Fashion is sometimes seen as a playground for gay men. But the world it’s as diverse as the fabulous LGBTQ+ community itself. Take a stroll through LGBTQ+ hubs like Chelsea or the Castro, and you’ll see the vibrant tapestry of styles and identities.

Fashion legends like Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, and Oscar de la Renta have made their mark, and interestingly, they’re straight. But remember, not so long ago, being openly gay was a crime in many places, and that included the glitzy world of fashion. Until the swinging 60s, many gay designers had to work their magic in secret, keeping their true selves hidden in a world that didn’t want to accept them.

So, let’s strut down the fashion runway and tip our hats (or should we say, our chicest berets?) to the 15 greatest gay fashion designers.

15. Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler in 2019
Thierry Mugler in 2019 (Photo: YouTube)

Back in the ’70s, the world of fashion got a fabulous injection of glam courtesy of Thierry Mugler. He wasn’t just any fashion designer; he was one of the gay fashion designers who brought the “glamazon” look into vogue. Fast forward to the ’80s and ’90s, and Mugler was still setting the style stage on fire.

His influence lives on after his death in 2022, through the fashion-forward celebrities of today, like Beyoncé, Cardi B, and Kim Kardashian. Talk about a legacy!

Gayest moment: Three words: Diana. Fucking. Ross. The legendary diva’s daughter, Tracee Ellis Ross (of blackish and Girlfriends fame) was a model at the time and Mom decided to strut her stuff on the catwalk in a catsuit and a kitten heel. Purrfection.

14. Isaac Mizrahi

Gay fashion designers: Isaac Mizrahi walks the runway at his Collection presentation for Fall/Winter 2010 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on February 18, 2010 in New York

From Isaac Mizrahi‘s early days growing up surrounded by fashion to his formal training at Parsons School of Design, Mizrahi’s career has been nothing short of remarkable. Known for his quirky designs, he’s earned his spot as one of history’s most celebrated gay fashion designers, earning prestigious awards including the Perry Ellis Award and the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the Year.

But Mizrahi’s influence extends beyond clothing; he’s also excelled in costume design for dance, theater, and film. With a wide-ranging impact covering haute couture, housewares, footwear, and fragrances, Mizrahi’s legacy is one of versatility and creativity.

Greatest moment: 1994’s Unzipped — one of the best fashion docs — chronicled a young Mizrahi as he put together his fall 1994 collection, with the help of every big super of the moment, including Lady Deathstare herself, Linda Evangelista.

13. Michael Kors

Gay fashion designers: Nina Garcia, Jessica Simpson, Michael Kors, Heidi Klum at New York Fashion Week Project Runway season 8 finalist fashion show September 9, 2010 in New York, New York

Michael Kors, the maestro of style in the realm of gay fashion designers, has crafted a legacy as enduring as his iconic designs. Since the birth of his eponymous brand in 1981, Kors has been a namesake in luxury accessories and ready-to-wear fashion that effortlessly blends sophistication and modernity. His creations grace high-fashion cities from New York to Tokyo, proving that Michael Kors is more than a designer; he’s a global style ambassador.

In a world where fashion trends come and go, Michael Kors remains an ever-glowing beacon of timeless chicness, proving that, in the world of style, some things are just ageless – much like his stunning collections.

Gayest moment: Kors brought his suntanned snark to living rooms all across America when he was a judge on Project Runway, at times being the most stylish thing about an entire episode.

12. Patrick Kelly

Gay fashion designers: Oliveiro Toscani (Italian, 1942–present). Patrick Kelly Fall 1988 Collection. Source: Dazed
Oliveiro Toscani (Italian, 1942–present).  Patrick Kelly Fall 1988 Collection. Source: Dazed

Raised by his grandmother, who had a knack for unconventional button arrangements, Patrick Kelly’s designs exuded playful irreverence. He kickstarted his fashion journey at Jackson State University, then whisked himself off to New York, seeking fame. But it was in Paris where his “Patrick Kelly Paris” collection sashayed into the limelight, turning heads and raising eyebrows in the fashion world.

Unapologetically confronting racial stereotypes with a sprinkle of humor, Kelly fearlessly reclaimed and repurposed racist iconography, turning it into a tool for change. And his runway shows? They were nothing short of vibrant celebrations. While his career was cut short by his battle with AIDS, his legacy inspires future generations of gay fashion designers to break boundaries.

Greatest moment: Patrick Kelly made history as the first African-American and American elected to France’s prestigious Chambre-Syndicale, the industry that oversees French ready-to-wear fashion.

11. Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Otto Lagerfeld at the entrance of the Fendi's showroom to attend the Fendi fashion show during the Milan Fashion Week.

Karl Lagerfeld, one of the iconic gay fashion designers, embarked on his fashion odyssey in the 1950s, contributing his talents to renowned houses like Balmain, Patou, and Chloé. In 1983, he assumed the role of Creative Director at Chanel, where he orchestrated a remarkable transformation, overseeing everything from cutting-edge collections to captivating advertising campaigns.

Lagerfeld’s magic touch wasn’t limited to Chanel. His unmistakable image featured snow-white hair, sleek black sunglasses, fingerless gloves, and crisply starched detachable collars, cementing his status as a fashion legend. Lagerfeld continued to inspire the world of fashion and art, despite having some rather questionable opinions, until his passing in 2019.

Gayest moment: Before Uncle Karl lost all the weight and his ability to smile, he was a coke-loving queen that we wouldn’t mind bumping into at the bar.

Photo Source: Vintage Everyday

10. Kingsley Gbadegesin

Kingsley Gbadegesin, a fresh face in the fashion scene, represents a new era of gay fashion designers. As a first-generation Nigerian-American, he’s the driving force behind K.NGSLEY, a brand that emerged in 2020 and quickly captivated the LGBTQ+ community that features a wide range of fashion items, from ready-to-wear collections to prep-inspired jewelry, footwear, and swimwear.

Gbadegesin is not just reshaping the fashion landscape but also challenging societal norms as a tireless advocate for Black and Queer liberation. His work goes beyond clothing, aiming to create a more inclusive and just future for the communities he represents and supports.

Gayest moment: When being honored by Business mag, Gbadegesin said, “I’m always giving back, I’m never not. It’s in everything I do, it’s in how I move, it’s in how I breathe, it’s in how I operate. It’s both on-screen and off-screen. It’s such a core part of what I do. Mother GIRL, is always here for THE GIRLS!”

9. Calvin Klein

Gay fashion designers:  Drena De Niro and Calvin Klein attend Vanity Fair Party at Tribeca Film Festival at State Supreme Courthouse on April 27, 2011 in New York City, NY

Calvin Klein, a titan of gay fashion design, proves that style knows no bounds, just like his legendary waistbands. His daring designs and iconic underwear campaigns didn’t just redefine fashion; they rewrote the rules.

Plus, as an openly gay figurehead in the industry, Klein not only championed chic minimalism but also helped pave the rainbow-colored runway for LGBTQ+ voices in fashion. His legacy is as enduring as his classic pieces, ensuring that his name will forever be synonymous with style and queer empowerment.

Gayest moment: His public shenanigans with Nick Gruber aside, Klein pretty much invented “designer underwear” and gave us all the gift of Mark Wahlberg (and countless other men stripped down to their Calvins) groping himself — sending confusing signals to little boys all around the world.

8. Valentino Garavani

Valentino Garavani at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party at Sunset Tower on February 24, 2013 in West Hollywood, California

One of the fashion world’s most notable gay fashion designers, you know this powerhouse as simply “Valentino“. Embarking on his stylish sojourn in the City of Love at the tender age of 17, Valentino Garavani crafted a couture saga that would redefine elegance.

Teaming up with architect Giancarlo Giammetti in 1960, they wove the iconic Valentino Red into the fabric of fashion history. This fiery hue became their hallmark, gracing the likes of Jackie O., whose penchant for Valentino’s creations elevated him to celestial sartorial status.

With an air of superstition and a flair for the timeless, Valentino Garavani has left an indelible mark, painting the town red and redefining chic.

Gayest moment: Not just content with dressing the world, Valentino took a star turn himself, appearing in “The Devil Wears Prada” and making the fashion scene snicker.

7. Jason Wu

Jason Wu, a shining star among gay fashion designers, embarked on his creative journey from Taipei to the world’s most coveted runways. From an early age, his artistic inclinations were nurtured by his mother, who imparted the skills of pattern cutting and sewing.

Wu’s passion for design blossomed, leading him to create exquisite fashion dolls and later to study at New York City’s Parsons School of Design. He interned with fashion maestro Narciso Rodriguez, whom he revered as his role model, and in 2006, he birthed his clothing line, known for its distinctive feminine aesthetic.

Wu swiftly gained acclaim, attracting Manhattan’s elite and even capturing the attention of the former U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama, whose endorsement catapulted him to fashion stardom.

Gayest/Greatest moment: Wu’s impact transcends clothing, as he contributed to queer culture through a line of RuPaul dolls, firmly establishing himself as a luminary in the world of fashion.

6. Gianni Versace

Italian author Mario Biondi interviews famous stylist Gianni Versace in his house. Milano 1990
Italian author Mario Biondi (right) interviews famous stylist Gianni Versace (left) in his house. Source: Wikipedia

Gianni Versace, the original “Don of Design,” redefined flamboyance in fashion. From humble beginnings watching his mom stitch, he catapulted into a world where excess was the only acceptable currency.

With designs that pushed boundaries and sometimes toppled them, he gave us PVC fantasies, bondage chic, and silver-mesh dreams. His fashion shows were more rock ‘n’ roll than runway, with supermodels strutting like rockstars. Versace didn’t just design clothes; he created fantasies, and his boutiques became temples for the fabulous.

Tragically, his sensational reign was cut short by a murderer’s bullet, but his legacy, like his designs, remains timeless.

Gayest moment: Versace’s legacy lives on through his sister and in any number of rap songs, but nothing will ever quite top that moment in the cinematic milestone, Showgirls.

5. John Galliano

The fabulous phoenix of the fashion world, John Galliano through history as one of its most captivating gay fashion designers. Born in Gibraltar, Galliano’s early life was a cultural cocktail that would later infuse his designs.

From his days as a Central Saint Martins prodigy, he catapulted into haute couture stardom. He even graced Givenchy and Dior with his audacious creations. But, like any showstopper, he had his fair share of drama. His coup de grâce came after making some antisemitic slurs that were caught on tape.

However, fashion forgives, and Galliano’s encore at Maison Margiela proved that even the most scandalous couturiers can find redemption on the runway. His story is a testament to fashion’s boundless capacity for reinvention. In this world, even the most fabulous of falls can be followed by an even fiercer rise.

Greatest moment: Truly representative of that old motto: the higher they climb the harder they fall. Before Galliano’s racist incident, he was one of the unerring genii of the fashion world. His spring 2007 haute couture show for Dior remains one of our personal favorites.

4. Tom Ford

Tom Ford in a tuxedo at the 2022 Met Gala

Tom Ford: a fashion icon, cinematic virtuoso, and, let’s admit it – the man who ruthlessly revamped our wardrobes.

Hailing from Texas, Tom Ford’s journey is a blend of Lone Star charm and artistic intrigue. After toying with art and even trying his hand at acting, Ford dived into the world of style, getting in with fashion giants like Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. He then transitioned into directing, crafting cinematic brilliance with “A Single Man.”

Gayest moment: Always one to push the sexual envelope, Ford might have pushed a little too hard for some folks with a 2005 W Magazine editorial by Steven Klein. He buffs (NSFW) a model’s bare bum, bares his own assets and apparently partakes in what promises to be a gang-bang!

3. Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs attends DKMS annual gala 2022 at Cipriani Wall Street on October 20, 2022

Marc Jacobs: New York’s fashion dynamo, the maestro of chic, and a flag-bearer for gay fashion designers.

Born in ’63, Jacobs stitched his path from Parsons to global stardom. As Louis Vuitton’s creative commander from ’97 to ’14, he made haute couture hip-hop. But beyond the runway, Marc Jacobs life’s an open book, including his happily ever after with cutie-pie Charly Defrancesco.

Fashion’s never been the same, darling!

Gayest moment: The designer decided to get all dolled up for Vogue Magazine, showing us his go-to makeup look for a busy day.

2. Alexander McQueen

A luminary among gay fashion designers, he transcended boundaries and convention in the fashion world. Hailing from London’s East End, Alexander McQueen’s life was as extraordinary as his creations. Born in ’69, he soared from a Savile Row apprenticeship to global runway domination. His designs weren’t just garments; they were tales of history, romance, and rebellion. McQueen took Givenchy by storm as chief designer before birthing his own iconic label.

Behind the couture was a complex soul. In 2010, we lost this genius too soon to suicide. Yet, his avant-garde legacy lives on, forever influencing the realm of fashion.

Greatest moment: Following his untimely death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute mounted its most successful exhibit to date, the record-breaking Savage Beauty, which celebrated McQueen’s genius.

1. Yves Saint Laurent

Gay fashion designers: Man holding M Magazine le monde with Yves Saint Laurent fashion icon on the cover

Among the illustrious ranks of gay fashion designers, Yves Saint Laurent stands as an icon of haute couture. In his early 20s, he became the creative force behind the famed House of Dior. His debut collection for Dior in 1958, the “Trapeze Line,” was a sensation. Later, he embarked on his own line, revolutionizing fashion with his groundbreaking tuxedo jacket and the iconic women’s trouser suit.

Saint Laurent’s life was a blend of innovation and excess, marked by triumphant collections and personal struggles. However, his influence on fashion endures, a testament to the indelible mark left by this visionary designer. Beyond fashion, Saint Laurent ventured into fragrances and cosmetics, cementing his legacy as a multifaceted creative force.

Gayest moment: One would be hard-pressed to nail down the greatest moment in the illustrious career of Yves Saint Laurent. Still, his au naturel ad for his first men’s perfume, Pour Homme, in 1971 kind of cements the gayest moment. He’s literally offering himself up to men the world over (kind of NSFW).

Now that takes some tastefully obscured balls!

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Originally authored by Les Fabian Brathwaite, Riccardo Tisci’s future ex-husband/current stalker.

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