Since the early 20th century, gay men, both out and closeted, have worked as some of the world’s most influential fashion designers and started some of the most important fashion houses.

Cristóbal Balenciaga (b. 1895), who started the Balenciaga brand, was gay but remained private about his sexuality for his entire life. His long-time partner, Franco-PolishmillionaireWładzioJaworowski d’Attainville, set up the fund for him to start the house. After d’Attainvilledied, Balenciaga’s following collection was designed entirely in black to mourn his loss. The French fashion designer Christian Dior (b. 1905) was another hugely influential fashion designer of the 20th century.

Dior never married nor openly identified as a gay man, however, hewasknown to frequent the gay cultural scene in Paris and was infamously described by Coco Chanel as never having intimately “known” a woman. Yves Saint Laurent (b. 1935), also regarded as being among the foremost fashion designers of the twentieth century, was openly gay; his long-time partner was Pierre Berge. Gianni Versace (b. 1946), was an Italian fashion designer and founder of Versace.

A young generation of gay men gained prominence in the fashion world during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Tom Ford (b. 1961) founded his eponymous brand Tom Ford in 2005 and stated that he realized he was gay as a young man visiting Studio 54 in the 1980s. Alexander McQueen (b. 1969), who was also openly gay, founded his own label Alexander McQueen in 1992 and was recognized as a fashion prodigy for his revolutionary designs.McQueen said he realized his sexual orientation when he was six years old. In 2000, McQueen had a marriage ceremony with his partner George Forsyth, a documentary filmmaker, on a yacht in Ibiza. McQueen died by suicide in 2010, shortly after the death of his mother. In recent years, gay men have continued to produce some of the most influential fashions in the world, including by designers such as Jeremy Scott (b. 1975), Jason Wu (b. 1982), and Alexander Wang (b. 1983).

In the 20th century, gay men were among the Western world’s most influential and prolific artists, writers, and dancers. In the United States by the mid-century, James Baldwin (b. 1924) was considered one of the best writers of his generation. His work, including Giovanni’s Room (1956) dealt openly with homosexuality and bisexuality at a time when sex between men was still illegal throughout much of the Western world. Other major artists of Baldwin’s generation, including Robert Rauschenberg (b. 1925) and Jasper Johns (b. 1930), were less open about their sexuality, and even made fun of other young gay artists of their generation, such as Andy Warhol, for being too feminine.

In the world of New York dance, Alvin Ailey (b. 1931) fused theater, modern dance, ballet, and jazz with black vernacular, and his choreographic magnum opus Revelations is recognized as one of the most popular and most performed ballets in the world.


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