Exclusive: Gogo Graham Is The Trans Designer for Trans Girls
Gogo Graham introduces herself and immediately goes in for a hug, her blonde hair nicely tousled by the walk to Milk Studios. She has a wit and sharpness to her that keeps the conversation going. When I ask her the story behind the small clothes hanger tattoo she sports on her collarbone she replied,’Oh, just being young and careless. My sister said I needed a clothing tattoo if I was going to design.’ She’s been turning heads with her most recent collection Demona, the Resort 16 collection made by a trans girl, modeled by trans girls and photographed by a trans girl. Milk Made’s Jordan Mack sat down with the designer to talk about the collection, her switch from med school to fashion, and J-pop.
You put a lot of this line into the girls’ hands, designing clothing for them, letting them take the picture.
Well the cable release was Serena Jara’s idea. She’s an insane photographer. That’s a theme that’s continuous in her work. She’s always giving the cable release to people because you always know your best angle. When you’re ready to snap, it’s there. It’s completely intuitive.
A lot of attention was garnered with the Resort 16 collection. How’s that been?
Surreal. It was enough for Serena and I to be doing this with a bunch of trans girls, but now people want to interview us and talk to us, which is amazing. It’s really cool to get a platform that not a lot of other trans girls can take.
There’s obviously a difference when a cis person dresses a trans body. How do you feel it changes when it’s a trans person?
There a lot of cis stylist out there, not a lot of trans ones, but if you’re a cis person styling a trans body, that’s that context. I’m a trans girl, so when I style, I image styling myself. I know what things look cute on me, or what things give me an intense feeling of dysphoria. I can usually feel those things by putting it on my own body, but communication was also so important with the other girls. That was a huge part of it. The styling wasn’t just me. The first texts and emails were, ‘What do you like to wear to the beach?’ At first I was hoping for a cute little bikini resort collection. A few of the girls wanted that, but for the most part it was, ‘I don’t want that at all, please don’t put me in a bathing suit.’ It was cool because I forced to do something more suitable to them. They liked what they were wearing, felt better, so they looked better. I think it really shows in the photos.
I’ve notice a lot of influence from Japanese culture from the Chiyko and Onibaba collections.
Chiyoko was my grandmother’s name and she died. So I figured, ‘It’s about resort time and she’s probably going on some other journey. Maybe she’s going to the beach!’ So I made the collection. I wrote something like, ‘Chiyoko goes to the Sandals resort!’ It was cute. Onibaba was another crazy moment when I was into reading Japanese folklore, and I have Japanese ancestry. I officially identify as mixed race, but I do have Japanese ancestry. That’s a big influence because I present and am read as a person of color. That tends to come out more. Not that my other side doesn’t, which is just a whole mixture of white. I guess I tend to focus on the Japanese stuff a lot.
So Serena Jara has done the photography for close to all of your collections. How did you guys meet?
We actually met through an old ex. She was dating this dude. He and I were close friends. He wanted to show me his new partner, so we met and things just sparked. I knew she was a photographer, so I talked to her about photographing the first piece about my mom about a year ago. Right after the shoot, we just sat and talked about stuff and had tremendous girl talk all night. We’ve just gotten closer and closer since. Now we’re super tight.
You’ve mentioned that you feel like you’re working outside of the fashion industry. Do you have any goals of getting into more mainstream fashion?
I’m trying to find a way doing all of these things to make a living and do what I love while maintaining integrity. I wonder if it’s possible, and it might not be, but I’m just biding my time and figure out what’s going on. I’ll make things for people when they want them or samples. You need a lot of money to mass produce [laughs]. I don’t think now is the time to subvert any kind of industry as a little baby trying to design collections for such a specific target market. I realize what that means in this world that we live in. Who’s going to buy it?
Yeah, but then I also want to give it all away to my girls! I don’t want them to have to buy anything, but that’s no way to run a business. That turns into no money [laughs].
I saw you were wearing a Vejas piece on your Facebook! He really works in agendered clothing. Do you feel like there needs to be gendered clothing?
He’s just a little cutie baby! I love him. But I am doing it. I’m doing femme clothing- it’s for girls. It’s totally cool if you don’t prescribe to a binary gender system. That’s fabulous. Be whoever you are. I’m just really into femme-y stuff and I think there’s a place for that. I like it. My friends like it, so it’s important. Is it weird if I keep talking about Vejas? I just love that little kid. He’s just so young and on top of the world.
Would you ever try to collaborate with him?
Maybe! He asked me to walk in his show last time. That was last fall and I looked a lot different than I do now. It was a really cute moment.
Do you have any new projects coming up?
Well, spring is coming up and it’s going to be better.
Three word hint?
Office to club! It’s what every woman needs.
If you hadn’t gone to fashion, what would you be doing?
Probably finishing med school.
What made you decide to do a 180 like that?
I was studying one time, and I realized it wasn’t making me happy. I understood it, and it made me feel like a smarty pants, but I would be miserable. I switched to textiles and it was dope.
Did you always have an inclination to fashion?
No! I was never into it until college. I didn’t know shit and I still don’t know shit. It’s crazy that people want to even work with me. I didn’t know anything about it, didn’t read magazines or anything online.
If you had to pick one song to encapsulate your like right now, what song would it be?
It’s a little out there, but I really like Spring of Life by Perfume. They’re this little J-pop girl band. They’re these femme-y,fun girls that are my age, but have been around for a decade. They were just little kiddos when they started.
If you could have brass knuckles that could say anything, what would you get?
It would say ‘Hang Ten,’ but on the pinky there would be a little palm tree exclamation point.
Is there anything else you want reader to know?
The next time you see a trans girl, you should smile at her. If you’re just staring at her, she usually assumes you want to attack her. Smile instead so she knows it’s not hostile.
Check out Gogo’s site here.
Photography by Serena Jara.
Homeslide collage by Hannah Ahn