New York Fashion Week is really unappealing. It's super busy, stupidly exclusive, and an annoying spectacle from an industry infamous for ignoring people who aren't "beautiful" in a very specific way that is irrelevant to most consumers. So it's refreshing when designers make decisions that are out of step with the status quo—like when designer Marco Morante of Marco Marco decided to break the traditional mold of rail-thin cisgender models and cast all trans models in his latest show.
Models represented in the show were some of the biggest names in trans celebrity, including recent Pose star Dominique Jackson, Transparent actress Trace Lysette, the one-and-only Carmen Carrera, and male model Laith Ashley among many more. Broadly talked with Marco Marco to learn more about the designer and to find out why he wanted trans models to exclusively wear his clothes on the runway.
BROADLY: Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your work?
MARCO MORANTE: I have been a costume designer in Los Angeles for 16 years, working on everything from American Idol and Ru Paul’s Drag Race, to designing for the Black Eyed Peas’ shows, and Britney Spears concerts. About eight years ago I started developing an underwear label and today my exciting runway shows are a way for me to explore both my own sexuality and my art, along with various other aspects of my work.
How long have you worked with trans models?
I’ve always worked with people under the LGBTQ umbrella and their visibility has been my number one driving force. I made my first openly non-binary friend when I was 18, the same year I was coming out, and I have always found lasting friendships and great inspiration from and within my community.
How does gender inform your designs, especially when working with trans models?
Gender informs my designs because of my own relationship to it; I love playing with gender and allowing it to flow freely as an aesthetic concept rather than a social construct. I think seeing Marlene Dietrich in her infamous black suit when I was young was my first taste of non-conformity. I grew up in the 80s, so I was deeply inspired by the subversiveness and heightened sexuality of pop culture icons like Prince, Boy George, Madonna, Grace Jones, and later TLC, Ani Di Franco. As I got older and began to identify as other, I found myself gravitating toward people like me who saw gender expression as a way to define one self rather than as a biological pre-ordinance.
How is the fashion industry failing trans people, and how can it change?
The fashion industry fails many people not just trans, but also queer, plus size, and people of color. Designers have always made great efforts to move the culture forward. Fashion as an art is consistently at the vanguard of inclusion, but as a business it is also privy to tokenism in order to 'say' it's progressive without hurting its bottom line. This problem is endemic to the corporatization of fashion, especially fast fashion which intends to digest every trend as quickly as possible in order to make a quick buck. Anyway, it's not my place to speak for trans people, what I can say is that trans life is not a trend and it will take more than my show to level the playing field.
Trans people seem to be fetishized by some fashion brands, their androgyny capitalized on without any significant investment in trans people or culture. Have you seen that in the industry?
Of course! The heart of fashion beats for everything and anything perceived as new. This impetus becomes an issue when the "new" thing fashion is turning its attention towards a marginalized group of people. As a cis male, I'm certainly as guilty of this as anyone else, I am however trying to find a balance between my ethos and my expression.
It will take more than my show to level the playing field.
Why did you decide to do an all trans show?
Anyone that has ever walked for me is a force to be reckoned with and although I have always had trans and non-binary people in my shows, it became apparent to me that their presence was often overshadowed by cis gay men or cis gay men in drag. Visibility is so important, but often diversity in the mainstream can seem tokenistic, I wanted to create a space to celebrate trans bodies. This was an opportunity for their presence to be undeniable and reinforce that #transisbeautiful
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marco Morante's 2018 show was the first all-trans fashion show during NYFW. Designer GoGo Graham has previously used all trans models in her NYFW shows.