“When it comes to Pride month, June is like December and we are Rudolph,” designer Curtis Cassell explains to PAPER. “Everyone seems to want to talk to the freaks.” The designer is alluding to corporations, of course; The banks and brands of all sorts who seemingly go through a rainbow metamorphosis this time every year to express their so-called allyship. They pump out rainbow apparel, often very bad, and call it day.
As the designer behind Queera, a New York-based luxury brand that specializes in avant-garde wedding and ready-to-wear pieces, Cassell wanted to pay homage to LGBTQ+ icons throughout history in a manner that feels bold but tasteful. “People enjoy music by queer people and glamorous things by queer people but, at the end of the day, nobody seems to want to talk about the queer people behind them. This manifested into three neutral coats built around classic Mackage silhouettes. “I had iconic fashion and LGBTQ+ moments in mind. Everything from Cinderella’s transformation into her ballgown, to moments in the film,” Cassell says.
While they are technically a part of a whole collection, the three pieces are starkly different. It is perhaps their beige colorway, a specific choice to make the collection feel “a bit antique,” that is the most obvious common thread between them.
See, the three coats seem to tell different and separate parts of queer history. There’s a short corset puffer coat that is layered with sheer organza silk over it like an ethereal robe. Here, Cassel nods to historic fashion brands helmed by queer people, such as Alexander McQueen and Balmain.
The second coat champions the era of “queer counterculture” and the more “rebellious” side of history with Elton John and the Stonewall riots in mind. The classic motorcycle torso is bedazzled in crystals and feathers protrude outward from the coat’s shoulder.
Lastly, there’s a coat that fits more like a cape. Towards the hem, the cape is adorned with tassels and jewels, and is accompanied by a headpiece that resembles a flapper head cap. This alludes to 1920s glamour, and Liberace who, although never truly claiming to be queer, is very much a part of queer history.
“The collection is inspired by queer people, and I wanted to bring awareness and visibility to queer people’s contributions to culture throughout history. People like Elton John, Judy Garland, and Freddie Mercury were all in mind,” Cassel says. “I wanted to stay away from color and wanted the collection to feel like black and white photography. You’re forced to take a closer look at the content of the material.”
While Mackage’s decision to champion a queer designer this Pride Month was a step in the right direction for queer allyship, the brand is also taking it another step further.
Homelessness in queer youth is an ongoing epidemic, with almost 40% of homeless youth also identifying as LGBTQ+. With this in mind, the three pieces will be sold at a live auction on June 16 and in person. Proceeds made from Cassell and Mackage’s collaboration will go directly to Trinity Place Shelter, the only long-term shelter in New York City where LGBTQ+ youth and young adults may stay for up to 18 months. Here, people have the time needed to stabilize while receiving the care and support necessary to exit the cycle of homelessness.
In a black and white video for PAPER, Cassell briefly introduces the collection with Mackage and himself. He confesses that he avoided fashion design out of fear of looking “too queer.” Other forms of design seemed more “masculine.” Fashion, however, eventually prevailed.
“Fashion found me,” he says. “Fashion turned into this empowering vehicle in which I can express myself. And through that, I find myself inspiring other people to express their own individuality.”
When you have a collection that’s by queer people, for queer people, and in honor of queer people, how could rainbows and glitter be the only option to show off your pride?
This article is a sponsored collaboration between Mackage and PAPER