The Grindr Runway
Everything has changed this year (understatement of the century). Quarantine has forced us to reconstruct our lives in an almost entirely digital space. But they say constraints breed creativity, and that’s definitely the case for Rob Tennent, a recent fashion graduate of Auckland University of Technology in Zealand. Faced with the news that his senior class would no longer have a final runway show due to COVID-19 restrictions and budget cuts, Rob decided to showcase his collection on Grindr.
“The idea came to me as I was scrolling through Grindr and saw a faceless torso sporting a vintage Helmut Lang singlet. This was the lightbulb moment. I thought, if I could get around six accounts to post images in my singlets, it’d look cohesive and would emulate a lookbook/ campaign.” So that’s just what he did.
We spoke with Rob about the project, fashion, Grindr, and more. Here are some snippets from our conversation:
What are you wearing right now?
Sitting in a cafe called Annabel’s, in a pair of vintage Levi’s and a thrifted Acne shirt.
Tell us about your upbringing/coming out experience.
I was born in Cambodia to a Vietnamese mother and a European father. I moved to St. Lucia and Papua, New Guinea for a few years before settling in New Zealand at the age of 12. I then went to an all boys boarding school here for five years, which was certainly a unique experience for a soon-to-be-out queer teenager. (Shout out to my best friends Luca and Tyler, I would have not survived without my gays!) I came out to my dad when I turned 16 and he responded the way any parent should: with love. I then came out to my mum who told me she pretty much knew from my early childhood but never cared to ask. I have been extremely fortunate.
What made you decide to pursue fashion?
At boarding school, we had a fabric technology class where we had to sew a pencil case in six weeks. I had completed mine in the first week and the teacher encouraged me to try making a shirt or some pants, which I did. I then realised how much I loved doing it and how much more I wanted to learn.
Who are your biggest design influences?
What's your favorite/least favorite fashion trend fo late?
Favourite: probably bucket hats, I think they are cute. Least would probably be repeating a logo and using it as a print, but I think that is on its way out.
Tell us about your graduate collection.
Originally, I wanted to step away from this aesthetic and go for tailored suits, similar to pieces Phoebe Philo did for Céline. A week before I was due to start this project, we entered a five week lockdown, and then another after that, and I realized I wouldn’t be able to do the original idea. I actually had started these singlets the year before, and I had all the patterns and research already available, so I decided to revisit it and make a second iteration. The cut out ideas were inspired by Helmut Lang’s 2004 collection. I made them all into body suits because I hate it when things come untucked.
Where is the ideal place to wear these designs?
Clubbing for sure. I designed this for the club scene. When you want to show off some skin but not too much. The garment is relaxed yet sensual at the same time.
Why do you think fashion means so much to the LGBTQ+ community?
I think when you feel ostracized, you learn to give less of a fuck as you get more confident in your own skin. For me, I was suppressed for so long in a heterosexual space that as soon as I had any freedom, I went wild with it. Society tells us to hide and be ashamed, so in many ways it is an act of rebellion to be different and expressive. I certainly have been through the phase of finding myself and trying new things such as make up and dressing differently, it’s liberating.
What's New Zeland's queen scene like?
We all exist in our own little bubbles. I try to integrate myself as much as I can but I mainly stick to a smaller crowd. We actually only have one or two gay bars and even then it’s usually the same people. The community is small and especially now without international travel, it has shrunk immensely. There has certainly been a surge in queer parties and safe spaces that are being organised by figures in the community that are determined to make an impact and change. I support where I can and am as vocal as I can be, but I would love to do more. I’d say I sit slightly outside the community, I’m an Aquarius so I’m quite distant and aloof.
What's your Grindr like? Any favorite memories?
I remember being on a school trip in Sydney and chatting to a really hot guy. I snuck out of my hotel room to go on a date with him. Afterwards, I texted my straight roommate telling him to go for a long walk so I could have this guy over. While we were hooking up I heard a knock on the door—it was my teacher telling me to get ready for dinner while this guy was literally standing behind the door fully naked! I don't know how I got away with it. Three years later, we still keep in touch. He has come to Auckland and I have gone to Sydney and we stay with each other each time. A very special man! That’s probably the most successful memory I have.
What's been getting you through quarantine?
Comfort food. Mac ‘n’ cheese. Instant Raman noodles. Brownies.
What's next for you?
I am just going to enjoy New Zealand summer and everything it has to offer! I realised I have never explored the small towns in our beautiful country, so I will be road tripping around with my little film camera. I will continue creating content and working with brands here, but probably will move in a year or so! I’d love to maybe publish another book or dabble in film/directing. No set plan, just going with the flow!