100 Women We Love: Class Of 2019

Oskar Ly

Photo by Teeko Yang

In the Hmong language, Oskar Ly explains, “there is no word for ‘art’ and there is no word for ‘queer.’” Yet, Ly has successfully willed these identities into undeniable existence. The fashion/art designer, cultural producer, and community organizer, whose family are Hmong refugees from Laos, was born in France and immigrated to Minnesota. At 12, Ly learned to sew from her seamstress mother, and this was the tool she used to discover her own artistic voice. After finishing college (a wish of her parents), Ly launched her label of original designs, Os.Couture, which championed both contemporary Hmong fashion art and Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) LGBTQ visibility by proudly casting queer and trans AAPI models, as well as drag performers. This niche aesthetic created a space for Ly to build and mobilize an entire community during the fight for marriage equality. “How could one advocate for marriage in the mainstream U.S. when our very own existence had been long denied in our own Asian cultures?” Ly asked. “So, I produced a fashion show highlighting cultural wedding wear and queer couples to spark conversations and gain community votes.” This fall, Ly is set to showcase her first solo exhibition highlighting works that span her artistic career at various locations across the Midwest. You’ve got to “fiercely flaunt loving yourself and your ways,” Ly advises. “Our future depends on it… We’re not a trend. We’re complex and this is just the beginning. We’re here to stay.” —JDG

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