models.” Seriously, how hot is it to shatter the glass ceiling?! Check out the Time.com’s video interview with Casey here. Casey identifies as female and Ford employs her as a male model, and while that particular syntaxical dance may not speak outrightly to the concerns of trans man emobiment, it does offer cis-gendered butches, studs, ags, bulldaggers and other female masculines some very flattering visibility. And, what’s exciting is that Legler’s presence as a male model means that, really, the industry can no longer legitimately function on the assumption that all ‘men’ nor ‘masculinity’ belongs to or is possessed by bio-male models! The cat’s out of the bag officially. Finally we’re able to see the shifts encouraged by early male impersonators, drag kings, trans men, and queer/trans theory taken up by the fashion industry and, more importantly, the media.
Casey Legler, male Ford Model
It’s an exciting time. The work of many of you queer innovators and LGBT’s have been doing for years and years — in art, in social justice work, in photography, portraiture, leather production, costuming, thrifting, fashion writing, etc etc etc. — is coming to a new place of recognition in the international, visible marketplace. For better or worse, the market is feeling our heat!
We’re giving a nod as well to early fashion pioneer Coco Chanel for her work in gender-bending and fashion. While Chanel has become a brand and symbol of conservative, white, upper class America, there’s some juice to her early days worth remembering. We don’t applaud her or her company’s participation in the worst aspects of the Paris-centric fashion industry (you should check out scholar Dorine Kondo’s analysis of the fashion industry’s Euro-centrism in her book About Face). But we do like the flavor of her persistance, courage, and vision. In her day, Chanel provided something for women and free thinkers that did not, sartorially or semiotically, yet exist: Not just “men’s wear” appropriated to the world of “women’s fashion,” but also an expansive sense of what fashion is.
French fashion designer Gabriel “Coco” Chanel, portrait by Man Ray (1935)
This piece was first published at Queer + Couture.