Individual stories; universal experiences.
Sometimes the former coalesces into the latter for people who live their lives, or part of their lives, within various communities and subcultures. As Pride Month continues toward the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a great deal of celebratory fervor has focused on the phenomenal strides made by the LGBTQ community, its denizens for so long shunned from essential elements of mainstream culture. As recently as the 2008 presidential primaries, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton claimed to be against same-sex marriage. (They made public reversals in 2012 and 2013, respectively.) Today, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, after the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling. The rapid-fire changes, Stan Herman says, “are seismic.”
Stan is one of a quartet of designers who gathered last week for a cross-generational roundtable on Pride and LGBTQ issues. Now in his “90th year,” and six — or is it seven? — decades into his career, Stan is as engaged as ever as a designer. He’s a walking, talking, tennis-playing history of the modern American fashion industry, including its longtime safe-haven allure for gay male creatives and the devastation wrought by the AIDS crisis beginning in the early eighties.
Daniella Kallmeyer and Wes Gordon are both 32. (Until tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Daniella!) She became a designer because she couldn’t find enough of the clothes she wanted, clothes designed “not necessarily for a male gaze,” and recently opened her first store, on Orchard Street. Despite the supposed open-mindedness of the era in which she grew up, Daniella’s sexual orientation was an issue for her success-oriented Jewish parents: Would she be taken seriously as a businesswoman? Didn’t she want kids?
Wes heard no such concerns at home, where he was encouraged to play with Barbies and go out for the school musical if that’s where his interests led. Eventually, those interests took him to Carolina Herrera, where he’s now creative director.
Adam Lippes launched his luxury brand in 2013. Though not political in his design approach, for his recent resort collection, Adam took inspiration from the British painter Hannah Gluckstein, who as a young woman decided to live life as she pleased, mostly as a man. A decade older than Wes, Adam found his parents’ liberalism challenged by his sexual identity. “Gay was wrong,” he says.
That’s skeletal perspective on the four thoughtful, articulate people who assembled at the Fairchild office last week for a conversation in front of a small audience of WWD staffers. (I realize there were gaps in voices in the panel, the result of tight organization time.) Stan, Daniella, Adam and Wes were compelling, engaging with candor and passion in dialogue that covered a great deal of territory, while leaving so much more to discuss. Pride Month is now. Pride issues continue. So should the conversation.
The discussion here is an edited from the full session, on video on WWD.com.
WWD: I asked all of you to think about this and to give us a brief statement on what the Stonewall anniversary means to you. Obviously, Stan, we have to start with you.
Stan Herman: It’s good these days. I’m being “started with.” I’m the Ancient Mariner, the one who has been around the longest….I’m in my 90th year. And I’ve been in this industry since the Fifties and I’ve known everybody since that time.
WWD: That means that you were a functioning adult at the time of the Stonewall uprising.
S.H.: Oh absolutely. I lived around the corner. I come from the gay world of when you went to the movies in the Thirties and Forties, you watched a man named Franklin Pangborn sashaying around and making a fool of himself, until the era of Liberace where you danced to his silly music. And now I’m living in the time of Mayor Pete [Buttigieg, a 2020 U.S. presidential candidate]. How extraordinary. Our life has changed.
I have a very keen eye about what has happened to our industry over the years, how it reacted to AIDS, how the designers themselves reacted to it. I had three fabulous assistants who died from the disease, two of whom I kept at my apartment. [His voice cracks.] Sorry. I kept at my apartment until the time they had to go. It was an extraordinary time.
I was at the first meeting in New York City at [activist] Larry Kramer’s house when we discovered that there was such a thing [as HIV and AIDS]. We didn’t even know what to call it at that time. The rooms were moved, all the furniture was moved out and all the heavy hitters who were involved with the gay world, and I was, were invited, and we sat there and watched a man named Dr. Friedman-Kien talk about this “gay cancer.”
WWD: The first time I heard of it, that was the term I heard.
S.H.: Well it was Kaposi sarcoma. Everybody had lesions. I had just stopped smoking, and everybody was still smoking, and the room filled with so much smoke that I had to leave. And so I walked out with another designer, whose name I will not mention, and he said to me, “Oh, it’s never going to happen to us. It’s strictly a Fire Island problem.”
Which was, of course, we know not. I can go on and on, I shouldn’t. But again. my credentials are that I was the chair of GMHC [Gay Men’s Health Crisis], I was on GMHC’s board for 10 years. I was the head of the gay organization that was formed out in Southampton on the East End called East End Gay Organization. I did the first fund-raiser for AIDS out in Southampton, called Take Off. I also was the head of 10 fund-raisers year after year, the first opera gala. So I’m very much involved.
WWD: I do want to go back and ask you if the Stonewall anniversary to you is most closely associated with AIDS or broader issues. But let me get there. First, Adam, on what it means to you.
Adam Lippes: I moved to New York in 1995, and Stonewall was a gay bar in a gay area. I didn’t understand the impact of it until last week when I watched PBS. That I didn’t even understand, maybe because I didn’t live it…I was young, I was 20. I didn’t even understand the life that gays were living before Stonewall. I knew it wasn’t accepted. It wasn’t accepted when I was growing up, but it wasn’t this…
WWD: One of the reasons that I’m so happy that you’re all here is to hear from Stan to Adam, that generational difference. And then we’ll hear even more so from Wes, who is younger, and Daniella who is younger and a woman. And that difference is something that you [the mostly twenty- and thirtysomething audience] can’t possibly comprehend. Anyway, go ahead.
A.L.: I think that it’s clear that Stonewall represents this incredible coming together and fighting with bravery, groups of people to fight for change. I mean, it led to inclusivity not only in the gay community but in New York as a whole. New York is the most inclusive city in the world now. It also, in today’s day and age, scares me because these long-fought battles are tenuous, and they can step back any moment, and we’re seeing it today. So that’s what Stonewall really means to me today.
Daniella Kallmeyer: Well, to your point [Adam], the impact of Stonewall. It was a gay bar in a gay neighborhood, but the more that you read up on what was going on during that time…
WWD: At what point did you first hear about it?
D.K.: When I was coming to New York as an 18-, 19-year-old to explore fashion and theater and those kinds of things, I was sneaking into gay bars in that area. So that neighborhood was very impactful for me. And so even there being a Stonewall, even there being a Duplex, even there being a Cubbyhole. That was important to me — to know that I had a place somewhere. But Stonewall, historically, I didn’t really understand. Even Act Up [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an activist group formed in 1987] I didn’t really understand until I really went back retrospectively to try to understand, who am I and how am I allowed to exist in this way?
Wes Gordon: Yes. I mean, very similar to Adam, I was born in 1986, I moved to New York in 2010.
WWD: From Atlanta?
W.G.: From London [where he attended Central Saint Martins]. So Atlanta to London to New York…and it was very much to me a club in downtown New York. I mean it’s exactly thanks to amazing people like [Stan] that we are able to be naive about something like that.…It’s only through research later in our lives as we’re investigating our own identity that we really learn the significance and incredible importance of what took place.
WWD: At your [suggestion Adam], I watched the PBS “American Experience” documentary on Stonewall….There were comparisons drawn obviously to the black civil rights movement and one person said, “This was our Rosa Parks moment.” Everyone is aware of who Rosa Parks is, and her tremendous contribution to civil rights, but subsequent generations don’t know [about Stonewall]. There’s been a lack of education on gay rights.
S.H.: Years ago, in the Forties and Fifties, there was a subculture. Gay life was a subculture. The bars were the most exciting place to go to. You lived a completely, I did anyway, a completely comfortable and confident homosexual life…but I had to split it in two. At night I was one thing, and in the day I was another. But I was out as a homosexual very, very quickly. But being out as a homosexual wasn’t such a big deal then because nobody cared, and if they cared they thought you were lying to them anyway. Do you believe, I was in the Army, I was in the Korean War. I was the guy who called cadence for the largest group of soldiers. And if I had told them I was gay they wouldn’t have believed it. That’s how they felt about it.
So we had our bars. And when people came into those bars we couldn’t touch, we couldn’t be with anybody, close to anybody, we couldn’t rub up against anybody. I was arrested twice. I was in jail once. And you know who bailed me out?
S.H.: Arnold Scaasi.
WWD: That’s wonderful. We have some young people here who may not know. Please identify Arnold Scaasi.
S.H.: Oh, he would die.
WWD: He was a very grand designer, right?
S.H.: Very grand designer who started about the same time I did. And I bailed him out, too, so it was OK…
So when Stonewall happened, people like myself who were comfortable with our homosexuality — I was also very successful. I had a great love affair with somebody. I was living as a married person before men and women could marry each other — and suddenly there were these people who stepped out of the background and fought back. And from the person I was, I became very political. I suddenly realized that we needed Act Up, that the only time things change is when we have people who are out there doing it for us. It’s awful to sit there and not do it yourself.
D.K.: If I can jump in here…[about] how I’ve been able to try to educate myself in this movement and what happened and what was going on before. As you said, it was sort of like the Rosa Parks moment….When you ask like, what does that moment, what does Stonewall mean to me, the night of the riot people were being ushered out if they were being released, if they weren’t being arrested, and for once people were standing out on the square, watching what was going on. And it wasn’t until there was a lesbian being arrested, being pulled out, who they were trying to shove into the police caddy, she kept trying to escape, they kept grabbing her and shoving her back in.
And she turned around to this crowd that was rallying and screaming and happy for everyone who was coming out and screaming for everyone who was being arrested. And she looked at the crowd and she said, “Aren’t you guys going to do anything?” And that was sort of like my chills moment. We watch, sometimes in rage, sometimes in passion, about what’s going on and it’s not until somebody says “Aren’t you going to do something about what’s going on?” That’s when people got fired up. That’s when the first brick got thrown.
WWD: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women of color, were two leaders of the Stonewall uprising. They’ll be honored with monuments, which feels like a major step. But still it feels that trans people have been behind in inclusivity and acceptance. Do you think that’s true and why?
A.L.: I think that we live in a very racially charged society, and people are afraid of what is different or perceived [as] different from them. The [progress] that the gay movement has had, thanks, of course, to people like you [Stan], is immense over the past 50 years, over the past 20 years. But it’s not until everyone is accepted for who they are that it matters.
WWD: Was coming out for the three of you an issue? Stan said it really wasn’t for him.
W.G.: Again, and I’m so lucky I was born in a generation where so many, so many generations before had done a lot of hard work. I was born to amazing parents who let me play with my sister’s Barbies when I wanted to play with my sister’s Barbies and let me be in the school play when I wanted to be in the school play. So I never — I am so, so lucky. And we live in such a bubble in fashion in New York. I wish everyone could have had an experience and parents like that. I never felt that pressure of, this is who I am but I have to squash that, or these separate identities.
A.L.: I was born 10 years before you and it was a very different acceptance. My parents are liberal, educated, but gay was wrong. It wasn’t even discussed, which made it even worse. But we had this undercurrent that it was simply wrong. Culturally, you made it wrong. The only gay people I knew were my mother’s hairdresser and people on TV, who even in the Seventies were just embarrassing themselves. That has changed so much.
W.G.: And even now, like now when you look at kids in New York, they don’t think anything about kids in their class who have two moms, who have two dads.
A.L.: Exactly, it’s incredible.
S.H.: Oh my God, it’s amazing.
WWD: What about for women? Has acceptance been later or differently in coming out?
D.K.: Unfortunately, I have to say that it definitely was later in coming [out] for a number of reasons. First of all, I grew up in a somewhat conservative Jewish household.
D.K.: Outside of Washington, D.C. My family are immigrants. The whole idea, I was like squashing the American Dream for them, you know? Immediately my parents went into, “Well, don’t you want kids? Don’t you want to get married? Don’t you want this normal life? People are not going to accept you. You have to present in a certain way if you want to be taken seriously as a businesswoman, a woman in fashion, you have to present yourself like a woman.” And so I have had waves of struggling with that acceptance and struggling with that coming out, not only in the Jewish community, not only in my family. But then also I feel like I’m still constantly coming out as a woman in fashion because that identity kind of doesn’t exist. It’s either, it exists as androgyny or women who were wearing men’s clothes or it’s just not spoken about, or we sort of mask it with these words like “independent” and “strong.” And it’s not assumed to be something that’s actually really powerful and part of my gut instinct as a woman and as a designer.
WWD: This isn’t a fashion discussion, but Daniella, earlier we talked a little bit about how being a lesbian has impacted your fashion and your approach to your design. So talk about that.
D.K.: I think I actually struggled when I launched my business, like where does this land, who is this for, what do I want to design versus how do I find my audience for this idea of women dressing women for themselves and for women and not necessarily for a male gaze. And I actually think once I embraced that, once I really embraced myself, my community, my identity, that’s when as a designer I really was able to find my own groove. Because it became very clear that that was not only instinctual for me, but that was a market that didn’t necessarily have a voice.
WWD: Again, this isn’t a fashion discussion, but fashion has certainly been perceived as a safe haven through the years. Have you perceived it as that, Stan?
S.H.: Well it was for me, yes, it definitely was for me. I also come from a Jewish background, and it was important for my family to be assured that I was successful. And once I became successful, they didn’t question anything about what my life should be or what it would be. But I slipped into my sexuality so easily. Not early but easily.
WWD: How old would you say you were when you acknowledged this?
S.H.: Well I acknowledged it when I was in the Army. When I came out of the Army I walked into a bar and I fell in love with somebody and we stayed together for 40 years.
WWD: That’s amazing.
S.H.: First sight. Great love affair. Forty years. That also made it much more possible for me to pass through the trough of AIDS. I went to Studio 54, but I knew to be home at a certain time. I did things that maybe I shouldn’t have done, but I kept myself balanced all the time. I watched Halston; I watched everybody running around. I saw what was happening and I was frightened. so I pulled myself back. [Fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick died in 1990 of Kaposi sarcoma.]
I started to talk before about some of my assistants. I had an assistant named Bill Robinson. I’m sure nobody knows Bill Robinson. Oh my god, how talented he was. Such a great human being. And [snaps fingers] like that, he went. Just like that.
WWD: We ran an obituary a week.
S.H.: The worst part about it was, even the major designers, and I’ll mention them, I mean Halston we all know, Perry [Ellis], Carmelo [Pomodoro], all these people, they died of AIDS but they didn’t want anybody to know. They didn’t want anybody to know. They left businesses in the lurch. They had people who worked for them who knocked themselves out and were left, “My God, what happened?” Can you imagine the fear they must have had? I feel sorry that they had that.
WWD: But it was a scourge and it was considered…
A.L.: People were scared.
WWD: When did you all first become aware of AIDS, and how did you grow up perceiving it?
A.L.: I became aware of AIDS late in high school. And I first became very scared of it in college. Aside from some anomaly things, I had girlfriends up until I was 20. So I’m a little bit of an anomaly in that sense. And sexually active and one fraternity night, I met a guy who I fell in love with, but I was very, very afraid then in college. And in fact, when my family found, out my father came to see me and said, “Our number-one fear is you’re going to die.” Because that was the [thought process]. You are gay, you are going to die.
WWD: I can understand that, having a very clear memory of that era. Of course that’s what he would think as a parent. Daniella, women come at it from a totally different perspective.
D.K.: Yes. I grew up doing musical theater. So in a similar way, that it’s much more acceptable, or more public, to be a gay man in theater and in fashion, I didn’t have that many gay women that I could identify with. So for me, gay community was gay men. And I actually, late in high school as well, had a theater teacher who had to announce to the community that he was HIV positive. And that was my first understanding.
S.H.: Did he have to or he chose to?
D.K.: That’s an interesting question. I think some of the parents became aware and they felt that morally it was something that people should know. I think most people were pretty understanding and accepting that this was a tragedy and not something that he was doing. But it was interesting the way that that community handled it. But again, like I said, my relationship to HIV and AIDS is through my identity as a gay woman being sort of shaped by the gay men in my life.
WWD: When did you find a circle of women friends?
D.K.: You know, when I moved to New York and had my first heartbreak and I had to go out and find the one night a month when a straight bar is turned into a lesbian bar because there are barely any lesbian bars anymore, which, that’s like a whole other discussion. And then the subculture within that subculture, even — I started hosting lesbian Shabbat dinners, like, this is also part of my identity.
S.H.: Really? That’s cool.
D.K.: It’s totally inclusive, and that’s how I feel. There’s a saying that I love that “diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusivity is being asked to dance.” And so to me, that’s about asking more people to dance. Hosting these dinners and saying, “this is all of my identities in one, but everyone is welcome.” And once more people are aware of how people either feel marginalized or feel accepted, that’s where we can be more helpful to each other.
S.H.: The thought just came to me. There were, and this sounds bizarre, there were some positive things that came out of this scourge. It’s an extraordinary thing. I’ll talk in the perspective of my time as the president of the CFDA. I was president for 16 years. It’s not easy to be president of a design group like the CFDA for 16 years…but we were, as a group, the last to respond to the AIDS crisis.
D.K.: Designers or the fashion industry?
S.H.: The fashion industry. The fashion industry was the last.
WWD: Who were the quick responders?
S.H.: Broadway Cares. DIFFA [Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS]. There were organizations. GMHC. All these things happened. And they kept coming to us, “What are we going to do? How are we going to raise money?”
A.L.: Were you the president during this time?
S.H.: [This was] just before. I became president in 1990. We finally got our act together and did something called Seventh on Sale.
WWD: It was amazing.
S.H.: Which was 1990 where everybody, designers who didn’t know each other, all came together. We bundled our clothes together, we folded them together. It was like going to camp up in the Catskills. It was the most extraordinary experience. So this gave us a mission. I will say this and I have never said it before, I think it’s what made the Council of Fashion Designers of America the strong organization it is today. Up until that point, it was like a fraternity and sorority for the privileged, those who wanted to go.
WWD: You know what? It did change [the CFDA]. I think you’re probably right.
S.H.: Completely changed it. Where there was something to do, something to believe in, somebody to hold onto. So there was some good that came out of this horror story for me.
A.L.: It also made the idea that gay is and gay exists a worldwide [notion]….It may have been horrible and we were all dying, but at least people talked about it so maybe that pushed it forward.
W.G.: But it also publicizes this idea of community. And I think community is so important. I think everyone spends their life, whether it’s based in religion or sexual orientation, looking for their community. And the idea that there is a community is so reassuring to people all over, whether they’re in Atlanta or New York, to see that there is a community of people like you, and they love each other and they fight for each other. And that’s so important.
WWD: You talk about community. You talk about all of your identities. Do you ever feel that the LGBTQ community — you’re all individual people and very, very different — but do you ever feel that you’re all sort of lumped together, even by well-meaning people?
S.H.: Sure. Sure. That’s not terrible.
W.G.: There are worse people to be lumped together with.
D.K.: I actually think that we could do more lumping. I think that there’s so much separatism within communities, within communities, within communities. And I think that the issues at large, they are for everyone. You talk about diversity and where [are] the voices of trans and black activists, and making sure that those people are invited to dance and not just invited to the party.
W.G.: But I think people love to oversimplify. It’s easy. We love to classify and we love to put people in boxes and label. But everyone is so much more complex than that. And everyone can wear so many different hats at the same time and have so many different components of who they are. You have to be really careful, whether it’s about any group or type of person, to understand the uniqueness.
A.L.: And different people, I think, rank how important being gay is to them. How do you describe yourself? Is it a lesbian woman, is it a designer woman, is it a woman who is Jewish.…Personally, me, I don’t lead with my sexuality; it’s just not what I do. That also could be a timing thing of when I was born, because a lot of the younger guys today, they certainly do because they’re just free to be who they want to be.
WWD: “Free to be who they want to be.” When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were vying for the Democratic nomination in 2008, both were “against” gay marriage. I always felt it was disingenuous. In 2012, Barack Obama came out in favor, and Hillary, in 2013. The culture has changed so quickly, on this issue in particular. Not even 10 years, but the past five years. Why now?
A.L.: Is it that the gay community is very tight and very strong and very vocal? And also a lot of them have been very successful so there is power now behind it, there is power behind this movement.
WWD: But the success and all of that didn’t happen in the past five years.
W.G.: No, but I think there is strength in coming out. You become more accepting of gay when someone with one degree of separation or under your own roof who you love is gay. And the more generations of children who have come out and the more parents who were maybe opposed to it at one point, but their love for their child supersedes that, the more accepting people get as a country. And the more that uncle suddenly is kind of OK with it…
A.L.: Isn’t it also the buying power, too? I mean, when you look at it, every brand has decided to be “Gay Pride Week.” It’s like, Father’s Day doesn’t matter anymore, it’s only gay pride that matters. It’s Hallmark all the sudden. But it’s just — they’re doing the research.
WWD: Daniella, you mentioned authenticity to me. Does it bother you all that you are perhaps a convenient and a very chic demographic to market to and to market in favor of?
W.G.: No, I think it’s fantastic.
D.K.: Yes. I go back and forth.
A.L.: Right. Go for it.
S.H.: I’m with him.
W.G.: Everyone’s marketed to.
A.L.: And I’m still not going to shop at your store [just] because you have a rainbow flag, let’s be clear.
S.H.: We do have a Petri dish now. You’ve got a guy out there running for the presidency of the United States of America. Mayor Pete. He represents a cross-section that is so incredible that people, their heads are swimming. They don’t even know…would that have ever happened before?
I was at my brother’s house two weeks ago, and he had the whole family there, swimming in the pool. And he’s sitting there and he’s looking at his grandchildren and he turns around to me and he said, “You know, three of my four grandchildren are gay.” And I said, “Yes, I know that. There’s nothing wrong with that.” And at one moment the young man in the pool starts to scream, “Oh my God! My mascara is running!”
WWD: Right on cue.
S.H.: I said to myself, how incredible that I should be able to live here. How incredible that I should walk down the street and see two guys or two women holding the hand of some beautiful young child. Oh my God.
W.G.: Yes, but I think it’s because of you. That is so easily forgotten. I’m married, I have a husband. And when we were dating everyone was saying, “When are you getting married?” And the fact that we live in that world — that’s entirely thanks to you….That’s something that we as a younger generation have to remember and be so proud of and celebrate.
A.L.: Because we didn’t fight for it.
W.G.: And we owe you a massive thank you.
S.H.: I’ll accept it.
WWD: So you feel you are aware of the debts you owe and the gratitude you owe?
A.L.: Yes, yes and our responsibility to make sure we don’t go back.
WWD: How do we do that?
A.L.: You have to keep aware and you have to keep fighting and you have to be careful that every little hit against it, hit against it, hit against it, suddenly it topples over before you even woke up and had your coffee.
S.H.: And we’re living with it now. I mean, we’ve got a big problem.
W.G.: Yes. But I think it’s to live a life of love. Not just for our own groups, but for every group. And the more we can lead by that example, whether it’s any group that’s feeling discriminated against, it’s so important.
S.H.: Can I ask you, when you decided to get married, what was the impetus?
W.G.: Because it felt like the natural next step in our relationship timeline and our progression. I was tired of being together for six years and introducing him as my boyfriend and vice versa, and having [people] think maybe we met two weeks ago when, in reality, we met when I was 23, so almost my whole 20s together….And the fact that that was even an option, and that people were coming to us before our engagement being like, “Come on, guys, when is it going to happen?,” like, that’s incredible.
WWD: How did you each feel when you heard that gay marriage had become legal?
A.L.: I had never thought I would get married or even wanted to get married. I’ve been with someone for six years who’s younger and wants to get married. But it filled my heart with such happiness. I didn’t think I would care, I really didn’t. I thought as long as we have the same rights, marriage doesn’t matter.
WWD: But if you don’t have the right to get married, then you don’t have the same rights.
W.G.: I probably would have gotten married regardless. But it makes you feel amazing to say that they don’t mind, that someone doesn’t mind.
A.L.: That it’s accepted.
D.K.: Yes. When you originally asked what does Stonewall mean to us, I think like DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] was in a way my generation’s Stonewall. It’s so important to acknowledge how we got there and not forget that and not allow ourselves to go back and not stop being grateful for that. But in a way, our generation, that’s what we experienced, that’s what we fought for. And we wouldn’t be fighting for that part of acceptance and that part of equality had we not had what came before it.
WWD: Stan, you were in a relationship for 40 years.
S.H.: Oh what a relationship.
WWD: Oh, we should all be so lucky.
S.H.: I was so lucky. I was lucky. He was a writer and an intellect and he introduced me to a world that I don’t think I would have known if it wasn’t for him. But what was interesting about our relationship, even though we were gay and, of course, we couldn’t get married, we became the head of the whole family. We were the ones that everybody wanted to come to our house for dinner. And to this day, and he has been dead 30 years now, his family are my heirs. I mean those are the people that…
WWD: They’re your family.
S.H.: Yeah, they’re my family.
WWD: Let me ask you about a couple of very specific events that have happened around the anniversary. Last weekend [June 14], Taylor Swift performed at Stonewall. She has been both praised and strongly criticized for stepping in and grabbing the moment. How do you all feel about allyship?
A.L.: I personally think that the more attention to this cause the better.
S.H.: I agree.
A.L.: If you are using it for your own gain, so be it, if it’s done well. It’s a gift with purchase…if she comes in and wants to draw attention to the cause in a positive way, and kids can see it and people who are not gay can see it, fans of Taylor Swift and think, “Oh, OK.” Go for it.
WWD: Anyone else?
W.G.: I think it’s awesome and I think we don’t want to create a world where people are afraid to do what’s right because of that criticism.
D.K.: Maybe I’m controversial. I have mixed feelings. I was at Stonewall when she was performing. And there was a mixed feeling in the room. Yes, it’s amazing that she performs. And I think it does bring attention from a wider audience…but then there’s also the feeling of why aren’t we giving a platform to our own during this momentous occasion, during this big anniversary party?
So I think it’s mixed. I think it’s just as important that someone like Taylor Swift, who has the camp that she does, is performing at Stonewall, but as long as they’re seeing it and they understand what that means. And I think it’s just as important that we and the people outside of our community are giving a platform to our own.
A.L.: Yes. And I would certainly hope one does not exclude the other. Because if it does then we have a problem.
S.H.: And historically, if you remember the moment in time that really solidified the gay movement in the minds of the world was when a guy named Rock Hudson was forced to come out. Suddenly that legitimized the disease. It was amazing.
WWD: The other event I want to speak to you about, a couple of weeks ago the police commissioner of New York [James O’Neill] formally apologized to the gay community for the police brutality during Stonewall and on other occasions. I personally don’t understand the culture of apology. This is a man in his 50s who was a child then and had nothing to do with the institution. And the people who were running the institution at the time have to be out of it by now. Can it be genuine or is it marketing, and how do you feel about it?
A.L.: It’s marketing and it is a feel good moment for the police department that probably fell on flat ears anyhow…that and a quarter aren’t going to buy me a cup of coffee.
S.H.: I mean, there are layers in all of these things. I’m the one that keeps going back…Larry Kramer…
WWD: Tell us who Larry Kramer is. Everyone may not know.
S.H.: Larry Kramer was the first president of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. He is a real radical screamer. He is a writer, an author. He’s still alive. And he’s the first one who called other people idiots because they didn’t understand what was going on. And a lot of the gay people themselves were frightened of Larry. They didn’t like the fact that he was outing them. And he would look at them and say, “Goddamn it, you’re going to be outed.”…[Kramer] doesn’t apologize for anything. And he wanted Reagan to apologize, He wanted Koch. Do you know that our mayor refused to understand that there was a plague here? Our great liberal, gay mayor?
WWD: Possibly gay.
S.H.: Not possibly! I knew the boys he played poker with, let me tell ya. Two priests, too. But apologies sometimes work and sometimes they don’t. But Larry is still here, still screaming.
WWD: What is the role of privacy? It seems hard today to imagine that somebody may not want to be identified as gay. But certainly back then…Stan, you talked about all the designers who did not want to come out with their illness. Is privacy OK? If I want to keep something private, [am I allowed]?
A.L.: We are in this Instagrammable culture of oversharing every single thing. I mean where I stand, privacy is so important. I don’t lead with being gay; I also don’t post my dog’s death on Instagram. I think we have a real lack of privacy going on that is self-done. However, when it is something like gay designers who didn’t come out and say it — and I’m sure there were a lot of layers there, too, a lot of reasons — [but] when there is something we have to, let’s say, admit to or cop to because it moves an important issue forward, I think as people a little bit in the public eye, it’s important to do it.
S.H.: Back in the Sixties, somebody else you probably never heard of, oh God, I’ve got a block with his name. But I was on this television show because they thought that I would come out as a gay person…
And I went to Gene, my lover at the time — I love that word, “lover,” not “my husband.” I said to him, “What should I do? Should I come out?” This is 1968. He said, “Of course, you have to come out.” At that point I was [designing] a lot of uniforms and I was doing all the uniforms for McDonalds and very, very high profile. And I said, “What if they find out?” He said, “So what?” And so I go on this program scared to death that he’s going to out me. And he never did.
A.L.: What would you have done had he?
S.H.: “David Susskind” was the name of the show…I definitely would have come out. I might have lost the McDonald’s contract.
D.K.: To that point, I think that there is a difference between privacy and fear. I think if you’re not coming out because you are scared of how that will be perceived or what that will do for your career, then, of course, you’re entitled to your privacy and you’re entitled to make that decision. But think of how many other people are also in that position. And what responsibility we may or may not have when we do have success, when we do have maybe a platform to do that from. Does that mean you have to post love notes about your lover or every milestone of your coming-out story? Not necessarily.
A.L.: And by the way, I think, more to that point, you be you. You just be you. If you want to publicize it, do it. If you don’t — if it’s important to the community and you still don’t want to do it, you have to be you.
W.G.: Right. I think there is a difference between fear and shame, and I think that’s an important thing, too. I feel so silly saying all these things because you [Stan] have so much more experience to speak about it, you’ve done amazing things. But I love my husband, I’m proud of him, I’m proud of my life and it’s not — there’s no shame. And if I want to keep that private, it’s just a decision about privacy in the world.
WWD: I’d like to talk about authenticity. Daniella, you brought it up when we spoke. Were you speaking about the Stonewall anniversary specifically or just in general?
D.K.: To everyone’s point, I think it’s actually an amazing thing. Fifty years ago we could have only dreamed that Chase Bank would have a giant [rainbow] flag painted across it. And, of course, we’ve got Levi’s and Gap and all these major corporations who now have diverse photo shoots. And I think that that’s so important in the way that it trickles down into culture, into consumerism. I just think it’s important to make sure that that’s not just the influencers and the face of the campaign but also that we’re giving voices behind those cameras, behind the designer tables, behind the buying offices, and make sure that everyone is being represented and that everyone can find — that’s how I became a designer. I just couldn’t find something that I felt could express who I was.
A.L.: I also wonder, to your point, there is so much marketing talk today, from luxury designers to mass brands, in our industry. When you read some of the talking points it’s sort of like, huh? And how much do we have to hold these brands accountable if they are using Pride Week, if they’re using gay issues? Don’t they have to be held accountable on some level?
WWD: Is there a measure for holding them accountable?
A.L.: I don’t know. How do we know what Gap is doing? Gap is probably doing great things, but how do we know what some other brands that are currently using us to market, to sell? How much does it extend beyond that flag in the window?
S.H.: When power is given to a group, and that’s what’s happening now, when power is given to that group there are certain things that they have to learn how to do. And I think that we’re just at the beginning of that growth process. I think the change is seismic now. In the last 10, 15 years, I never thought we would get this far. And you guys, it’s up to you, it’s not up to me. I’m not going to be around.
But we are obligated to hold everybody to be truthful. And I can only tell you, when you’re honest with yourself how good you feel when you go to bed at night. If you’re not, I find it difficult to live.
WWD: That sounds like a wonderful point to end on and for all of us to think about. I want to thank you all so much. Would you stay for a couple of questions?
David Moin [WWD senior editor, retail]: I was wondering what was it like just before the riots? What were the police doing and how were they making you feel?
S.H.: The police were our enemy. I mean, our bars were our bars. They were our safe haven. They were the place that we went to at night and touched each other and spoke to each other. And the police were just our enemy. And then, of course, we were pushed out into the streets. All the West Side Highway became the greatest cruising ground that ever happened. Bryant Park, which you’re around right now, was one of the biggest cruising places in Midtown Manhattan. But the police weren’t our friends.
Kali Hays [WWD media editor]: This is very illuminating and fascinating. I’m wondering if, looking forward, considering all the acceleration that’s been going on with recognition and rights and so on, if any of you foresee a time in the near future where it’s just like human rights as opposed to LGBTQ rights? Like, everybody is the same?
A.L.: That’s the big goal. I think that what happened at Stonewall did lead to more inclusivity in general because of the whole conversation. But, yes, that’s the big goal.
W.G.: I think at the same time, and I’m sitting here thinking about this based on the beautiful words Stan has said. What his generation did for us is incredible, and put us into an amazing place today that we could often think the big battles are won. And we’re in New York, in the United States of America. And there are so many places in the world globally that the battle has not even begun…
There is so much work to do…and that is really on us to not become complacent with how far we’ve come, thanks to Stan and his generation, but to really continue fighting and loving and supporting and doing everything in our power to help people around the world.
S.H.: But I have confidence in you. I have confidence in you. And you. And you. Everybody.
D.K.: Can I add to that? To exactly your [Wes’] point, I think it is important to not become complacent because I think what was going on during your [Stan’s] generation was fired up by riots and protests against Vietnam, for civil rights. The Civil Rights Movement is still something we are fighting for now. We can’t just say, “Oh we’re talking about LGBTQ rights. That means it’s time to move on.” We’re not done. I mean, we didn’t even mention there have been five or more trans black people who have been killed this month during Pride, and it’s hardly making headlines. We’re not done. We’re not ready to move onto human rights because these rights are human rights.
W.G.: We’re still so far behind. And to be sitting here having a conversation about do we want to be marketed toward or not is such a luxury.
D.K.: Such a luxury.
A.L.: Yes, a privilege.
W.G.: There are people in the world being killed.
W.G.: We’re so lucky that we’re sitting here saying are we mad if [a brand] is [marketing to us]. Like, that’s incredible that we are in that spot. And we have to remember that….And the progress that was made over the past 50 years I think was probably more than the previous several hundred years.
S.H.: Unbelievable. As I said, the change is seismic. It’s just amazing.