Kieran Dallison (@kierandallison) and I met in April 2013. A mutual peripheral friend had invited both of us dancing at Sugarland in Williamsburg. Our pal did introductions—Kieran certainly caught my eye—and then the friend immediately offered us a certain dance-your-ass-off substance. Kieran declined, and in a fit of “try everything once” and “you dragged yourself all the way here, now have fun”, I said yes. Flash forward one hour and I’m really tearing up the floor, at one point cornering Kieran against a sea of bodies so that we can talk “privately”. Bless him for tolerating my obnoxious questions and terrible first impression—we got as deep as why he hadn’t yet come out to his father, mid-dance floor while Britney or Ke$ha blared behind us—and we forged a small flirtation. I woke up the next morning, drank three gallons of water, and immediately located his social media accounts. I befriended him, got an “I was just going to befriend YOU!” in response (I must have done something endearing), and we arranged a date. Over the next few weeks, I really got to know and adore the former fat kid, the humble Arizona native who had been a prized CFDA student designer, at the time working under Prabal Gurung (and now Joseph Altuzarra). He was far more talented than anyone I had met in fashion, but also didn’t fit the mold of the kind of people I knew in that business (read: he didn’t take himself too seriously, and didn’t expect anyone else to take him seriously, either). Our courtship unfolded like many: good chemistry, a few dates in a couple weeks, a little TLC, then the realization that the dynamic is better played out platonically. We ended things amicably and mutually, and I assumed I would never see him again, aside from the occasional run-in. Then, four months later, I got an invitation to his New York Fashion Week show when our mutual friend’s date backed out (Kieran had suggested me as the alternate). I knew nothing about fashion but jumped at the chance to see my acquaintance’s designs on the runway. That small gesture resuscitated our contact and launched not one, but a handful of the most treasured friendships I have had the pleasure of keeping.
I’ve always had a breadth of friends; there are endless “catch-up coffee dates” and pals passing through town, but few people with deep-rooted, unconditional investments. What always eluded me—and thus what I sought out—was depth with a core group. I saw the breadth thing happening again after coming out; I hopped between groups of gays and never felt quite at home. It’s a big reason I so willingly left San Francisco; I pinned a lot of hope on New York for it, too. I needed gay friends like me: adventurous but not mischievous—in everything, including an approach to sex; broke, but gradually less so; humble roots, with a respect for family values and perhaps a tinge of jadedness on the matter; not competitive, whatsoever. When Kieran and I reconnected and made a conscious effort to start hanging out, that’s when things started to compound. My friendly acquaintance Zach (@zachames) invited a couple buddies over to watch the Miss America pageant (this is a thing gay men do), and asked everyone to extend the invitation, so Kieran tagged along. I’ll spare details of our beauty-pageant commentary, but will say that a weird connection happened in Zach’s apartment that night: A handful of mid-20 something gay men, all in the same earnings bracket, all single but one, all admittedly lacking a core group of gay friends, all confident in their point of view…everything clicked. Odd as it may be, the analogy that makes the most sense is Tarzan meeting Jane and the other humans; I had met my people! Soon we were planning weekend trips together, booking a house in Provincetown for a summer vacation, meeting for dinner at odd weeknight hours to vent about dumb boys or broken hearts or work frustrations. “I felt like I had found friends who wanted to become better, and who wanted to rely on one another to do that,” Kieran says. “None of us was from NYC, and we all had to work hard to get what we wanted, and were still at the start of that. We hardly overlapped professionally, and it created this incredible dynamic or encouragement and appreciation. That first year that I knew you boys, it felt like so many years condensed into one. It was just…rich. Finally.”
“There are certain moments I look to as far as personal benchmarks of my authenticity to living in New York,” Kieran says. “One was moving out of the dorms and into my first apartment. Graduating into a real design job was another. Meeting you boys was the biggest emotional fulfillment, though. Not only did I live here—in the one city I knew I needed to be in—but I felt comfortable in it. New York was capital-H Home now. There was a built-in support system; somebody was available to talk or make jokes or sulk to or celebrate. Not a day goes by that a group text or email thread isn’t lighting up with snarky comments. I’ve had plenty of friends at any point, but you all feel less fleeting.” I agree wholeheartedly. Sure, life events—like Ben moving to Denver with Justin—will continue to happen, and in ten years, I’m sure we’ll all have offshoot groups of friends, but I can say with certainty that this is the one I will reflect upon most fondly. There’s @robbiegordy, the Nebraska-native art auctioneer who looks like a surfer but talks like a prince; the 6-foot-6 Utahn @zachames who works in corporate diversity and is known to ride the 6-train in full Barbie drag; long-haired copywriter goofball @jeffkies from Missouri who says all the best inappropriate things; Los Angeleno photographer @danielseunglee who endures our jabs of being the “baby” of the group, despite being the only one with a car and having to drive us everywhere; the Arizonan, womenswear designer @kierandallison, of course, and his Long Island-born, brain-researcher beefcake boyfriend @bryangonzales who gradually and graciously accepts that we are all idiots; the now-in-Denver integrated marketing wiz @benjaminnyc and his Missourian education administrator darling @justinhsmith; and theater contract negotiator @trippppp, the Atlantan-turned-Chicagoan-turned New Yorker who pretends to be grumpy but is actually the warmest of the bunch (he did, after all, invite me to be his roommate when I needed it). I don’t know what I did to deserve these men. My worst days with them are better than my best days without.
Once Ben and Justin announced their departure, I had this sinking reality that everything is finite, that a good thing is good because it is temporary, because it must be earned and can be lost. I admired Ben on the one hand for taking a risk on his relationship and professional life, but I was upset for selfish reasons. I wanted this Kumbaya group dynamic to stay whole, to be my reality long enough to grow old with it, not to have it yanked instead from our hands. “As Ben grew serious with Justin and then told us he was moving, I had an ‘oh my god’ moment, too” says Kieran. “It was us being reactionary and immediate. At the same time, Bryan (Kieran’s boyfriend) was applying to schools that weren’t in New York. They were on the West Coast, or in Boston. I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do if he had to move. Had Bryan decided to go to school outside the city, I’m not sure I would have been as courageous as Ben, given that I’m so rooted in New York professionally, and since our relationship felt so new at that point.” (Though it’s nearly a year older than Ben’s and Justin’s, to be fair.) “It felt like Ben was leaving the party at its height,” Kieran says. “I’m glad his moving didn’t fracture our group’s dynamic, though. Instead, it just felt like an unfortunate reminder that as much as we want to preserve life as-is, it will never be guaranteed.” My thoughts on the matter: Everything is more valuable when you take the time to earn it, to experience imperfect versions of friends or jobs or apartments before realizing what it is that you need. A lot of us in our group had a chip on our shoulder about our togetherness, since it was hard-earned and past due in each of our lives. Ben’s 1,600-mile separation felt like the curtain being pulled back to reveal one of the unfortunate realities of growing older: Coping is often best done by accepting things as matter of fact, as “just the way things work.” Luckily, I had a handful of friends with whom I could cope. I only wonder who’ll be next.
I think what brought us together is a certain level of ambition, anchored by the fact that we are at the same point professionally, financially: We’re all middle class, which I’m certain plays a role. Furthermore, none of us is aroused by a muscled body or impressed by opulence—OK, Kieran’s whole job is about creating opulence, but his oxford shirts and khakis allow his art to speak for itself—and there’s a certain level of not taking oneself seriously that is absolutely important. Kieran nails that—they all do. No egos. No holier-than-thous. “We are never in competition with each other,” Kieran says. “We can make fun of each other’s insecurities and nobody feels targeted or ashamed. It always feels loving, feels brotherly.” Maybe you’re thinking “OK, Adam, you guys just described a bunch of good things, and only an insane person would cite his or her friendship requisites as ‘malicious, shallow, egotistical, lazy, rich since birth, gym bodies only…'” It’s true that I’ve met plenty of great guys who fit the bill of our dynamic, but who would never fit in. I don’t intend to imply that anyone should WANT to fit in, or that we’re anybody’s best option. Instead, we’re each other’s best option, and our friendship was formed by some perfect storm of variables that allowed us to find each other precisely when we did. I’ll take a moment to brag about one thing, though: In the past year, no fewer than 20 people have told me that they envy my group of friends for how charming and hilarious and intellectual the guys are, and that I’m very lucky. And, that I seem exponentially happier since these people came along. This suggests that I really needed these guys, and that I kept high standards in finding them. So maybe that was our requisite: We all just…needed to find each other. I like thinking there are a groups like ours being formed around the city all the time, little perfect storms of people like us, needing one another, finding one another, and each of them realizing, finally, that this is as good as it gets—these are my people, and it was worth the wait.
If you ask Kieran to brag about himself, it’s like pulling teeth. He won’t try to impress strangers with his employer’s name. He undersells his talents and honors. Since I know him well, I can get a more candid side: “I’m so lucky to be at Altuzarra right now,” he says. “I met Joseph (Altuzarra) just before graduating, after I won a couple CFDA scholarships. (That’s Council of Fashion Designers of America, the big deal.) CFDA asked where I wanted to work after school, and Altuzarra was by far my top choice. At the time he was picking up momentum, but now his company is on a crazy upward trajectory. I was a fan of his aesthetic and liked his ‘woman’. However, the industry is so different from when I graduated in 2012. When I was 21, sure it might have been my ego and a couple scholarship wins talking, but I thought I was well on my way, on a fast-track to being a creative director. Now, at 26, I see how naïve that was. Arguably, with the right amount of money and some sharp ‘made-to-go-viral’ PR, anyone can carve out 15 minutes for themselves, but what’s happened is that this industry has now become diluted and there are so many clothes shown each season. It inevitably got me wondering how necessary my perspective really is at the end of the day. The answer is ‘It’s not necessary.’ The world will be fine without it, but it leaves me and a lot of people wondering what the point is. It’s like I’m on square one because I identify more with students than I do with the big-shot names we all know. I feel like a sophomore in high school; I’m not a pitiful freshman, but I’m not cool enough to hang with the seniors, and I’m sure I’ll feel that way for some time.” I chime in: “Do you have the stamina to be a sophomore for the foreseeable future?” “This is the only thing I’m trained to do. I have invested a lot into this, and I literally have no idea what else I would rather do. I know this world, and I love this world.” I think that sentiment encapsulates a lot of us here, and at least sums up my closest friends: Trapped by ambition or will or potential. But hopeful. Focused. Patient. Not deterred, for now.