Interview: Jillian Billard
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Meet Gogo Graham: the Texas-born, New York-based designer and artist who’s changing the face of fashion. Graham’s visionary designs are inspired by and made for people of the trans experience. Her distinctive, deconstructed designs are often made with the model in mind (many of whom are trans women)—which is likely why the garments appear to fuse naturally with each model’s personality and beauty. Sourcing all of her fabrics from thrift stores, Graham reimagines and reconstructs used materials, a process which she likens to a bird searching for nesting materials. We spoke to Gogo about her design process; collaborating with models to put together a look; and deriving inspiration from lived experiences.
Has fashion and style always been a major aspect of your life? Do you have any specific memories from your childhood where you became interested in wearable art, or expressing yourself through clothing?
Celebrating Halloween as a child was always really important for me. It was during those times when I first wore makeup and allowed myself to dress in ways that were different from what I saw to be socially acceptable for someone who looked like me on other days of the year.
Makeup and accessories seem to be a major part of your work––they are treated with the same importance as the garments themselves.
Accessorizing, personal decorating and beautification are very important to me. I think that like clothing, these objects add to a look because they are each their own building block in the process of taking full control of one’s appearance. I think they are powerful tools.
Where do you derive inspiration for your designs from? Do you usually begin with a concept, or are you more drawn to physical, visual signifiers?
I’m inspired by my own experiences and stories as well as those of my friends and loved ones. Usually I draw from media and imagery I consumed as a child to form the recurring shapes that might appear in my work.
Your designs really come alive and adapt to whoever is wearing them. It’s almost like an organic extension of each individual’s innate beauty. How do you collaborate with models when creating your looks?
I usually come up with a look and show sketches to the models if there is enough time. I often know models personally before I ask them to model for me, and I think that informs the shapes that I present to them, because I see how they like to dress themselves. I wait for approval and then start working. Some people care more than others about how they need to be presented in shows and I take that into account when putting everything together.
The relationship between my visual art and fashion design practices isn't totally clear to me I think because I don't necessarily see them as separate.
Your FW18 line was so stunning. Can you talk about your process of creating this collection? What inspired you to explore a polka dot theme?
I think I found one jacket with polka dots all over it while searching for fabric at the Goodwill bins early on in the process of putting together the collection. That sparked a cascade of events, as I became fixated on searching for polka dot items that would compliment it. That’s usually how it goes! I’m like a bird searching for nesting materials in that way.
Each of your lines is so unique, and yet there is this running theme that seems to be led by a fascination with deconstruction, printed patterns and texture. Can you talk a bit about these elements, and how they inform your practice?
I think this comes out of necessity. I don’t have access to expensive materials and sourcing pre-existing textile materials from older garments is very cost efficient. I think it’s also good to recycle these items.
Absolutely. This practice seems to be very in line with your visual art practice. When did you begin making visual art?
I started to get into visual art and other forms of creative expression in college. I think maybe the interest was always there, but I hadn’t really started to question and analyze my appreciation for beauty in that way until then.
How does your visual artwork relate to your fashion lines, and how do your sensibilities in each medium inform the other?
The relationship between my visual art and fashion design practices isn’t totally clear to me I think because I don’t necessarily see them as separate. People who work in each of these industries like to keep the distinction clear, but I don’t think reality works that way. I think the distinction only serves to allow the flow of capital within those industries to be more easily accessed and traced. I love making clothes and I love making sculptures, soundtracks and paintings as well. I don’t know if that clears things up, or makes things more unclear!