Growing up gay, I often felt like a side character to a bunch of straight protagonists. My high school's annual prom only heightened that feeling. Instead of sloppily making out to Emancipation-era Mimi on the dance floor like something out of Jane Austen, the best I could hope for on that night was some performative slow-dancing with a similarly single female friend, the two of us teaming up to mutually approximate the heteronormative prom fantasy that neither of us could achieve on our own.
That's why I'm so captivated by BCALLA's fall/winter 2016 collection, which premiered Feb. 12 on the label's Instagram account: It re-centers that otherwise normative prom fantasy on explicitly queer terms, terms that allow queer, trans, nonbinary, and otherwise marginalized people to reclaim center stage.
BCALLA is the brainchild of Brad Callahan, a 28-year-old fashion designer based out of his apartment in Brooklyn. Even if you don't recognize the name of the label, I can almost guarantee that you've seen Brad's clothing before; it has been worn by Juliana Huxtable, Azealia Banks, Lady Gaga, and, more recently, Miley Cyrus at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. He is currently working on RuPaul's Drag Race alum Pearl's Battle of the Seasons tour ensembles. (Pearl is also one of the models featured in BCALLA's fall/winter campaign, photographed by Michael Burk.)
But despite the big names attached to it, Callahan told me that BCALLA is, first and foremost, inspired by his community in New York and the people and aesthetics of the queer nightlife he's a part of. The same is true of the fall/winter collection, titled "La Vie En Rose," a lush pink prom night-meets-Valentine's Day fantasy catalyzed by a vacation spent listening to Grace Jones.
"I was on vacation with a bunch of friends, and we kept listening to 'La vie en rose' by Grace Jones, which made me romanticize my queer life and think about everyone going to a formal dance together," Brad told me over email. "There's an excitement about certain events in nightlife regarding what you're gonna wear and who you're going with, which [feels similar to] high school formals."
The clothing also draws inspiration from some aural and aesthetic nexus of '80s punk and New Romantic—Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Army of Lovers, and Danielle Dax in particular. Wearing the clothes are models Maya Monès, Melanie Gaydos, and Richie Shazam, along with Drag Race alum Pearl, painter George Lewis Mott, screenwriter Peter B. Staples, and musician NEOCAMP.
As for his own memories of prom nights past, Callahan told me that he recalls his experiences fondly. And despite my bratty navel-gazing earlier, I also remember having a fundamentally OK time at the proms I went to.
But we still live in a world where an openly gay honors student can be punished for desiring to wear a tuxedo to her senior prom, where a school will ban a student from homecoming simply for wanting to bring a date who's the same sex as he is. BCALLA's fall/winter fantasy might outpace reality by leaps and bounds, but at least having the fantasy makes that distance feel not so great.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.