All photos by Leah James

Inside an Exclusive, Mystical All-Trans Fashion Show

For the last several years, Gogo Graham has been building an underground empire with her clothing line designed exclusively for trans women. This week, her latest collection appeared in downtown New York City.

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Sep 16 2016, 4:10pm

All photos by Leah James

Nobody's as cool as Gogo Graham. The twenty-something trans girl's eponymous fashion line is covered by fashion elites like W magazine, but she and her work are ensconced in enigma: Graham's one-of-a-kind collections are not distributed or produced, and she ingeniously controls both media access to, as well as industry and public interest in, her work. Like all true alt-gods, Graham has a cult following of cool kids and New York art stars. At her latest show last night—behind a jewelry shop in SoHo—celebrities from the trans vanguard wore mystical gowns, wire bras, and re-done denim as they towered statuesque in a stone garden, like Grecian demigods born from their father's thigh.

"It feels really empowering to have this metal bra on my breasts that took me so many years to grow," said Kibele Selcuk, a Turkish-American trans woman and artist modeling Graham's work. Every piece Graham designs has been custom-made for the trans woman who models it. "Gogo honors the women she's dressing, and doesn't just use them as props."

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Graham became a media sensation in the summer of 2015, when Vice published an article declaring her clothing to be the first trans fashion line. One of the authors of that piece was Leah James, a trans woman, artist, and photographer who modeled in Graham's show that year, and who also photographed her show last night for this piece. James told me about the rarity of Graham's work: how it can be found in the wardrobes of select in-the-know stylists, though generally it's very elusive.

Unlike in most fashion shows, Graham's models did not walk a runway last night. Instead, they stood in circles of salt in the garden behind the shop, told to do whatever action they felt compelled to do—as long as they didn't leave the circle. Audience members were lined down the sidewalk. They were allowed to pass through the jewelry store and enter the garden to view the collection in groups of 15, with no more than five minutes to witness the work.

Stepping through the shop, into a narrow hallway, and out into the garden was like tunneling through a wormhole to another world. Trans girls stood, totally self-possessed, in ethereal dresses. The use of trans models in fashion can sometimes feel exploitative to trans women, but Selcuk told me that she's honored by Graham's clothing. "The fashion industry should stay away from othering trans women and making us look like this marketable adversary to womanhood," Selcuk said, adding that Graham doesn't do that at all. Graham's show felt as if you had gained access to a secret universe that is none of your business, where your presence is totally unnecessary. All of her shows feel like a privilege to attend.

She can't give her work to the public the way other designers have, because the clothing that she's making and the people it is made for have not historically been able to exist as part of the public. "The fashion industry needs to address their deep-rooted trans misogyny and overall misogyny if they want to integrate trans women, because our bodies are very political and you can't strip it down to a look," Selcuk told me. "Gogo does it perfectly."

Five minutes passed in the garden. Then a door opened behind the crowd, signaling an end to their time there. Viewers wanted to linger; they craved another ten seconds. But that's not how Graham works. They were pulled, as if by magic, right through the door they came from. On the street after the show, Graham told me that the limited time frame was aimed at cisgender people. Something happened before they arrived here, she told me, and something will happen after they leave. They want to know, she said, but they don't get to.

All photos by Leah James. Some photos NSFW.