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EXCLUSIVE: Port Charlotte's fashion visionary shares story during Pride Month

Asher Levine pioneered Port Charlotte High School's first Gay-Straight Alliance, now he pioneers the fashion of the future for superstars.
Posted at 8:08 PM, Jun 20, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — For Asher Levine, Pride Month means being proud of his identity, and his success in the fashion industry on the world’s biggest stages.

Levine was raised in Port Charlotte, and found his passion for design there at a young age.

“Southwest Florida was a great place to grow up actually, there was access to art education in the schools and I always enjoyed making anything with my hands. There was a sewing class opportunity when I was ten, and I took that sewing class and totally found a medium that I really enjoy working in. So, I joined a local 4-H club called Silly Stitchers and it was kind of like my secret back then because you didn't necessarily want to be the boy who sewed in Port Charlotte”

Asher Levine spoke with Fox 4's Charlotte County Community Correspondent Alex Orenczuk over Zoom from his studio in Los Angeles.

By the time Levine was a senior at Port Charlotte High School in 2005-2006, he was out of the closet and began pushing back against anti-LGBTQ culture by pioneering the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance.

“I was sort of forced out, and once I was out I was like why should anyone feel like they can't be themselves? And how can we foster an environment, especially when we are coming of age like in high school, how can we foster an environment where people can be free to be themselves? So, I did some research and found out about gay-straight alliances. It was rough trying to start it, although there was legislation where you had to allow students to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. To my surprise we had over 75 people show up in the first meeting and a lot of them stayed there after.”

Despite a large participation in the alliance, Levine faced protests from both his classmates, and the extreme anti-LGBTQ Westboro Baptist Church.

“I was 16 at the time and the first wave of hate was a student led organization TAG, Teens Against Gays. That was wild, and they started making TAG shirts, and what was crazier was seeing people wear the shirts and the teachers not doing anything about that. So there were levels of expressed hate, and then when Westboro Baptist Church came, it really helped amplify our message of wanting to bridge a divide between misunderstandings. It was great actually, that day I said we're all going to wear white, we're going to do a silent protest, and we're going to do it peacefully.”

Port Charlotte High School
Levine graduated from Port Charlotte High School in 2006.

Asher said accepting his identity during his youth helped him find confidence, which helped further his creativity and build the base for his visionary fashion designs that would come later.

“I feel lucky that I was able to create my confidence and show that being a queer person isn't just your sexuality, being a queer person is innately about nonconformity. It's about being on the outskirts of society, questioning society, and asking why do we do the things that we do? I see that queer identity is about questioning the foundations of society and that's where creativity lives.”

After graduating from PCHS in 2006, Levine went to New York to study business and to be closer to the fashion industry.

“Since I already knew how to sew pretty well, I received a phenomenal scholarship to Pace University for business. So I said "let me nurture my business skills while I still grow my fashion skills, and New York is a great place to really let your style explode and test your styles.”

Before graduating from Pace, Asher launched his first menswear catalog which would ultimately catapult his designs to the forefront of innovative fashion.

“I was very focused, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I was very focused. I said when I graduated college I wanted to be busy right away. So, to do that, I'm like, let me launch a capsule for men. So, I launched this really cool grunge punk aesthetic collection, and I kid you not, a month later I was doing Lady Gaga's Poker Face leather jackets.”

Asher Levine Design
Levine works on a design.

Levine has since used his experience to define his style and create designs using futuristic elements and unique materials. His designs have been worn and sought after by superstars including Taylor Swift, Lil Nas X and Doja Cat.

“I'm super honored when, like, Christina Aguilera hits me up to make the finale outfit for her Vegas residency. I was that kid in Port Charlotte jamming to Christina Aguilera, and now she is turning to me to bring her image and herself into the future. I mean, it still gives me chills when I put it like that. I feel so honored, and I'm humbled when these pop stars hit me up to catapult them into the future.”

Levine poses with a design he created for Doja Cat's 2020 VMA's performance.

Asher Levine said at the root of his success and his creative expression, is the freedom to be himself, which is something he recommends to everyone. Especially during Pride Month.

“Just be yourself. We don't have to live by any labels. Now, if being yourself rubs someone the wrong way, that's not on you, that's on them. What I do and my queerness are completely tied together. Jumping into the unknown, being outside the framework, and rearranging what that framework can look like. Not saying that all queers are fashion designers, or that all fashion designers are queers, or gay or LGBTQ, or any of that. It's just, this is my journey and what I've experienced, and that is something to reflect on as it is Pride Month.”