New York 'Voguers'

It's "in vogue." But not actually in Vogue, the fashion magazine.

It's called "vogue-ing," and it's the latest phenomenon to hit the streets of this city since break-dancing.

Young men move down a runway like the world's highest-paid fashion models but in fast-frame movements, striking stylized poses in quick succession combined with an athleticism akin to gymnastics. It's inspired by the attitude of the $4,000-a-day mega-models who are the stars of the designer runways and glossy magazine pages, epitomized by Vogue, probably the world's best-known fashion publication.

The voguers are kids who come from the streets who've found a way to express themselves through their own take on the glamorous aspects of the fashion world. They had their biggest moment to date recently at an AIDS benefit, called the Love Ball, held at the legendary Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, and given by the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS (DIFFA).

The event raised about $400,000 and attracted a host of top designers--Geoffrey Beene, Donna Karan, Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Mary Ann Restivo and Thierry Mugler (in town from Paris). There were artists too, among them Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente, Ross Bleckner (who created trophies for the vogue-ing competition) and other celebrities, such as Talking Head's lead singer David Byrne, writer Fran Lebowitz, music magus Malcolm McLaren and supermodels Iman and Lauren Hutton.

Aptly enough, Vogue editor Anna Wintour showed up to see just what her publication has inspired. Susanne Bartsch, current queen of the Manhattan club scene, conceived the event and, in a way, brought vogue-ing into pop culture from the streets of Harlem, where it supposedly originated as far back as the 1920s. Trendy as it is in New York right now, it hasn't caught on in Los Angeles.

Performances generally don't take place at $500-per-person top-ticket benefits, but they do at balls held frequently throughout the year from Harlem to the East Village. Voguers organize in clubs they call houses (House of Extravaganza, House of Ebony, House of Magnifique). They compete on a runway in what they call "battles of mannequin pose and attitude, battles of grand gesture and drop-dead style."

They wear everything from tights you'd see in an exercise class to evening clothes--sequined ensembles, tux outfits or recycled designer originals. They're judged for outfit as well as act. And the best acts are an amazing combination of the classic poses you've seen in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar or Elle, paired with convoluted movements worthy of a contortionist, as the performers propel themselves down the runway like fashion locomotives.

"It's astonishing to me, the enormous amount of energy and endeavor and the stylized look of it," designer Geoffrey Beene said. "They've jumped off the skateboard ever so elegantly and refined that act. In a way, they've brought Uptown and Downtown together. There should be more of that."

Donna Karan was also inspired by the sendup of conventions of chic.

"My DKNY line is street-inspired, and these guys made me realize I have to go out more. I can find out what the next great motorcycle jacket will look like from them."

"They could teach some of these models how to walk," designer Michael Kors observed. "They have more presence than some of the girls who are getting $500 per hour.

"These kids didn't grow up wearing expensive clothes, but they have a sense of what it means--lots of flair. Obviously it's coming from inside of them. That's neat."

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