Every June, we see brands release rainbow-speckled T-shirts, sweaters, socks and bucket hats (you name it) to celebrate Pride month. In recent years, LGBTQ+ communities have grown tired of brands changing their logos ‘in support of’ Pride without actually doing anything to support queer people.
Rainbow washing has been a term used for years to describe the performative nature of corporations promising LGBTQ+ alliances without making any real effort beyond touching the rainbow. Having been drafted for several years in a row, it doesn’t seem to have changed much. However, in a positive step, several brands are now donating their profits to LGBTQ+ organizations.
What’s more, many people don’t want to walk around with a rainbow on their chest – not that they object to its meaning and history, but simply that, nine times out of ten it’s poorly designed.
Sixty years ago, when homosexuality between men was illegal in England and Wales (lesbianism was never illegal, but only because it was never recognized as real), communities began forging their own dress codes to signify their strangeness. . The Hanky Code was developed as a way for gay men to express their sexual interests; the color and pattern of a scarf, as well as where on the body it was worn, were all encoded with their own sexual language.
Some of these clothing semiotics still exist today with many now associated with LGBTQ+ stereotypes – specific haircuts and colors, carabiners (within the lesbian community) as well as the plain white vest, which in itself has a rich history with queerness.
Today, without much need for secrecy, many young designers are exploring sexuality and gender in their work. What larger companies quickly forget is that Pride is not just for June but for the whole year, and they should look to support marginalized groups wherever and however they can.
Below, we’ve listed six incredibly talented young designers from London – who happen to be gay.
Sinead O’Dwyer, who graduated from RCA in 2018, is the Dublin-born designer whose work has graced the cover of ES Magazine (used by Paloma Elsesser) as well as a plethora of publications. Her sculptural designs celebrate and explore the human body through “the firmness of smooth, shiny latex; the secure grip of the leather; and waves of soft silk.”
“The next sportswear superstar” according to Hypebeast, Saul Nash is a British menswear designer (as well as choreographer and motion director) from northeast London. He walked with Fashion East for three seasons before releasing his first solo collection early last year. The story behind his debut collection is described as ‘one of self-acceptance’, in relation to Nash’s own masculinity, softness and sexual identity.
Cecile Tulkens is the menswear designer who dresses East London in knit suits. Her work combines mesh with armor, through delicately woven pieces that take hundreds of hours to create. For her BA CSM collection, Tulkens cast the local Orientals from the pub she worked in to model her designs—her contact can be found on a beer mat. Her precision in work is handcrafted in its truest form.
Fashion designer and artist, Jawara Alleyne graduated from Central Saint Martins’ Masters in 2020 before walking the runway with Fashion East. His work draws on his own experiences as a queer black man who grew up between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. “Being gay in any Caribbean country can be an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous experience,” he told a 2020 publication. Alleyne also hints at camp ideas through references to pirates and sorcerers, alongside nods to Rastafarians and musicians. as Lee “Scratch” Perada.
Upon graduating in 2020, Christopher Kane asked Joseph Bates to photograph and style himself for the brand’s resort collection. Having studied Fashion Communication at CSM and helping Dazed Editor-in-Chief Ib Kamara, Bates works as a photographer and stylist, but now focuses on women’s fashion. Through drawings (all made from his fourth Green Lanes) that recall Christian Lacroix of the 1980s, Bates explores solipsism, nihilism and sentimentality.