Fashion designers come and go, with very few becoming household names like Yves Saint Laurent or Coco Chanel. Denver based designer Duane Topping has plans to become one of the greats, seeing his designs available in boutiques and department stores alike.
Topping didn’t take the typical route to becoming a designer. Having served three tours in Iraq, he is an military veteran who retired in 2012, and channeled his difficulty readjusting to civilian life into creating fashion. “I was really inspired by my wife,” said Topping, noting that he began his immersion into fashion when he realized that it wasn’t always easy for her to find clothes that she liked. “As I got into the fashion world, I realized how many women were shunned.”
Topping’s production line offers sizes to 16, but he also custom designs pieces for those of a bigger size or different shape, noting that “angles change from woman-to- woman.” In the past year, his work has been featured at Denver Fashion Week and has been picked up by both Baltimore and New York Fashion Week.
Topping strives to make each of his shows different in terms of models and body types, with a focus on featuring women of color modeling his work. Becoming a designer has caused him to become more political, as the usage of women of color in his pieces speaks to the inequality and inequity we see in many industries, fashion being one of them.“There’s a lot of equality rhetoric in the academic sector, but not necessarily in the streets,” he said. “I appreciate the diversity, and I want to fool with people’s notions of what’s normal.”
A self-identified feminist, Duane discovered many of his ideologies when he attended Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he majored in English Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. This has led to much of his work being focused on empowering women in their own bodies, and helping to show the importance of self-love and body acceptance.
Topping’s designs strike a balance of form-fitting and loose, flowing clothing. He says that his designs are also inspired by Colorado itself, noting that there’s a “natural flow to the mountains. It’s meant to be easy but there’s also a drama to it…There has to be a drama to your clothes, that’s why we wear clothes.”
Topping’s work has received acclaim from his local fashion scene, but his involvement in it has been challenged mostly by the military community. Despite his time served, the military’s view on masculinity and patriarchy plays a role in the lack of support. Duane, however, doesn’t let it affect his work, noting that “If you went through life trying to make everyone happy, you won’t get anywhere.”
While Topping doesn’t currently have a men’s line, he has had men model some of his work, showing his support of androgyny and the LGBTQ+ community, and he plans to release two pieces of menswear in his next collection. As for his line itself, he hopes to begin selling his designs to boutiques and wants to open a brick and mortar shop within the next year, aiming to make it a platform for other local designers to showcase their work too.
With his work reflecting his own journey, Topping wants the takeaway to perpetuate the notion of not judging a book by its cover because he’s “innovated something that broke boundaries.” Learn more about Duane Topping and see his work at Toppingdesigns.com.