Empowerment Through Fashion And Community


An in-depth reflection on Oakland’s Queer Fashion Week

April 15th, a date dreaded by most, and why? TAXES. But on this past April 15th of 2015, taxes were the furthest thing from the minds of the hundreds who flooded Oakland’s Geoffrey’s Inner Circle for the first full rehearsal and fitting for Queer Fashion Week.

Representatives of the entire LGTBQ spectrum were all there in one room in solidarity.  It was the beginning of a monumental four-day, star-studded, high profile celebration of fashion and diversity for a community still seeking visibility.

And after hearing Fallon Davis’ booming voice telling us to get in line for rehearsal, we all felt that magnitude too.

For a couple of years and several very intense months leading up to April 15th, the QFW executive team was working hard behind the scenes to coordinate this landmark event, “Wrangling over 25 designers, 150 models, over 75 production staff is a monumental undertaking which I wasn’t quite anticipating.”

Queer Fashion Week is the brainchild of event and media maven, Miz Chris, who has founded countless events throughout the United States lending a platform and voice to the LGBTQ community for decades.

In 2013, along with the What is Butch? Movement and its creators Fallon Davis and Adjoa Courtney, Miz Chris produced BUTCHlyfe—a fashion show that highlighted masculine of center designers, designers that were producing clothing for masculine of center people and masculine of center models.

Such an empowering experience for every participant, attendee, designer, model, and staff member that Miz Chris thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could empower every letter of the LGBTQ alphabet.’  “I realized we needed to do a week of events to support that vision of diversity and that is how QFW was born,” says Miz Chris.

In addition to having a very large LGBTQ population, Miz Chris recognized that “Oakland is a very fashion forward town, where walking down the streets is like walking down its own runway filled with an amazing array of personal style.” The perfect location to hold the inaugural Queer Fashion Week, Oakland is schedule to host this yearly event in subsequent years.

Co-producers Fallon Davis and Adjoa Courtney, power couple hailing from North Carolina, are absolute experts in their field. Fallon and Adjoa lent their professional expertise as Fashion Director and Creative Director respectively for Queer Fashion Week. “As the Fashion Director, I wore many hats and each one was truly appreciated by and rewarding for me,” says Fallon Davis.

“From hand picking the designers who gave it their all, to training and turning each one of the models into professionals, to creating the theme and aesthetics captured on the runway has forever changed my life. It’s not easy getting over 200 individuals on the same accord, but I accomplished that taking my skillsets to new heights. Queer fashion week will go down in history as a household name, and I’m proud to be apart of something so remarkable!”

At first glance, when word of this event spread, 99.99% of what I read was absolutely positive and encouraging.  The other 00.01% was filled with comments like, “Is an event like this even needed because isn’t the fashion world already teeming with gays?” To that Miz Chris responds, “Queer people have been stocking our closets for decades as designers, stylists, makeup artists etc.

But we felt like it was time for our very talented queer artists and artisans to come out of that closet and showcase their work. To bring queer designers who have been in the business professionally and queer designers that are just starting out together to network and learn from one another. This goes for the models as well.

We have models that have walked NYC Fashion Week to models where this will be the first time they set foot on a runway.  We want them to network and learn from each other as well.”

queer fashion week
Miz Chris and Rain Dove

A fashion event truly of the queers, by the queers, and for the queers (and for our allies). Because while being an out designer or model is starting to become more acceptable, there is still the need for all members of our community to unite through fashion and feel empowered, excited, and inspired.  “I want every letter of the LGBTQ to see themselves reflected on the runway in beautiful ways that make them feel good,” says Miz Chris.  “I want them to support these designers who are in the world creating works of art for them to put on their bodies—all types of bodies.  But most of all, in this time where hate and discrimination against LGBTQ people is on an upswing, I want our community (LGBTQ) and our ally communities to be seen”

Featuring an impressive, diverse list of designers, performers, volunteers, and models from literally all over the USA, the camaraderie and positivity behind the scenes amongst the models, volunteers, designers, and hair/makeup artists was transcendent.

“This event was exactly what I wanted it to be and more,” says Adjoa Courtney. “It was full of talent, passionate people, professionals, and an abundance of appreciation. I love what I do as an artist, and I love seeing my work in the spotlight. The highlight for Queer Fashion Week for me was the Extreme Makeup, Hair and body art showcase.

That was my baby and my project. As an artist myself, I wanted to give these talented individuals an opportunity to have their art highlighted and grace the runway as well. I am also so grateful that we are able to touch so many lives and make a true difference in this world. To have so many tears of appreciation from designers, models, and stylists that came up to me and thanked me for giving them this opportunity was priceless.

I had no words, just tears and smiles because I only gave them what they deserved because I saw each of their worth. I am ready for next year already, and I have big plans that will blow you all away.”

In addition, QFW held up a mirror, asking: What really is beauty?  What really is fashion? And the answers? Well they could be found walking right out there on that runway and behind the scenes. A true celebration racial, gender, and size diversity, QFW authentically redefined gender and fashion as an inclusive rather than an exclusive construct, opening up the mainstream market to the LGBTQ market.

All the shows from the Fashion Explosion! and Extreme Hair & MakeUp show to the all day GENESIS Fashion show were completely professional, smooth, and brilliant.  No one model looked the same, and for the better. There was someone and something on that runway for everyone.

And as the aftermath ensues, and more and more pictures are being released/posted, I can’t help but think that somewhere there is a kid, or heck even a 40-year-old adult, suffering in silence because they feel so isolated and different, and that if they see these pictures, or just that ONE picture of someone who they see themself in—it changes everything.  QFW did so much more than showcase some incredibly dope styles, inspires hope in all of us and throughout the world at large.

To be quite honest, I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that this empowering weekend had truly come to a close.  I’ve heard that it’s easier to be the one doing the leaving than to be left, and as my new friends flew back home to Texas, North Carolina, New York City, etc., a little bit of me went with them; we shared a connection that surpassed our love of being queer and fashion freedom.

But then I realized, that while the week and its events are over and done (until next year April 14-17, 2016), the mission and spirit of QFW lives through all the lives affected by this event—spreading confidence, acceptance, support, beauty, diversity, friendship, and love. (And there’s social media, ha!)

But I leave you with this: My girlfriend is very stylish, and often doesn’t plan her outfits in advance of an event; rather she likes to wait and go by how she feels on the day.  After participating in QFW, I finally understand her words of wisdom: Fashion truly is a state of mind, not what the straight, big brand advertising companies dictate to me it is.

Regardless of one’s assigned gender, people dress should be determinate of how they feel inside, not based on whatever externalities are forced upon them. I’ll be the first to admit, that I used to struggle with looking a “certain type of way,” but after this past week, I feel truly liberated, and have embraced my style.

Texas based Hip-Hop artist, M.T.A sings, “My clothes don’t define me,” and I would have to agree.  I make the clothes, the clothes don’t make me, and it was such a breath of fresh air to meet so many talented designers who share this vision of fashion and gender non-conformity. I can be a femme and wear a dress, high heels, and makeup one day, and then rock the shit out of a snap-back, crisp button up and bow tie the next–I’m not trying to be anything other than me.  And isn’t that what fashion is all about–having the freedom to truly explore ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin? As model/actress DCo Edwards states, it’s important to be able to “walk in your truth.”

Then it’s just a matter of finding the right clothes and style that complement your feeling. So thank you Dominique Camille, Miz Chris, Fallon, Adjoa, SheenaSheWins, Ryley Pogensky, and the Queer Fashion Week community for helping me find empowerment through my fashion.