Interview: Sharpe Suiting for All Genders

Sharpe Suiting is a Los Angeles based queer-centric suit company that constructs clothing for ALL body types and identities. They create high quality suits and dress wear with an intellectual approach, a classic feel, and a modern twist. Sharpe was founded in 2012 by entrepreneur Leon Wu and joined by Los Angeles event promoter Vanessa Craig in 2013. Combined, the Sharpe team has 22 years of tailoring experience, 30 years of marketing expertise, and 15+ years of formal fashion education. Their diverse range of talents is reflected in the Sharpe experience, from their superb customer service to their impeccably designed products.

SharpeImage via Sharpe Facebook

Before adding them to our store guide as a resource for our readers, dapperQ caught up with the Sharpe team to get an interview and exclusive behind the scenes photo shoot with photographer Jordan Barclay at the Sharpe studio.

 

dapperQ: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of Sharpe Suiting? What motivated you to start the brand?

 

Leon: I started Sharpe in 2012. I was inspired by the lack of high-quality formal wear for butch women and trans men. Our community finds it difficult to find clothes that fit and do not feel comfortable going to standard tailor shops. We wanted to create a new style, a new culture, and even a new custom for suiting. LGBT weddings are booming, queer filmmakers are on the red carpet, professional athletes are coming out of the closet… Everyone needs high-quality dress wear for these special occasions, and many in our community have never felt comfortable buying a suit from conventional stores.

Tailoring and custom suits have always been a marker or a right of passage for a “boy becoming a man,” where the father takes the son to be fitted. Now we have mother’s coming in with their daughters, LGBT brides and grooms with their partners, and even whole wedding parties. You can see the transformation in the client when they finally come to a place where they feel comfortable and actually have a suit that fits. They feel at ease, stand straighter, look and feel more confident.

One client who is 57 was almost tearful when she found Sharpe, sharing many daunting past suit experiences with us for an hour before picking out fabric. She even wrote us an amazing poem. In that, we know it’s not just about where fashion or tailoring has been historically, but where we are now and where we will be – a fashion revolution.

 

Vanessa: I’ve known Leon for over 10 years. It took me a minute, but I took a leap of faith and left my crappy waiter job to dive into this new frontier. After hearing ‘fashion revolution’ and ‘suits for butch women’ a few times, I was IN. I joined forces with Leon in 2013 to translate this mission to the community via many local queer events and media outlets. Being an event promoter on the side, having fashion school experience myself, as well as my own issues with clothing, I was totally inspired and felt like we could take this mission to the next level.

 

Sharpe1Leon (left) and Vanessa (right). Photo by Jordan Barclay.

dapperQ: How would you describe the Sharpe Suiting aesthetic?

 

Leon: We are curious and moved by elegance. Inspired by social context. Undefined by gender binaries. This is an eloquent way of saying, we understand our community, its history, and especially its fashion history. We understand clothing as a form of resistance as well as acceptance, and most importantly, in defining and expressing identity. That said, we want to design and construct clothing that will make our clients feel comfortable and confident, no matter what their body shape or how they identify.

 

Vanessa: Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve seen fashion go through many cycles. I’ve also had the fortune of meeting and working with many artists, performers, musicians, and just some overall general characters. That’s the beauty of Sharpe; we are reflective of our geography and diversity of our clients, many of whom are in various artistic industries. And even those who work in a more traditional setting or inquire about a more ‘basic’ suit usually say, ‘yeah, but I want something….different’.

During our consultations, we spend a little time with each of our clients to understand their identity and what they need the suit for. Then we design and construct a suit that fits their personal style and lifestyle. Are you a polyamorous dominatrix that needs a suit for your Gender Bending Queer Cabaret? Do you need a suit for your next Drag King performance? Are you walking the Red Carpet for the Oscars? (These were all real clients BTW!) In addition to the traditional Sharpe work and wedding wear, we are excited to suit our diverse and talented community however and for whatever occasion they need.

We encourage our clients to be bold and unafraid in design, to take a risk and not put limits on their style. (That has already been imposed upon us for years.) Get as classic, modern, vintage, or punk as you like, we will help you construct that within artful tailoring guidelines. Even if you do want a simpler suit, we can add subtle details to give it more style or go over certain methods of styling to make it stand out. The Sharpe difference is no matter what you want, the look will always be crisp, clean, unique, and fitted. A classic suit with a modern twist.

 sharpe4Vanessa. Photo by Jordan Barclay.

dapperQ: What inspires your designs?

 

Leon: My own personal struggles with clothing and identity, knowing how I want a suit to fit, innovative ideas from our Sharpe team, as well as comments and feedback from our clients and community. The contrast between different genders, which can be seen in our bold contrasts both in fabric and pattern. We are always brainstorming designs and cuts that will make our clients feel more empowered in their identities.

 

Vanessa: Strong, bold, straight lines. Plaids and patterns. Slim fit with a tapered leg. Herringbone, patterns, texture, fabric, wools, linens, subtle pops of color and contrast, power clashing. Vintage, Victorian, and Nehru suits with a modern twist. Military uniforms, feminism, the queer community, social rebellion.

 

dapperQ: Many of our readers have problems finding masculine clothes that fit them properly. How is Sharpe Suiting addressing this issue?

 

Leon: We developed a system of measuring and tailoring whereby we minimize curves for those who identify as more masculine. Our suits fit androgynous bodies better using Andropometrics, which is our trademarked formula for masculinizing or better matching the individual identity of butch women, trans men, and anyone who wants a Sharpe fit. Most of our clients want a more traditionally masculine fit, but if someone is masculine identifying but still wants a curve, we tailor it in there, and can even accentuate it. We will always listen to our clients needs and never judge anyone’s suit based on their appearance.

We want to be accessible to the community for not only suits, but for conversation. Since this is such a new frontier, people are curious and sometimes doubtful at first. We don’t mind taking the time to hang out in the Sharpe Studio, show some samples of our work, and talk suits with our community. We created a ‘drop-by’ link on our website so you can do just that.

We’ve also collaborated with many other local queer businesses and held pop up shops and parties in their establishments. Many people just want information about queer suiting so we make it easy by bringing it to a place they are already comfortable in. We’ve had pop up shops at Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, Folklore Salon, Spruce Flower Shop, Dyke Day LA, Cut Paste Rock n Roll, and the ‘We Are You’ portrait party. In partnering with other queer causes, events, and businesses we raise visibility all around make it easier for our community to find us. And also where to find a good boutonniere or high n tight fade!

(See all of our collaborations here)

 

sharpe2Photo by Jordan Barclay.

dapperQ: How does Sharpe Suiting stand out from some of the other recent suit lines that have been launched to smash the gender-binary?

 

Leon: Of the 100’s of measurements we’ve taken and clients we have custom suited, we are using this data to develop measurement standards within our queer community and how they want to dress. Although we focus mostly on making a more masculine cut, we are also working on a more traditionally ‘effeminate’ suit pattern. (Look out Hillary!) There are so many different design desires across the vast gender spectrum, and we want to address as many as we can. With all this research there will be more options for everyone, and thus a more blurred gender binary altogether.

We’ve suited about every body size, shape and identity: Butch women, trans men, straight and queer cisgender men and women… Some are packing, some are bound, some are planning to have top surgery. Some of our first questions to our clients are ‘How do you identify?’ ‘Do you pack?’ ‘Do you bind?’ ‘Is this how you’d like us to measure you?’ We also don’t mind delaying taking a client’s measurements until they are happy with their weight and body.

Sharpe is also focused on trans visibility. We marched in this year’s LA Pride Parade topless, taped, and packing. Being one of only a few trans-focused groups and despite some negative comments from our own queer community (really?!) during the march, we see there is still a long way to go for understanding and acceptance. There is a large trans community in Los Angeles that we want to support and represent, so we incorporate many trans people in our photo shoots and events.

We are so grateful for others in our suiting (and blogging!) community who are all trying to achieve a similar cause. There are so many fashion trailblazers out there taking many risks to bring this to the forefront of fashion and turn the tables in our favor. It helps us ALL gain visibility, acceptance, self-love, and power over people’s traditional perception of gender.

 Sharpe3Photo by Jordan Barclay.

dapperQ: How would you describe your everyday style(s)?

 

Leon: Usually I’m dressed for ‘Corporate America’ so I’m usually in a suit and tie. But even though this is the dress code I follow, I still add my own personal style to it. Now that we’ve started Sharpe, my suits fit so much better and I save so much time and energy on shopping and tailoring suits that never fit quite right. On days off I’m a baseball hat and jeans kinda guy.

 

Vanessa: I have a blonde mullet. My everyday style ranges from skinny jeans to surfer dude. The first custom suit I designed with Sharpe was all purple plaid with contrast felt black shawl collar, ticket pocket, elbow pads and tapered jean cut pant. I love playing with fashion and gender and I love it even more with suits.

 

dapperQ: Has it been a journey defining your own personal style? Tell me about it.

 

Leon: My journey in style has been tightly integrated with my experimentation with masculinity. From the beginning as a kid, I would stow away into my dad’s closet and try on his clothes. When I started identifying as transgender at the age of 21 and first came out as gay, I joined a drag king troupe in LA called the Lost Boys. I started wearing masculinity, even off stage in my day to day life, sporting all the intimate or secret gear which us boys do (boxer briefs, binder shirts, packing, etc).

I found it fascinating and sexy and underground. It was like a secret dress code that my community and I could share and be proud of. Then I started to notice the attributes I wanted to create in menswear as well as the measuring tricks, and I really wanted to share this with my community.

 

Vanessa: So many tears. So much disapproval from my mother and others. My style was a mix between trying to be the girl my mother wanted and my real tomboy self. It was torture trying to appease my set-in-her-ways, first generation Mother and my sexually confused self at the same time. She’d always hint that I’d ‘never get a boyfriend like that’. It really made for some ridiculous outfits! And the haircuts. Oh the haircuts…

There was no way possible to look good in the boyish clothes I wanted to wear. All I wanted was to wear Dickies, but they never fit quite right. I even took them apart and tried sewing on a lower waistband. And no, I didn’t want ‘Dickies Girl’!! I wanted boy Dickies that actually fit me. And why were the girl Dickies always so poorly made? Why was this so hard for ‘them’ to understand? Who were ‘they’ and why didn’t ‘they’ get it. Wait, was there something wrong with me?…Ugh.

After all that, now I give so many less fucks about what anyone thinks of my style.

 

dapperQ: Who or what has most influenced your style?

 

Leon: Dust-bowl chic, vintage modern, suits and boots, dominatrices, Christian Bale in ‘American Psycho’, Trans Culture, Drag Kings, La Sape.

 

Vanessa: Los Angeles. Skate, surf, and punk. DISCO. Smoking jackets. Loafers. Styles from the 70’s. Pantsuits from the 80’s. Patterns of the 90’s. And of course Duckie from ‘Pretty in Pink’.

 

dapperQ: Who are your fashion icons?

 

Leon: Kate Bornstein, Buck Angel, Leonardo di Caprio, Taiwanese musician Jay Chou, Keenan Ivory Wayans (and the Wayans brothers).

 

Vanessa: 80’s Tony Hawk, Grace Jones, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Ziggy Stardust, 70’s Elton John, Liberace, Wiz Khalifa, DVMN PIGEON, Hi Fashion, Maricon Collective, the cast of Mi Vida Loca.

 

dapperQ: What is the one article of clothing you cannot live without?

 

Leon: Confidence.

 

Vanessa: My bolo tie.

 

dapperQ: What can we expect next from Sharpe Suiting?

 

Leon: Now that we have collected over 100 measurements from our clients, we will be launching a Kickstarter on October 15th to raise money for our Ready to Wear line based on all the sizes and shapes of our clients. We want to research measurements, fine tune the fitting process for a whole new segment of the market that has been neglected and made to suffer ill fitting clothing due to lack of mainstream acceptance. We want to bring queer suits and dress wear to the public, to the stores, to the people.

 

This is an era of trying new things, of pushing boundaries, socially, politically, and aesthetically. Since this is a new frontier of queer focused fashion, I believe we too should not put limits on what our clothing and identities can now be. Simply, we believe your suit should fit. Regardless of your body type, gender, or how you identify at Sharpe we fit YOU.

 

We are excited for the future!

 

Upcoming Sharpe Events:

Aug. 31 – Pop Up Shop @ Folklore Salon, Echo Park 2-7pm

1102 Mohawk St., Los Angeles CA 90026

http://www.salonfolklore.com

 

September 17 – Sharpe Suiting Official Launch Party @ Pantsuit, Inc. 7p-Midnight

Pantsuit, Inc. is a monthly event @ (queer owned) The Must bar, DTLA

117 Winston St. Los Angeles, CA 90013

http://www.themust.com

http://www.facebook.com/pantsuitinc

 

Photographer stats:
Portrait Website: http://www.jbarclayphoto.com/
Commercial Portfolio: jbarclay.com

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2 Comments

  • Sharpe Suiting is the finest tailoring company I have ever worked with. After 23 years of dealing with incredible homophobia and butch lesbian phobia at "traditional" companies, I finally found the promised land. Any lesbian who works with them will feel enobled, powerful and determined. Women have always needed powerful business uniforms, and finally, we have a company that gets this. Many happy returns, look forward to seeing your IPO on Wall Street!

  • Sharpe Suiting is the finest tailoring company I have ever worked with. After 23 years of dealing with incredible homophobia and butch lesbian phobia at "traditional" companies, I finally found the promised land. Any lesbian who works with them will feel enobled, powerful and determined. Women have always needed powerful business uniforms, and finally, we have a company that gets this. Many happy returns, look forward to seeing your IPO on Wall Street!

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