Gogo Graham Calls Attention to Trans Violence with Final Girl-Inspired Collection


Gogo Graham Calls Attention to Trans Violence with Final Girl-Inspired Collection


Fall ’16 Details (Photography: Kohl Murdock)

“Transgender” has become an unstoppable buzzword in fashion today, mindlessly exploited by brands as a means to cash in on the newfound profitability of inclusive marketing. What gets lost in this money-making machine is not only authenticity, but the overlooked narratives of trans individuals whose lives aren’t as easy as a catwalk, enveloped by cameras—a glossy photoshoot spread across social media.

Brooklyn-based designer Gogo Graham is addressing this industry misfortune firsthand, reflecting on her own trans femme experience and creating clothing for other trans people in the context of high fashion—a world still actively operated by the heteropatriarchy. For her fall ’16 collection, a follow-up to last September’s stunning standout, Graham thought about the frequent aggression she’s faced for being a transwoman, which in many trans people’s lives, results in murder.

Models all stumbled down Graham’s runway, drenched completely in fake blood with blue tears cascading from their eyes in reference to the “Final Girl” horror film trope. This approach offered a theatrical excuse for Graham to force her audience to stare at and process battered, bloodied trans bodies for the duration of the production. Fashion shows seem exciting; trans casting seems progressive; but in reality, trans people are in danger everyday, regardless of what happens in the lustrous world of NYFW. Graham brought attention to this, all while elevating the diverse voices of her trans peers, from photographer Serena Jara to performance artist Sofia Moreno.

We met with Graham in her Brooklyn apartment this week to see the sophomore collection up-close and talk all things inspiration, community and impact.

Unknown-18Fall ’16 Runway (Photography: Oscar Ouk)

On inspiration: 

“I started thinking about what I wear in transit—what navigating those spaces can be like for trans-femmes. This one time, I was sitting in the train and some dude was taking my picture; it was obvious because I could see the reflection behind him. I confronted him and he became violent. He started misgendering me and threatening me with violence, saying things like, ‘I’m not obsessed with you; my life doesn’t revolve around you.’ I was like, ‘Who brought up obsession?’ It was a shitty moment on the train where I was like, ‘Wow, am I going to die for no reason?’

I thought about how not everyone’s had those experiences like I have, and for some girls, it’s worse; for trans women of color, they have to deal with gender identity and the intersectionality of white supremacy. It can be so intense getting from one place to another, just existing as we are. That’s where the blood came from—it’s something everyone understands, and a lot of people won’t understand something’s wrong until they see blood.”

On production: 

“I went to Goodwill to find colors, which usually happens before fabrications, before textures. I put color together in a way that tells a story. When I realized I was grabbing all these earth tones and dark reds—all this ivory and beige, I was reminded of a camping trip. My collection has an actual tent, turned into a gown. I started getting these slasher film vibes—started thinking about what you’d look like after a long moment in the woods. Did you escape everything? Did you cause it? It’s a ‘Final Girl’ moment. In movies, the woods is seen as this relatable, universally understood serene getaway. That’s a good stage for a horrifying moment because what’s scarier than taking your relaxing escape and turning it into your worst nightmare?”

Unknown-19Fall ’16 Runway (Photography: Oscar Ouk)

On community: 

“Community is really important to me. I want to be meeting up with trans girls all the time; I want to have conversations that let us empower ourselves. I usually have an idea and then present that to the girls, so that this entire project is for us to build community and see each other. I cast before I create the looks, so I’ll be thinking about all the girls individually and send them photos of inspiration or looks in progress. Maybe they’ll say, ‘Could you cover this more? Could you cut this a little shorter? Make that slit higher?’

Everyone’s different, and that’s what’s really difficult about what I do. For me, these differences are really important to address. I don’t want my models to feel like vessels, I want them to feel empowered. They’re not faking it if they look vibrant on the runway—it’s just how they feel, and sometimes it’s really hard to feel that way. I work until the clothes make my models feel amazing.”

Unknown-20Fall ’16 Runway (Photography: Oscar Ouk)

On heteropatriarchy:

“What I do is a lot of reconstruction. I cut open things in a Frankenstein-type way. The kinds of shapes that end up in the section labeled ‘men’s’ in department stores, that’s where I like to take from and fuck up because I’m interested in doing that to the structure of masculinity and heteropatriarchy, in general. That’s what I want to dismantle, which obviously can’t happen just by cutting up clothes. But I think that if you’re taking something that’s meant to be upholding agents of heteropatriarchy and destroying them, then you’re committing a direct, explicit act of violence toward that structure. That’s what I’m doing.”

On impact: 

“If someone sees this collection and thinks, ‘Wow, I’m not going to kill myself today and my dysphoria is not so crazy today because these girls are looking like that,’ then that’s cool to me. That’s what I’ve always wanted, to see things that make me keep going. That’s all I can do—put the show together, so all these girls can be in one place at once and have that be a gathering of all of us. That’s the most important part. People can interpret that in so many different ways and they will, and some of these perspectives will be fucked up and really stupid, but in the end, that’s not important. It’s about us physically being there and talking to each other—looking at each other and being in each other’s presence.”

Keep Reading: ‘Gogo Graham’s Stunning  SS ’16 Collection was All About the Girls’