Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney talks about “Project Runway” and Broadway

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Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney
Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney

 

Bespoke fashion, and its role in art and activism  

Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney
Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney

“A great designer does not seek acceptance. He challenges popularity, and by the force of his convictions renders popular in the end what the public hates at first sight,” said English-American fashion designer Charles James [1906–1978]. His work has remained influential to this day and inspired young designers like Tyler Neasloney.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s for a good reason. Many might have seen Tyler Neasloney’s work on Bravo’s Project Runway season 18, VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, or at art events in the New York City area.

I met Neasloney last year at the Jersey City Art and Studio Tour (JCAST). Recently, I’ve had the chance to stop by his studio again to talk more about his fascinating journey thus far, from his native Wyoming to New York City and his one-of-a-kind fashion work.

Neasloney became interested in fashion and “garment construction” at a young age, inspired by his mother, “a master quilter and seamstress,” who taught him how to sew. And so, he learned how to do “easy stuff” and alter his clothes growing up.

In college, he studied marketing, and after graduating, he went to Washington, D.C., to work for a senator on the Hill. “I always thought I was going to go into government or something related to that,” he says. “Also, I did a number of studies abroad [thinking that] maybe foreign service or state department [would be in my future].”

After moving to New York City 11 years ago, Neasloney started working for a travel magazine. “It was my very first job, [and] a lot of fun at the time,” he says. “I got to go to amazing events, [and] it was probably the best introduction to [the city]. I would create ads for our advertisers. [So] it was marketing related but certainly nothing related to fashion.”

His first “dip” into fashion design happened on Halloween, his first after moving to New York City. He decided to go as “the Evil Queen from Snow White, and made a gown and headpiece,” he says. And creating his outfit became an “outlet” for him to express himself.

A couple of years later, he started working at Ali Forney Center (a nonprofit helping homeless LGBTQ youths), leading their special events and communications for several years. His job would put him face to face with high-profile celebrities he was bringing in to host events and raise money for the nonprofit. “When you work with [celebrities] so often,” he says, “you realize that they’re regular people who happen to be very famous. But, you know, they’re fun to work with.” The experience of working with and being around celebrities would come in handy.

Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney
Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney

While still at the nonprofit, Neasloney applied for Project Runway and was selected to be on the cast of its season 18. “I think, in some way, that all the stars aligned to [get me] on the show,” he says.

“I loved the show,” he adds. “It was interesting because I was one of a few people who still had a demanding day job unrelated to fashion. The finale of [Project Runway season 18] aired on March 12, 2020, “[right] before the world changed, the night before the big shutdown.”

During those first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, after a day’s work, Neasloney would step into his studio and make “hundreds” of masks to donate. And, along the way, he realized that he could be happy doing that kind of work “all day, every day.”

Yet he kept his day job for a while longer and spent the rest of his time designing and creating garments. Nowadays, he makes his own schedule, a busy schedule that is, that keeps him in his studio for long hours at a time.

Nowadays, Neasloney’s fashion work has appeared on various TV commercials and shows and also on Broadway. Neasloney’s work is also available online — on his website and social media platforms — and in his studio. “I’ve gotten a lot of work from in-person events like JCAST,” he says. “People come through the studio, and they [mention] a wedding or a special occasion [that they have coming up]. Last summer, I started doing bridals,” he adds, “and each bride has their specific idea of what they want for their wedding. It’s fun to build something from the ground up.”

Neasloney does not create garments only for fancy productions, the red carpet, and special occasions, but also limited-edition lines of made-to-order clothing items for everyday wear. “The beauty of made-to-order clothing,” he explains, “is that I don’t order hundreds of yards of fabric, and then throw away what I don’t use. I [only] order what I need to.”

Sustainability is one of the driving forces behind his work. “I think fashion can be a statement about sustainability,” he says, “because we’re making these well-made garments meant to last a long time.”

Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney
Fashion designer Tyler Neasloney

Tyler Neasloney’s fashion work is bold and breathtaking, confident and complex, and unapologetically unique. It awes, delights, and intrigues, while engaging all our senses, and particularly in today’s world, it’s perhaps essential for maintaining balance in our lives.

Neasloney’s fashion work is not only a creative outlet (for the creator and those wearing the garments) but also speaks to activism in a refreshing and subtle way. “I’ve done work for the queens on RuPaul’s TV show, which has appeared on seasons both in the U.S. and abroad, as well as on tours,” he says. “And what I love about it, especially now when there is this very strange backlash against drag queens for literally no reason at all, is that the clothing that I make for them doesn’t even have to have [any] message on the front or to say anything [in particular]. Just the mere fact that they’re out there wearing [this piece of clothing] is, in itself, activism, which is something that I really love.”

After all, activism doesn’t always have to be loud. Sometimes, it cannot be loud. Rather, activism is nuanced. And there is value to the activists living in spaces that aren’t necessarily made for activism.

In that sense, Tyler Neasloney has always been an activist — maybe not a loud one, but an activist, nonetheless. Growing up in Wyoming, he was on multiple boards and honor societies and excelled in school. And his presence in a place where there weren’t very many people like him in itself was a brand of activism, as was the work that he did, years later, at the Ali Forney Center, helping raise millions of dollars for homeless LGBTQ youth; as is, in many cases, the fashion work that he continues to create.

Today, Neasloney finds himself in a place where he’s expanding his fashion design business. He’s continuing his “journey through bridal.” Also, for the first time, his clothes have been available in retail stores in Fire Island Pines. “I’m in the studio all day, every day. It’s full steam ahead,” he says.

“Part of the reason I got into sewing, and then kept at it is that, growing up, nothing ever fit me. So, I started making stuff for myself, and then for other people.” He adds, “I love dressing up, and I believe that fashion does show personality.

“I found that the most effective way for me to create is never to ask anyone their opinion because it’s very easy to open the floodgates and get in your own head. When that happens,” he advises, “trust your artistic instincts, and it will pay off.”

tylerneasloney.com