Queer fashionistas crowded into the basement of the Ace Hotel this past Sunday, hoping to get their shot at a runway spot for a gender nonconforming fashion show called VERGE that will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum during New York Fashion Week 2015. VERGE will be produced by four organizations—dapperQ, bklyn boihood, Die Young Die Happy (DYDH) Productions, and Posture Magazine—each of which chose two independent designers to showcase at the fall event. Sunday’s open casting call aimed to offer a diverse selection of models for the designers to choose from and to give an opportunity for those in the New York queer community who are interested in fashion but not necessarily professional models to be a part of the show.
This was the first casting call that fashion designer Randi Shandroski had ever been a part of—she would mostly use friends of friends as models for LACTIC, a company she started when she began to work as a graphics seamstress, producing industrial-grade banners for companies and trade shows. Shandroski takes misprinted banners or leftover swaths of the dye-sublimated, polyester, fire-retardant material and hand-collages the fabric into one-of-a-kind pieces. Though the work is de facto environmental, Shandroski’s aim is more to recontextualize advertising images through juxtaposing them with queer bodies. Her work is abstract and futuristic—at the casting call she wore a bikini under a matching towel-lined “skin cape” made from banners that had images of hands holding butterflies.
With a master’s degree in sculpture from Yale, Shandroski comes from more of an arts and design background rather than having a formal training in fashion. “I kind of like approaching it from this outsider perspective,” she said. “I don’t really care about a lot of traditional fashion stuff.” She’s planning on adding mold-casted silicone elements to her line for VERGE in the fall, having both ready-to-wear and more sculptural pieces in the show.
In the basement of the Ace Hotel, the eight fashion designers and others who work with their brands sat at a long L-shaped table littered with wine glasses and beer bottles. Danik Yopp of DYDH sat at one end with a microphone, his beard dyed blue, wearing a leather kilt (he did it before Kanye, he told me later when I brought it up to him), calling for the next model or offering them direction. Every now and then a designer would yell out to have a model walk again, take off their sunglasses, make sure to look at all the judges. The audience was supportive with applause and a tone that was generally welcoming.
At the end of the intermission, Giancarlo Corbacho, who does branding for LACTIC and was sporting one of Shandroski’s jockstraps under low-slung jeans, encouraged some of the designers to do a lap with him to make the shyer models feel more at ease. After 82 people walked, Yopp got up and made sure everyone who wanted to audition got a chance to, allowing a few more to jump in at the last moment.
While the after party started and the crowd in the basement waned, I spoke to Anita Dolce Vita, owner of dapperQ, in the posh, gleaming lobby of the Ace. She said that the producers had decided on open casting because traditional model calls tend to be binary—comprised of feminine-presenting cisgendered women and masculine-presenting cisgendered men—and designers who want to be inclusive of a diverse spectrum of sexualities, genders and body types can have a hard time finding models.
“We want to break out of the underground a little bit,” Dolce Vita added, pointing out that having VERGE at the Brooklyn Museum presents an opportunity to bring queer style to a broader audience, and that dapperQ hopes to someday be incorporated into New York Fashion Week proper. According to Dolce Vita, making queer fashion accessible to the mainstream is important because of its inherent ethos. She pointed to the flapper dress and zoot suit, and the gender-neutral fashion that’s now coming into style, as visual activism. “Queer fashion is intrinsically tied to our identities,” she said. “So it ends up being political whether that’s what you intended or not.”
“Fashion is my politics,” Yopp echoed. “I literally have not worn pants in three and a half to four years because I experienced so much homophobia on the streets from people when I was wearing skinny jeans… I was like, if they’re gonna give me this much crap for wearing skinny jeans, I’m gonna make it the norm for them to see a man walking around in a skirt or a dress or flowers.”
For those who would like a shot at auditioning to be a model but weren’t able to make it out to the open call, dapperQ is still accepting headshots by e-mail at email@example.com.