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Gogo Graham AW16
Backstage at Gogo Graham AW16Photography Joshua Woods

Gogo Graham is addressing trans violence via fashion

In a powerful statement, the designer sent models drenched in blood down the runway of her AW16 show

TextJake HallPhotographyJoshua Woods

“My hair extensions became swords, and my eyeshadow, the warpaint.” These were the words spoken by a disembodied voice that marked the beginning of Gogo Graham’s AW16 show. It transpired that the artist behind these words was Aurel Haize Odogbo, who wrote and performed the powerful monologue that set the scene. The impact of this monologue was intensified when the first models appeared on the runway, their clothes slashed and their bodies drenched in blood. Naturally, the blood transcended mere aesthetics. It was emblematic, a reminder of the alarmingly high rate of fatalities within the trans community.

“We are being killed for existing,” explained Graham. “The fake blood is representative of the real blood being spilled.” The atmosphere was intense, claustrophobic, almost uncomfortable; the reality was that Graham was not only creating a collection designed specifically to cater to trans women (the designer has, in the past, spoken of giving free clothes to her trans friends), she was also highlighting the issues that continue to affect the community. This in itself makes her an anomaly in a fashion world that allows trans visibility but often falls short in giving the same platform to its problems.

“We are being killed for existing. The fake blood is representative of the real blood being spilled” – Gogo Graham

“My main source of inspiration this season was the diverse experiences that trans femmes face existing in a world in which violence against trans femininity is the norm.” Graham’s words succinctly explain the message behind Odogbo’s monologue; for her friends and muses, clothing is more than just fabric. It becomes armoury, a kind of identity that facilitates empowerment. Crucially, Graham speaks from experience. She implicitly understands the trans community because she speaks from within it, looking for inspiration amongst her own friendship circle when casting shows. 

Personality is key within Graham’s shows, as is the promotion of young talented transwomen. The show’s impressive set was designed by transwoman Dein Mare, featuring four baseball cases draped in white satin – a reference to the white satin glove that transwomen are often given to wear during fertility preservation, when they must masturbate to harvest their sperm.

As for the soundtrack, musician Jade – also an upright bass player from Brookline, Massachussetts – bore in mind the individuality of Graham’s models when composing the piece,  which can be heard in full below. A distinct mix of spoken-word (performed by a handful of models from the show) and electronica, the music was characterised by a slow, repetitive throb. Explaining her decisions, Jade cited an inspiration from video game soundtracks, whose recurring nature makes them malleable; shaped by the stories and the imagery that accompany them. This logic translated neatly into the collection – “I felt that the clothes, the models and their voices would be shaping the music, more so than the other way around.”

Perhaps against the odds, Graham’s unique brand of trans couture is beginning to resonate. Her work has attracted critical acclaim and, as a result, her presentations continue to grow in size and scale – while SS16 featured only a handful of models, this season’s cast was almost double in size. As the designer’s profile grows, so does her platform. In an industry increasingly concerned with the commercial, Graham’s blood-spattered politics are provocative but refreshing; she’s creating clothing purely to empower her friends, accidentally establishing a career in the process.