Creativity Thrives When Fashion Breaks Its Own Rules

Olly Awake

From Columbus-based Olly Awake’s gender equal fashion line

For many years, fashion has been synonymous with femininity. Take a look at generations of red carpet photos and you’ll see it – women in elegant gowns, high heels, sparkling jewelry and professionally done hair and makeup.  In general, men have sported classic black tuxes or pinstripes.

In recent years, these traditional fashion roles have started to change. Styles from the 2019 Met Gala were probably the biggest and boldest examples of this. Ugly Betty’s Michael Urie wore a half-pinstripe suit, half-pink tulle gown, offset with professional makeup, dangling earrings, a glittery clutch and delicate heel while the tulle gown was accompanied by Doc Martens and an unshaven face. Jared Leto wore a dress. Ezra Miller wore a diamond corset and sported bright red lips.

It’s not uncommon to see women in suits on the red carpet these days either. From Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Stewart, Sandra Oh, Miley Cyrus and more, celebrities are leading the way for gender-bending fashion.

In Columbus, fashion label Olly Awake is making a name for itself as a fashion brand for everyone and anyone with its gender-equal designs. Their pieces are free from traditional gender labels and restraints and their sizes run in shapes, not numbers.  For this year’s Wonderball, we are lucky to have Olly Awake designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart and founder Kevin Terry Smith serve as event hosts, so we sat down with them to learn more about this concept.

What are some key elements of gender-equal fashion?
Gender-equal (as we call it) or gender-neutral fashion begins with true intention. While we obviously believe anyone can wear any piece of clothing they choose, for us creating a gender equal line is a dedication to specifically designed clothing to meet this need. Fashion design, just like architecture or graphic design, seeks to resolve a problem. We are working to create a pathway for people to wear clothing that transcends traditional gender norms. 

Olly Awake focuses on several elements: fit, movement, feeling and relevance to our community. Our aesthetic stands separately: sleek, modern and structural. We start at ground-zero, rethinking the basic design of our garments so they create a beautiful fit that is a compliment for many gender presentations.   

Why was it important to create this line?
We talk a lot about pathways and transformation in our brand. Movement of thought – out of darkness, into light – from confusion and discomfort, to boldness and self-confidence. We want to be one tool our community can use to become the best versions of themselves they can be.

From the individual to a larger scope, we firmly believe that design has the ability to create real change in society. It was difficult for differently abled folks to move through public spaces, until community intervened and demanded intentional design that allowed open access to everyone. This is the power of design when it meets intention and bold thinking – it changes the world.

How has the Columbus fashion community responded to this line?
The Columbus fashion community is like a big warm hug. We are pretty unconventional: we don’t really do shows, our community of ‘Olly fam’ are typically people outside the fashion scene, you get the idea. The fashion community in Columbus has been so wonderful in embracing us – quirks and all! 

How can Columbus continue to support LBGTQ+ artists and designers?
Columbus has done such a great job in supporting LGBTQ+ artists and designers by attending events that support their work and by actually purchasing! By buying the work, we sustain the artists and designers in their endeavors!

What are some recommendations for how Wonderball guests can show their fashionable sides outside of traditional gender roles?
Gender equality is all about the movement of being our true selves, so the most fashionable way to express that is to wear what makes us feel expressive and free! Free from the conventional gender mindset. So, if you feel like a fancy suit is what makes you feel that way, that’s fantastic! Or perhaps variations on the traditional wear, like a suit jacket with a long train or a giant kimono over a jumpsuit or a fabulous kaftan with a ruffled neckline! The sky is the limit! 

So, this Saturday, come to Wonderball in whatever makes you feel most truly and uniquely you! We look forward to seeing everyone’s fabulously styled black-and-white creations.

Check out to learn more about this new line.

(Please note: Wonderball tickets will NOT be sold at the door).

– Lexi Sweet is public relations manager at Experience Columbus and a four-year member of the Wonderball marketing committee. Sweet is a graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.