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Oakland Queer Fashion Week celebrates diversity

on September 30, 2016

On Thursday night, over 200 well-dressed guests piled into a small ballroom at the Venue Event Center in Oakland waiting for a special fashion show to begin.

Waiters passed drinks while the crowd shouted and cheered as a host wearing a colorful cape appeared on the stage. Warm-toned quartz studio lights flashed sparkles on the floor, coloring everything yellow, pink or purple. Loud music boomed from speakers overhead and the scent of weed spread from corners into the air.

The lights went dim, but before long turned bright again as an African American woman stepped onto the wooden catwalk in a leopard-print leather corset with a whip in one hand and a magazine in the other. The scarlet fishnet stockings covering her red G-string sank into her flesh as she swung her hips and posed, biting her whip handle. This was the first runaway walk for the 2016 Queer Fashion Week—and the theme for the night was “Unconventional.”

But offbeat clothes are not the only kind being showcased at the fashion festival; many are similar in theme to traditional fashion shows or are intended for daily wear. For example, brands like Kirrin Finch showed off short and long-sleeved button down shirts for people of all genders and heights. “The unconventional part of the show is the models. We use people of all kinds of heights, all kinds of body shapes, all kinds of colors and all kinds of sexualities,” said Fallon Davis, the show’s director, after the catwalk event.

2016 is the second year for Queer Fashion Week. The show is running Wednesday to Sunday in Oakland, offering three fashion shows highlighting 32 designers. According to Chris De La Rosa, the show’s producer, known as “Miz Chris,” she and Davis picked Oakland as the host city because of its diversity and fashion style. “Every time I walked on the street in Oakland I feel like I’m on a fashion runaway. Everybody has their own styles,” she said.

Though no one is getting paid, the show still attracted over 400 model applications from people with all kinds of jobs all over the country who wanted help with the show. According to De La Rosa, most of them are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning) or allies—people who support them.

“I noticed the event from a LGBTQ Facebook group and I just said to myself: ‘This looks cool and I should give it a try,’” said Shelli Frew, a slim blonde who works as a part-time art model in San Francisco. As a lesbian, she sometimes wears boys’ clothes when she’s in the mood, “but they’re actually not designed for women’s bodies and are not comfortable to wear,” Frew said. She said she hopes events like Queer Fashion Week will push the fashion industry to focus on this unmet market need in the near future.

The same feelings were expressed in the fashion show by designers from Dapper Boi. Pairs of models, usually a male and a female, walked wearing the same same or similar pants, showing their naked chests. The only difference was that female models wore two stickers on their nipples reading “I am not a boy.”

Awareness of gender issues has surged over the last few years in the fashion industry. Transgender model Andreja Pejic has appeared on the runways in New York and Milan. Lesbian model Freja Beha Erichsen has walked for Dior, Alexander Wang and many other famous fashion brands. And “gender-neutral” style has become a hot fashion trend.

While the fashion industry seems to be trying hard to support and recognize LGBTQ groups, Davis said it has taken lots of effort to shed light on still-existing discrimination. “They don’t really respect us,” said Davis, even if LGBTQ people are getting work as models. “They just use the bodies but the clothes are still for straight people.”

“Gender-neutral now is simply a trend,” she continued. “But we are gender-neutral all our lives.”

Samantha Adams, a designer and the owner of Sambi Fashions, agreed with Davis: “I’ve seen lots of [LGBTQ] models and designers getting rejected and cleared out of their career because people knew what they are,” she said. “That’s why I don’t work for a company. I design customized clothes because I believe everyone should have the opportunity to try bright-colored tight clothes on. It’s not a privilege for thin straight guys.”

Davis said she hopes there will be more mixing among groups in the fashion world in the future. “We are bringing the queer models and designers to the traditional fashion industry like this,” Davis said. “And we also hope more and more straight designers could bring their ideas to our industry.”

Dominique Hollins, who came from San Francisco for the event with her friends, yelled all the way through the entire fashion show. Noticing her short dyed red hair and strong voice, many designers spotted her and hugged her from the catwalk. “I really like the show. It’s so diverse with plus-size and normal-size [models], femme and masculine, tall and short,” she said. “I love the brand Dapper Boi most, because that’s my style. I really will buy some of those if they are sold tonight. For serious.”

The Queer Fashion show runs through Sunday. You can view the schedule here.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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