11 posts tagged "Valerie Steele"
As industries go, fashion may be the least closeted there is: No one can deny the massive impact made by men and women who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered in the history of fashion and costume. Fashion historian Valerie Steele addresses the contributions made by LGBT people in a new exhibition, A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, opening this week at the Museum at F.I.T. It includes pieces ranging from designs by Jean Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace to Edwardian suits and nineteenth-century finery; clothing made by gays and for gays; as well as those items and styles co-opted and fetishized by gay audiences, and from gay audiences. (See, for example, Versace’s adaptation of leather fetish regalia into his women’s haute couture.)
As the exhibition makes clear—not that it wasn’t out, as it were, already—the gay contribution to fashion is beyond doubt. The question that’s much harder to answer is why. Shortly after the show was announced last year, I sat down with Steele, who co-curated the exhibit with Fred Dennis, to try to tease out the curious correlation and connection between gayness, politics, fashion, and style.
It goes without saying—but let’s say it—that many, many fashion designers and professionals are gay. Is gayness fashion’s default position?
I don’t know if it’s the default position, because there are heterosexual men, and there are women of all different sexualities, straight, gay, and bi, in fashion—though fewer of them have come out than gay men. But I think it’s not just a stereotype to say that there’s a lot of interest in fashion and style among a lot of gay men. What we’re interested in doing with Queer History is, if you can get beyond saying it’s just a stereotype, maybe you can start exploring why it might be the case that there’s this interest in fashion and style. You’re not pathologizing it; for one thing, most people like fashion now. You could explore, is there a kind of gay sensibility that would be drawn to issues of style and fashion?
And is there?
We tend to think yes. But we think there’s not one gay aesthetic, but at least a couple of different gay aesthetics. Several, probably: One that would tend to be more idealizing, and the other that would be more disruptive and gender-fuck.
But that idealizing aesthetic could be a kind of misogyny, no? You have male designers creating designs for women’s bodies that aren’t necessarily forgiving, or even possible…
If you go online, this is the vox pop: Do gay men hate women? You saw that [first] in the fifties, when you had all these very homophobic commentators, like the psychiatrist Bergler, who said that gay men hate women and therefore they make weird clothes for them to wear. But the point is, gay men have made all different types of clothes. It’s not just that they like girls to look like teenage boys, or they like girls to look like a caricature of women. It’s all different styles. And you find that straight men and women of different sexual persuasions also doing those, too. It’s much more related to their individual aesthetic and their time period than it is to their sexual orientations. So I think you have to confront that. Some people who don’t like fashion are going to say that it’s gay men making things for putatively straight women. But I think you can’t be held back by homophobic complaints. I think it’s more important to try and explore where things might lead you and not be constrained by irrational homophobia—and irrational fashion phobia, too.
Which go hand in hand.
Which often do go hand in hand.
Where does this connection between gay men and fashion come from?
I think it’s partly a kind of self-selection early on that gay boys, maybe before they know they’re gay, are interested often in artistic pursuits. “Artistic” was always a kind of euphemism for being gay. Lots of gay people talk about, “When I was four, I was telling my mother how to dress. When I was four, I was doing elaborate drawings of ladies’ costumes.” That’s before you have much of a sexual identity, but there’s already possibly something there that’s attractive about artistic and transformative fields like fashion. Fashion is about artifice and transformation and fantasy and a certain idea of beauty. I think it’s intrinsically very appealing to a lot of people, and it may just be that, at least in certain cultures—and there’s been so little cross-cultural work done, it’s hard to tell—that may be something that’s part of a gay male sensibility. Continue Reading “Glitter and Be Gay? Addressing the LGBT Influence in Fashion” »
In gritty 1980s London, John Galliano was wrapping up his studies at Central Saint Martins, Leigh Bowery was hosting pansexual club nights, and Nick Logan launched The Face. It was a time of unencumbered experimentation—sartorial and otherwise. And it was during this era that stylist Ray Petri—the man responsible for the anti-glam Buffalo movement—emerged on the scene. Petri (formerly Petrie) laid the bricks for the eclectic British fashion scene of today. His editorials, which set the tone in magazines such as Arena, i-D, and the above-mentioned The Face, pictured rough London teens in unexpected combinations of high fashion, tough workwear, athletic clothes, underwear, vintage, and beyond. He created not only a look but an ideology that was universally recognizable. And now, the iconoclast—who died of AIDS in 1989—is getting a magazine named after him.
Founded by Zadrian Smith—a London-based writer, stylist, and producer who’s worked with such publications as Tank, Love, GQ Style and British Vogue—PETRI(E) Inventory 65 (the stylist would have turned 65 this year—published annually, the numbers will bump up accordingly) seeks to breathe new life into Petri’s legacy. Aiming to channel the man’s uncompromising, unfiltered vision, PETRI(E)’s editorial array extends far beyond fashion. The debut issue offers an ode to Petri by British Vogue’s Francesca Burns, a photo essay by Saiful Huq Omi that lenses the hope and strife within Bangladesh megalopolis, Dhaka (above), and an essay by Valerie Steele on her upcoming exhibition, Queer History. “I think there’s a vulnerability and honesty to each piece that I hope readers will appreciate,” Smith told Style.com. Also included is an editorial titled “Melody of Caged Birds,” (above, right) which, featuring Meadham Kirchhoff’s designs, serves as a visual antidote to the suppression of raw creative impulse. “Don’t get me wrong,” said Smith, “I know fashion is a business, but there needs to be a greater balance of business and creativity. At this rate, fashion will bleed itself of organic artistry.”
PETRI(E) Inventory 65 launches on May 20, and is available for preorder here.
What is it about women and shoes? According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT and the author of Shoes: A Lexicon of Style (among many other fashion books), the fixation dates back to Cinderella and her glass slippers. But that doesn’t necessarily explain women’s willingness to defy death, gravity, and blisters with the super-stacked platforms and needle-thin spikes of modern day. Shoe Obsession, The Museum at FIT’s upcoming exhibition (which, running from February 8 through April 13, was curated by Dr. Steele, Colleen Hill, and Fred Dennis), explores the female shoe fetish via some of the most iconic, outrageous, and exceptional styles that have come out this century.
Including shoes from established houses (Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle stilettos, Roger Vivier’s feather Eyelash pumps, Prada’s flame shoes, and Chanel’s gun heels), up-and-coming talents (Nicholas Kirkwood’s graffitied Keith Haring platforms, Charlotte Olympia’s Kiss Me Dolores pumps), and experimental designers (Masaya Kushino’s sculptural human hair, Cyprus wood, and lace platforms; Noritaka Tatehana’s eighteen-inch ballerina shoes), Shoe Obsession presents every type of high heel you can imagine—and several that you can’t. Here, Dr. Steele talks to Style.com about the fascination with extravagant shoes, the evolution of contemporary footwear, and the upcoming exhibition.
Let’s cut to the chase. Why are so many women obsessed with shoes?
Well, I think there are a couple of layers. First off, shoes are an intimate extension of the physical body. And they seem to say a lot about our personality, our sexual attitudes, and our social status. And high heels in particular seem to be the focus of a lot of our thoughts about gender, sexuality, eroticism, and femininity. I think there’s definitely an element of sexual fetishism involved in men’s fascination with women’s high-heel shoes. But for women, I think it’s not fetishism so much as it is an obsession with fashion and with shoes as the ultimate sartorial symbol of erotic femininity.
Have women always been obsessed with shoes, or was there a point in fashion history when the infatuation really took off?
It goes way back to Cinderella. Shoes have played an important role in cultural thought for a long time. In Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo?, a film from the sixties about French fashion, there’s a wonderful scene when a TV reporter is interviewing some pompous French sociology professor who says that the Cinderella story is all about the importance of tiny feet and beautiful shoes. Then he says, “So there you are: fetishism, mutilation, pain. Fashion in a nutshell.” [Laughs] But I do think that our show is unique, because we’re not just looking at the social and psychosexual reasons why we all love shoes. We’re focusing on the twenty-first century and calling attention to the fact that in the last twelve years or so, after the end of Sex and the City, the obsession with high-end designer shoes has spread from something that only a few people were really obsessed with to being something that everybody’s obsessed with.
Why have heels risen to such hilariously high heights in the past few decades? And what dictates heel height?
I think the key element there is the acceptance of hypersexual shoe design as part of fashion, as opposed to just a corner of the pornographic industry. Before he died, Helmut Newton said in an interview that in the seventies, you had to go to fetish and porn stores to get the kind of shoes he wanted for his fashion photographs. But by the early nineties, he could go to any high fashion designer—Chanel, Dior, they were all doing fetish-y shoes. So that’s one thing, which I think is crucial to the recent growth of heels. Another is the popularity of platforms on shoes. If you’ve got a two-inch platform, automatically your heel can go from three to five inches, or from four to six, or whatever you want.
What makes women willing to shell out so much money for a pair of shoes that they may or may not be able to walk in?
Part of it is that shoe shopping is probably the highest form of fashion shopping. It’s the most pleasurable. I mean, who doesn’t look good in a pair of beautiful shoes? And compare it with something like bathing-suit shopping, which is the nadir of horror. Also, you can get a lot more fashion bang for your buck with a pair of shoes. You know, it might be a thousand dollars, but if you’re going to buy a jacket or a dress by that same or a comparable designer, you’d be talking three, four thousand dollars or up. And right now, people are, in a way, dressing in more of a uniform. For instance, many people just wear a well-cut pair of jeans and a great black jacket. But with shoes, they can play and transform themselves—they can change the style image that they’re creating. Continue Reading “FIT’s Foot Fetish” »