There was an exuberance bordering on chaos this past Sunday night as designers, stylists, models, photographers and assorted onlookers – myself included – piled into Chelsea’s classy Avenue nightclub. The occasion: DapperQ’s New York Fashion Week 2014 runway show, a celebration of five glorious years in production of the leading fashion website for the unconventionally masculine.
Photographer Joi Ong and I went backstage for an inside look at the hottest andro/butch/genderqueer show of the season.
When Joi and I arrived about an hour before the doors opened, the scene was much as you’d expect: A sea of gorgeous queer bodies in every direction. Models standing on tables as designers made last minute hem adjustments. Makeup artists in deep concentration as they skillfully applied rad butch eyeliner. Stylists taping down boobs and combing up pompadours.
“It helps that all the models are really hot,” makeup artist Sasha Robertson laughed.
“Yeah, everyone’s good looking which makes the job really easy,” makeup artist Allison Brooke agreed. She went on, “The general aesthetic of the show is rockstar androgyny. Everyone kind of has their own spin on it. One of the brands wanted it a little more romantic and soft, other brands wanted it with a harder edge, but I think all of it is kind of straddling that androgynous beauty. It keeps it really fun for us because it gives us that creative control to take it where we want to take it.”
Both Robertson and Brooke felt relief not to be in the New York Fashion Week tents this year. While it’s exciting to work for big name designers, a lot of those shows actually pay very meager wages. The profession demands a lot of energy and upfront investment, particularly as makeup artists are required to provide their own makeup and carry it with them from location to location. Robertson and Brooke said they both try to seek out shows like DapperQ where they can have more fun. “What’s my favorite outfit tonight? What isn’t?” said Robertson. “Mmm, the bowties. I’d like to see my girlfriend in those bowties,” she smiled.
Because dapper and bowtie go together like lesbian and U-haul, I assume none of you will be surprised to hear which dashing neck accessory was exceptionally featured on Sunday night. On the runway, Ambiance Couture Bowtie provided one-of-a-kind looks handcrafted by Silki Smooth Harris. Now in Ambiance Couture Bowtie’s seventh year of business, Silki is a consummate professional at selecting (and/or creating!) the perfect bowtie to complement any outfit.
“We try to pay a lot of attention to detail,” Silki explained. “Since it’s an accessory line, you want this to be the thing that makes your outfit pop, you know? This is what you want to be your staple, your statement piece. When you put it on you want people to notice. This is your bowtie.”
As the clock ticked down, excitement amped up and up. Pre-show jitters reached their peak as the now mostly-outfitted models lined up for their runthrough. Like most of the other models that night, Chris Konnaris was not a regular or highly experienced model. “I’ve done this only once in my life, at the Dalloway. … I’m looking forward to seeing all my friends in the crowd, but right now I’m just trying to keep my nerves at bay.”
With some coaching from Anita Dolce Vita and other organizers, models practiced walking down the long staircase to the runway below. Their path took them to the ground level for a runway stretch of about 35 feet, right in the middle of the crowd. They posed at the end a few times, then turned around and went back up the stairs as the next model passed them on the way out.
Sometime after 10 p.m., doors opened and spectators flooded in. As 11 p.m. drew nearer I peeked my head out from backstage to look across at the VIP balcony where two ladies were unabashedly making out. From the noise downstairs, I could tell the drink specials had already begun. I began walking down the stairs, peered over the edge, and stopped dead in my tracks.
Oh. My. Yonce. The downstairs was packed. Like, limpy soft touch flexi-dong packed. Cutlets and toilet paper down Charlize Theron‘s bra stuffed. Advance tickets had sold out days before, and the line stretched around the block as interested parties waited to get in.
Joi and I had staked out a spot at the end of the runway earlier in the evening and it took all our might to fight our way back there. But as soon as we got to our coats a wall of bodies closed around us and in front of us. Joi and I plunked down on the black leather couch and took in the view.
With our heads now roughly at butt level, we got an eye-opening tableau of twerk as attendees shook it to DJ Whitney Day’s dangerously danceable mix. (Dangerous, that is, if you’re sitting down and the person backing it up into your personal space happens to have pointy elbows.) Patrons enthusiastically shout-talked over the music, texted, took selfies with their friends, and flitted between the main bar and smaller setups with traveling liquor bottles along the sides of the room. It was a raucously happy crowd of all gender expressions, genuinely excited to see the show.
As the runway walk began, Joi and I scrambled to find a vantage point from which we could actually see the models. I wound up standing on the couch, phone and notebook in one hand, pen in the other, shoulder thrust to hold aside the curtain blocking our view, feet strategically positioned to protect our coats and bags. Joi balanced upright on the raised raised arms of adjacent couches, standing on tip toe as she struggled to catch a shot of anything clothing lower than mid chest level. It was a real challenge.
But oh, the clothes. They were incredible. Worth every elbow to the face and decibel of hearing loss. Some highlights:
Runway looks by Jag & Co featured lots of button downs, suspenders, bowties, and suit jackets – classic dapper go-tos. By switching out the accessories, I could see these looks working really well for a dressed up groomsperson at a big gay summer wedding; or, dressed down, they could also be successfully deployed for boi’s night out, sipping beer at the pub.
A DapperQ favorite, Bindle & Keep is a bespoke clothing company offering immaculately tailored suits in fine Italian and English fabrics. Describing the line, emcee of the night Murray Hill riffed, “You can wear these suits to a party, court probation, Broadway shows, or one of Rosie O’Donnell’s cruises.” For me, the gorgeous piece of work above called to mind another cute, iconic blonde in dressy yellow plaid, which I was surprisingly really into. (You guys. What if Cher from Clueless had been a MoC babely queer? Pretty please can someone make that movie for me and put Cher in a custom Bindle & Keep suit?)
Australian based gender-neutral clothier Charlie Boy made a strong showing on Sunday with their 1920’s inspired button downs in super fun prints. Since going into business last year they’ve been steadily expanding their reach, a development I find utterly thrilling. I’m a pretty femmey lady myself, but I expect I’ll be putting quite a few of these geek chic shirts (sans bowtie) into heavy rotation this Spring. I cannot wait until everyone and their hot cousin has some Charlie Boy in their wardrobe.
VEEA‘s androgynous garments were perhaps the most fashion forward designs of the night, and model Meredith Gunning‘s crowd pleasing moves totally stole the show. So much swagger.
From BKLYN Dry Goods we saw a collection of fairly straightforward menswear given a queer edge via styling and the inclusion of ludicrously attractive models. Hello, you beautiful humans. I’m really feeling those sturdy, cold weather appropriate fabrics and your awesome hair. Let’s find ourselves a snowy mountain lodge somewhere and get started on a self sufficient homosexy colony, what do you say?
At the end of the show, DJ Whitney Day presented organizers/DapperQ masterminds Anita Dolce Vita and Susan Herr with a cake to celebrate DapperQ’s five year anniversary. Special recognition was given to DapperQ’s sponsors, Emcee Murray Hill, and 2014 DapperQ of the Year trans model Riley Pogensky.
“Transgressor-In-Chief” Susan Herr said, “Once my people were maligned; tonight we are the talk of the town. We are so proud of you.”
Following the show, Anita Dolce Vita commented to me, “I thought the show was brilliant and I really love Collette Lee for getting everything together. She’s an amazing runway director and I’m really proud of all the models and all of the brands.” Dolce Vita also gave a shout out to collaborator DJ Whitney Day – the “it” NYC LGBTQ DJ – for all the work she did securing the venue and co-producing the event. “Avenue on most nights is so exclusive that people have to either know someone, be a model, or pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get in. She managed to lock it down for our community to gather and experience.”
As the music turned back up, a dance party broke out downstairs as the models rushed upstairs to change into their street clothes. Because of the huge crowd, the models, designers and stylists had approximately 30 minutes to clear out before the upstairs reopened to become another club area.
Vine of the party scene via Murray Hill
With models rushing in all directions around us, I caught up with Chris Konnaris again upstairs to debrief. “It was amazing. I feel so relieved and so handsome. When I was finally down there, all those flashing lights weren’t as bad as I thought,” said Konnaris with a huge, easy grin. “Now I’m going to get drunk and dance with all my friends. I know they’re all here and I can’t wait to see them.”
Congratulations on five incredible years and an amazing show, DapperQ!