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L'UOMO STRANO: A 10-Year Retrospective with FAT

Written by Astrid Superstar

L’uomo Strano’s upcoming presentation at Fashion Art Toronto’s 2023 Fashion Week marks a full decade since the label’s debut collection with the event. In the ten years since, the brand - along with designer Mic. Carter - has achieved well-deserved international recognition.

Describing the label as “a brand invested in creating responsive beauty for the femme-identified, gender non-conformist's wardrobe” on their website, Creative Director Carter (who goes by they/them pronouns) has carved a path for themselves in the Canadian fashion industry by consistently being a trailblazer for genderfluid fashion.

Most recently, Carter was chosen as one of six designers to receive a grant from Amazon as a part of their “Canada’s Designer Spotlight” series, for them to donate to the Canadian fashion community of their choice (Carter chose to donate theirs to Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Fashion). Notably, Carter also created and teaches the institute’s first course for non-binary fashion design.

The label name came from an experience Carter had while abroad in England, with L’uomo Strano translating to “the strangest man” in Italian. “I was studying in London over a summer,” Carter tells Fashion Magazine. “There was a woman who would see the way that I showed up. I identify as genderqueer, and she was from Italy and I think she had never met somebody who was genderqueer before. So she just kept on calling me ‘strange man’ in Italian over and over, every day.

The 2013 L’uomo Strano show began with a muscular veiled model sitting down to play a solo game of chess on the runway with translucent glass pieces. While the masked figure thoughtfully moved the pieces around, models wearing silks, tulle, furs and taffeta descended the runway. We can see hints of what would become familiar trademarks in Strano’s work from this time, with dramatically structured cuffs, hems and necklines blooming from the wrists and framing the face like delicate flowers.

The subsequent 2014 show was a mock funeral procession. The show starts, as Auxiliary Magazine describes, with a model “stepping out and lying on a coffin-like white table . . . dressed in a black cape, it’s [sic] long draping fabric spilling onto the floor,” as models began their walk by placing a white rose on the ‘deceased’.

When we kicked off our Virtual Fashion Week series, a digital fashion showcase live-streamed from outdoor locations around the city during the lockdown in 2020, we knew that L’uomo Strano packed the punch we needed to open the concept. And they delivered, to no surprise, with “Strange Fruit”, a collection inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that rocked the nation that year. Named after the infamous Billie Holiday song, models walked down an alleyway serving as a makeshift runway, accompanied by colorful billows of smoke. The video is available for viewing here.

There is always an intense and intricate thought process behind the visual themes in Carter’s work, with a complex story behind the genesis of each collection’s creation. With “Strange Fruit”, they told Fashion Magazine, “As I was working through the imagery of these people who had passed away, I saw how people were communicating through visual arts their veneration of the victims,” noting that they were heralded as “saints of the Black Lives Matter movement”. To communicate this, Carter “constructed angelic-like silhouettes, very large, very pouffy silhouettes in some of the pieces . . . rich colours and rich fabrics, to give that feeling of an elevated reality and respect for these folks.

In 2017 we saw “Stalking Her Lovers, Dressed to Kill, and Not A Thot For Me,” created around a hypothetical conversation by Biblical sex workers Rahab and Gomer. “Their shared investments in strategic agency, cultural mobility and risk management resulted in vastly different personal denouements, and this presentation seeks to explore the aesthetics of this contrast,” Carter said at the time.

The 2021 L’uomo Strano show for Fashion Art Toronto’s virtual series, “I Hope This Email Finds You Well”, was staged during an overnight shoot at Union Station and was the most dramatic that we have seen at that point. A tongue-in-cheek nod to a sentence that permeated our communications during lockdown, Carter noted in their artist statement at the time that the collection “explores the affective dimension of the surface; the Zoom screen, the Twitter press briefing, the social bubble, the Google Meet classroom, self-isolation, political echo chambers, the voting booth, the mask, the plastic Uber divider -- surfaces that communicate safety through partition, safety through polarization or extremism.” Models, who were weaving in and out of frame, illustrated this theme with theatrical silhouettes, flowing fabrics and wigs, and matching face masks. You can view the video here.

If 2021’s collection was the most dramatic, the 2022 L’uomo Strano runway brought it to a whole new level with ‘20’. The collection was “inspired by a tentative Afrofuturist narrative called 20, It follows an intrepid queer collective from the year 2120 who after discovering a time machine that is powered by the group’s unified and harmonized throat chakras, travel back in time.

Playing with bright, rich colours and bold, flirtatious silhouettes, Carter seemed to be having more fun than ever. The industry took note: the collection was picked up by Fashion Canada in their “Best Looks from Fashion Art Toronto” segment from that year, noting that it was one of the “two must-see collections of the week.”

Carter explained in a press release for Fashion Art Toronto about the collection, “These queens curate syncretic wardrobes, mimetically synthesized from the aesthetics and politics of: Josephine Baker, himbo culture by way of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, Bazaar ballroom aesthetics as well as the fashion lexicons of 20th century avant-garde surrealists. The group’s primary mode of communication is gesture and lip syncing, ludic and polysemic in their manifestations, and intentionally challenging notions of radical individualism in their joyous collectivity.”

However, a quote from a 2019 interview with Glossi Mag where Carter pays tribute to their relationship with Fashion Art Toronto is perhaps the most poignant: “I am so grateful for the work that FAT has done, and for their faith in their designers, vision, production, and tenacity. Without it, I know for certain that L’uomo Strano wouldn’t have had the chance to share work, and would have died long ago.

Ten years since their debut, L’uomo Strano has refined and perfected their signature look, but season after season they continue to evolve, delight and surprise. We are blessed to have witnessed their transformation and rise, and are honored to have been able to provide the necessary platform to do so.

Here’s to the next ten!

L’uomo Strano’s 2023 collection will be on Saturday, April 29th at 9 pm. Tickets are available on our website.


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