Queers In Suits: The Thing That Unites Us All

“Back in the day, women didn’t have access to the service of going to a tailor and having a suit made. Fast forward to now.”

“A suit has always been a staple for man power,” Ksenia Konovalova, owner and founder of Vestium, tells GO from her quaint showroom in Manhattan, where Vestium is hosting an event to launch their latest line, Cosmic Opulence.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ksenia Konovalova (@kseikon)

Mannequins clad with pink, black, and gold sparkly suits look like they’ve stepped out of a Disco-era club. Or are they from the future? The suits are slim, fitted, with exacting lines and a color palette that demands confidence. Inside most of the suits are customizable liners. Peeling back one of the silver suits reveals an ocean scene stitched on the inside. Inside one of the pink suits, a starry galaxy seems to lead to another world. All around me, well-dressed queers and fashion-hopefuls move from conversation to conversation, and I’m able to catch the projection on the back wall, where an array of models, of all races, ages, and genders, don the suits from Opulence, moving with a quiet ease in a desert setting. “Back in the day, women didn’t have access to the service of going to a tailor and having a suit made. Fast forward to now. You have choices. Whether you’re male, female, or non-binary, you have the power to harness these symbols from the past.”


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Hyperbolic Agency (@wearehyperbolic)

Konovalova didn’t start in a Manhattan showroom full of gender-inclusive suits. Prior to September 2014, Konovalova was still living in her native Ukraine. She used her finance degree to experiment with e-commerce, but was left feeling uninspired. In mid-2014, she received a job opportunity from a close friend, the owner of Clifton Charles, a custom suit company in New York, and she jumped at the chance to move and change things up. She had to adapt quickly, especially since she didn’t have a background in custom clothing or suits. “It was all really new for me. I learned everything from scratch,” she tells GO, a slight exasperation replacing her polite smile.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by VESTIUM (@vestiumny)

While at Clifton Charles, Konovalova “really got to see the impact that a well-made, custom-made piece could have on a person’s life. I think that’s what really hooked me.” Konovalova became addicted to the feeling of putting an item of clothing made specifically for a client, and “how their lives change instantly.” After a brief six months at Clifton Charles, Konovalova went to work with Ian Rios New York, another popular custom tailor, for five years. But when Ian, the front-facing partner of Ian Rios NY moved to Australia in 2018, Konovalova was left with a choice: would she go work for another tailoring company, or would she take over the brand she had been building with Ian Rios?  After working for six years in the male-dominated tailor industry, Konovalova was eager to make a change – one that broke down the gendered barriers of custom suits. “I was working within this closely guarded fraternity of custom clothing. When people think of a custom-made suit, there’s this perception that you walk into this half-dimmed space with old leather couches and an old Italian gentleman measuring you,” says Konovalova. 

She knew her own position of power as a woman who could curtail a new brand to a wider array of people, and felt pulled to take over the company. But she wanted the brand to be her own, a separate entity from the male-run business she was inheriting. Her determination to build a safe space for exploration and self-expression drove her to create a tailoring company that would be known for its expansiveness, its implicit and explicit offers of safety and comfortability. It isn’t easy to turn a tailoring company known for serving a singularly male clientele to one that’s focused on inclusivity and each individual body. But after about two years of rebranding and financial work, Vestium was born. 

Just after this momentous transition, Konovalova was faced with tragedy at home. On February 24, 2020, her family was still in Kiev, Ukraine when Russia dropped the first bomb. “I couldn’t work. I was in a trance,” she says. “I had to make sure my family was okay and make arrangements for them to escape.” 

Her brother and his family were able to make it safely to Poland and then Canada with their paperwork in order, but Konovalova’s mother had a few missing documents. After almost three months of limbo, Konovalova found out about a passage through Mexico, and she arranged to meet her mother there. At the end of April, after a night in a refugee camp together, they crossed the border. “After the initial shock, it all sort of became about figuring out how I could really make a difference for my family and my people who were displaced,” Konovalova says. That sentiment is reflected in some of Vestium’s collaborations and in the line, Cosmic Opulence. Konovalova reaffirms that while the ideas for the new line, Cosmic Opulence, were decided on before the war, the themes present in the designs remain relevant. “We’re all part of a whole,” Konovalova says. “The collection is about Earth, Wind, Fire, and Air. Each piece is designed and connected to an element, as are the suit liners. It’s about appreciating the fact that we’re alive and a part of this universe. All of these four elements are within us.” That same sentiment of connectivity is rooted into the relationships Vestium builds with their customers. 

Monica Shay is a Vestium customer that discovered Konovalova when she was asked to officiate her best friend’s daughter’s wedding. Once the joy of accepting the offer wore off, panic started to set in. Shay considered that, as a 60-year-old lesbian who had long given up dresses, she had to start looking for other options. “Being an officiant was one of the most special days of my life,” Shay tells GO. “[Once I found Vestium], I didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing, or how I was going to look.”  

Megan Mitchell, another one of Vestium’s customers, is a queer news anchor for WLWT News 5 in Cincinnati Ohio. “Being a news anchor, I wore the typical dress,” Mitchell tells GO. “I told myself it was a uniform, just like when I went to Catholic school. But everyone would comment on the discrepancy between my outside of work fashion and how I dressed on the anchor desk.” 

Konovalova reached out to Mitchell and the two quickly became a team, working together to choose the fabric, style, and cut to ensure that the finished product didn’t accentuate Mitchell’s hips, a worry of hers. “When I put on that suit,” Mitchell begins, a smile spreading across her face. “I don’t know if I would describe it as gender euphoria, because I don’t have much gender dysphoria, but I just felt like my coolest self. It made me feel so cool.” 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by GO Magazine (@gomagazineny)

Mitchell’s reaction to her suit is precisely why Konovalova built Vestium to begin with. Today, Konovalova welcomes clients to Vestium’s chic showroom in Midtown Manhattan, where she’s ready to change your life with a suit. 

You can visit Vestium’s showroom at 315 5th Avenue #500 New York, NY. You can also see their latest designs and updates on their Instagram or website

What Do You Think?