It is no secret that fashion loves to appropriate. Not only cultures, or ideas, but often also words. Adding descriptions to garments and backgrounds to collections, making them sound deep and deliberate, but often lacking exactly that thought-through purpose. One of those ubiquitously used words is that of “genderless”, describing a concept that sees a garment not being prescribed to a preferred gender when designed, differencing itself from fashion’s established notions of “menswear” and “womenswear”.
With gender, however, being a delicate topic to a lot of people, and designers, simply slapping that word onto a garment like an added name tag often feels more forced than freeing – with brands and magazines increasingly being called out for mindlessly tapping into the “genderless movement”. In July, U.S. Vogue released the cover of its August issue, featuring Model Gigi Hadid and singer Zayn Malik dressed in each other’s clothes – and praised by the magazine as thereby breaking the boundaries of gender and setting an example for genderless fashion and gender fluidity. Vogue was rapidly called out by followers on social media who scolded the magazine that swapping clothes doesn’t just make for being genderless or wearing genderless fashion.
On the contrary, more and more designers and brands are trying to truly tap into the idea of not letting what you create be restricted by the division of menswear and womenswear, or the concept of gender in general. Looking to add a freeing layer to the already heavy weighing limitations that often come with fashion, these brands are embracing a genderless approach because it just feels like the most honest version of themselves and their wearers. In light of the current discussion of genderless fashion, of using social shifts for marketing purposes, and individuality becoming an increasingly valued asset, we asked three of these brands – Muslin Bros, I AND ME, and Private Policy – on their personal understanding of what it means to be a genderless brand today.
Tamar Levit and Yaen Levi, founders of Muslin Brothers, based in Tel Aviv
“In our minds there isn’t really any gender sorting, we just don’t see it this way. People have many definitions for their gender, so it seems foolish that with clothes one has to pick: man or woman. During the development of our brand we just fitted our prototypes on both of us, liked the different way it looked and went for it. The first items we made were a mini capsule collection of trousers which was immediately bought by all genders. It is a privilege for us as fashion designers to work in a discipline that most separate and label. To us, genderless is the range of what is sexual, it moves between power on one hand and fragility on the other. However, when we design, the vision is the interaction of an abstract, generic symbol of the following: the body, the clothing item, and space. All of these are genderless and universal concepts. We adopt details, materials and silhouettes that are mainly masculine or mainly feminine and mix them together to evolve into many different genders, for a multi layered definition. We are very curious to see how retail platforms will react to this reality – will it be the rise of genderless concept stores, will departments still be separated? We set up Muslin Bros to go beyond gender, furthermore, coming from the Middle East we also want it to go beyond religion and ethnicity labels as well.”
Jessica Gebhart, creative director of I AND ME, based in London
“When conceptualizing I AND ME I knew what I wanted it to represent through fabric and form but it didn’t necessarily have a gender. I started designing the first collection and that’s when the genderless route took place. “Genderless” means for everyone. It means a modern way of thinking. It is building momentum within the industry which is only going to be getting stronger. I think more people understand the concept now and are willing to wear a “genderless” piece. The stereotype of what makes a woman a woman and a man a man is old fashioned. The world is changing and genderless fashion plays a big part in that.”
Haoran Li and Siying Qu, creative directors of Private Policy, based in New York
“To us, genderless is a form of freedom and we are all for personal expression. Today, through scientific discoveries and social development, we realize everyone is more similar than different and should be treated equally. Therefore, why would we box in people and dictate how they dress just because of their gender? When setting up Private Policy we were inspired by the progression of New York youth, we observed how people in stores and online are breaking gender boundaries so we wanted to reflect and encourage this great progression of our time. Sometimes, genderless fashion is so organically embedded in the industry we don’t even realize it. For example, the concept of androgyny is cool and has been around for decades, but at the same time being a genderless brand is not that easy. The traditional sense of gender makes genderless fashion sound foreign and strange. To us, a genderless approach is not being afraid of being “too feminine” or “too masculine” and to focus on the spirit of the garment on its own. We would like to see brands and consumers being thoughtful and refine the genderless concept. Not just in fashion, but also within the lifestyle.”
Images Muslin Bros by Asaf Einy