Dismantle Me: Deconstructing Fashion & Queer Performance, QFW 2015

Last week at Queer Fashion Week in Oakland, CA, Rupi and I had the incredible opportunity to present our new line, Dismantle Me.

We crafted a theme using the repetition of textiles, which challenged race, gender, and white privilege. We then applied these themes to the unique gender performances of our 13 queer models. 

Model Kaydn by Pete Hopkins

Model Kaydn by Pete Hopkins

Our apparel designs combined the historical dress of Rupi’s Scottish and Trinidadian roots. We challenged race relations by combining bandanas (referencing its use in race riots and groups such as the Black Liberation Army throughout American history), with items that symbolize white privilege and class, like tartan and preppy plaid button-ups. We embraced the androgynous feel of apparel born from the American hip-hop style and challenged the traditional gender-norms of the kilt and class of the Royal Stuart tartan.

Model Tiny Duval by by nyelyntho

Model Tiny Duval by by nyelyntho

Model Tiny Duval By Michael Moore Photography

Model Tiny Duval By Michael Moore Photography

Rupi says, “I wanted to use fashion as a tool to focus on how we as queers perform our experiences of race and gender in the world.”

Model Jay Khady by nyelyntho

Model Jay Khady by nyelyntho

Model Jay Khady by nyelyntho

Model Jay Khady by nyelyntho

Our first stop in Oakland was the rehearsal for Queer Fashion Week, which brought all the models and designers for the event together in one room. We were excited to watch fierce models from all over the United States strut their stuff down the catwalk, each celebrating their unique style and identity. This was the best experience a queer designer could wish for. We even ended up choosing 2 additional models because they just blew us away!

Model Irene Tu. By Michael Moore Photography

Model Irene Tu. By Michael Moore Photography

Rupi and I both thought that it was imperative that each model participated in the creation of their outfit. So, for the next 3 days, we worked closely with our 13 models to create looks that incorporated each model’s unique gender expression.

Rupi says, “For me, the idea of queer fashion is rooted in a concept where the model’s queerness becomes a performance in itself. These expressive embodiments of identity made it impossible for me to create a queer fashion performance without acknowledging the bodies (each model) that wore them. We articulate characteristics of our queerness through performative behaviors that are inspired by, but also separate from our gender identity. By embracing gender within a queer embodiment, we remove the performance from traditional expectations and redefine the space as ours.”

The show premiered two of Rupi’s unique concepts: the bandana built into a shirt collar, and a tie drawn through a hoody. We expanded on the bandana theme, dressing several models in bandana-patterned pants and throwing the bandana textile into other aspects of the outfits. Bandanas were used during historic protests as early as the Black Liberation Army and are still seen at race riots sparked by the assassinations of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Model Jeanie Chung By Michael Moore Photography

Model Jeanie Chung By Michael Moore Photography

Model Jeanie Chung by nyelyntho

Model Jeanie Chung by nyelyntho

Rupi notes, “The bandana textile embodied its performance in wear during our recent race riots sparked in Ferguson and #iftheygunnedmedown. The performance of wearing bandanas around the face dates all the way back to the groups such as The Black Liberation Army. I wanted to express the role fashion plays in race-based crimes. I built the bandana into a high collar in order for the viewer to observe from a side profile what looks like a bandana tied around the face. This is then contrasted with the aesthetic privilege of Royal Stuart tartan.

“It’s important that we don’t forget the historical roots of our fashion styles because it’s the acting out and working through the reasons behind fashion performances that can really broaden society’s definitions of the performativity of race and gender.”

Model Alli by by nyelyntho

Model Alli by by nyelyntho

Rupi fitting model Alli in the hoodie-tie

Rupi fitting model Alli in the hoodie-tie

Rupi's hoodie-tie is, as far as we know, the first time anyone has drawn a tie through the draw string of the hoodie, opening up worlds of possibilities for casual tie wearers. 

Model Lexi Chavez, selfie

Model Lexi Chavez, selfie

Rupi says, "The Egyptian dress exemplifies to me the white fashion industries appropriation of the cultural aesthetic. Yet, here, our performance exemplifies the use of historically androgynous fashion to express gender identity today. Basically, the use is important and affects us all.”

Model Cynthia By Michael Moore Photography

Model Cynthia By Michael Moore Photography

The most daring piece featured an ascot attached to a T-shirt with a red mesh popping out around the v-neck collar, surrounding our model’s Cynthia face, and framing her scorpion styled dreads.

The hoody tie will soon be available for pre-order on qwearfashion.com (Thanks to everyone who helped Qwear with this amazing fashion performance).

Model Young Shorty Doowop by nyelyntho

Model Young Shorty Doowop by nyelyntho

Model Kayden Davis by nyelyntho

Model Kayden Davis by nyelyntho

Model MJ by nyelyntho

Model MJ by nyelyntho

Model Ryley Rubin Pogensky by nyelyntho

Model Ryley Rubin Pogensky by nyelyntho

Finally, here's some amazing video footage some folks caught on insta:

#queerfashionweek

A video posted by Mackenzie Rubin (@mackenzierubin) on

Hope you enjoy the photos and footage, and please let us know what you think in the comments! 

Special thanks to all our models, and for the amazing extra help from Ryley Pogeknsky, Zoe, Mars Attax, Anita Dolce Vita, and DJ Val G. Thanks to Fallon for being an amazing teacher and helping all our models walk like a million bucks. And one big thanks to Miz Chris and Queer Fashion Week for hosting an amazing event! We are excited to see what's in store for it next year.

Cover photo: Model Kaydn by Pete Hopkins

As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.