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How Fashion Embraced Queer Culture—On Episode 7 of ‘In Vogue: The 1990s’

“The queer community had always loved fashion...but in the ’90s the fashion industry finally began to reciprocate that love,” says ‘In Vogue’ host Hamish Bowles.

10/31/2020 12:48:00 AM

In episode 7 of 'In VOGUE: The 1990s,' Vogue's editorial team, along with some very special guests, explore queer culture in the '90s and its influence mainstream culture for decades. As Hamish Bowles puts it: “It had just gone unacknowledged.”

“The queer community had always loved fashion...but in the ’90s the fashion industry finally began to reciprocate that love,” says ‘In Vogue’ host Hamish Bowles.

Photo: Rita Barros / Getty ImagesMadonna’s 1990 “Vogue” video gave the American mainstream one of its first glimpses of queer culture. “For many Americans, this video—which was choreographered by Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and was cast with members of New York’s underground New York ballroom scene—was the first time they had seen gay culture displayed so artistically, so lovingly,” notes

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In Vogue’shost Hamish Bowles in this week’s episode.But in fact, queer culture had been influencing mainstream culture for decades. As Bowles puts it: “It had just gone unacknowledged.” The Stonewall Riots of 1969 marked the beginning of a new era. “In the ’70s, there was a kind of freedom. And certainly it was a very hedonistic period between the pill and AIDS,” observes Tom Ford. It was also a time, adds Michael Kors, “where gay was great.” Queer American designers like Halston and Stephen Burrows were setting the pace with soft, second-skin clothes that incorporated elements taken from their culture, from form-fitting pants to sequins. The result, explains Bowles, was that “this kind of gender bending androgyny and glorification of the sensuality of the body found its way out of the community and into the fashion industry.”

Stonewall Inn, 1969Photo: NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesAIDS put an abrupt end to all of that as it devastated the queer community who had to contend with discrimination and death. The passing, in 1986, of designer Perry Ellis, then the president of the CFDA, activated the fashion industry to publicly acknowledge the crisis that was affecting so many within it, and come together in charitable support. In 1990 the first Seventh of Sale was held, six years after Lady Bunny organized the first Wigstock and between Susanne Bartsch’s 1989 and 1991 Love Balls, which rallied support and funds for those with the disease. “The queer community had always loved fashion—created it, promotoed it, worn it—but in the ’90s the fashion industry finally began to reciprocate that love,” states Bowles. “Rejecting the fear and suppression that the AIDS pandemic had caused opened up a whole new world of visibility and representation.”

Jean Paul Gaultier and Lady Bunny, 1994Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty ImagesVanity Fair,Photo: PA Images via Getty ImagesMarc Jacobs and Carolyne Roehm at 7th on Sale, 1990Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Image

The beginning of the decade, notes Kors, was marked by “this explosion of energy after the sadness in the late ’80s.” Beyond Madonna, another example wasVanity Fair’sAugust 1993 cover on which a bathing suit-wearing Cindy Crawford is pictured shaving the musician k.d. lang, who was dressed in Wall Street pinstripes. “Lesbian visibility,” reports Bowles, finally started appearing on the runway as well, thanks in in large part to the success of Jil Sander.

Leigh Bowery, circa 1989Photo: Mark Baker / Photoshot / Getty ImagesMadonna performing “Vogue” at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards.Photo: Kevin Mazur / WireImageLater in the decade therapeutic medicines started to become available, allowing movement towards some sense of balance. “You weren’t dancing while Rome was burning anymore,” states Kors. “I think the industry really actually came together, really stayed behind raising money and raising awareness for the AIDS pandemic and never gave up. And still you have that sense of community today.”

Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza at the first Love Ball, 1989Photo: Catherine McGann / Getty ImagesDonna Karan, David Bowie and Iman at Seventh on Sale, 1990Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty ImageRuPaul, 1990Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

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Madonna in Gaultier on the Blond Ambition Tour, 1990Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection via Getty ImagesLearn more about how fashion embraced queer culture onIn Vogue: The 1990s.JoiningVogue’s Read more: Vogue Magazine »

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voguemagazine You meant to say 'gay' didn't you? “In the ’70s, there was a kind of freedom. And certainly it was a very hedonistic period between the pill and AIDS,” observes TomFord on this episode of 'In VOGUE: The 1990s.' 'It was also a time,' adds MichaelKors, “where gay was great.”

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