By Reya Mehrotra
For Liberian-American fashion designer Telfar Clemens, his genderless fashion label Telfar (with the tagline ‘Not for You, for Everyone’) embodies his whole belief system. “That guy is wearing that and that girl is wearing that and every single person is wearing that and that’s how people actually look all over the world, which is how I’ve been imagining the world in my head my whole life,” Clemens says. While other fashion labels suffered huge economic losses or even shut down during the pandemic, Telfar shone bright. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, in fact, were seen flaunting the iconic Telfar bag. When it comes to inspiration, Clemens says he loves the model of tech behemoth Apple because it “disrupted the way we think about what we need to live now” and says he wants to do the same in fashion.
Since a long time, society has followed a set pattern: pink is for girls, blue is for boys, gown is for women, suit is for men. But all that is changing now. Enter androgynous, or gender-neutral, fashion. The trend was accelerated by the pandemic and the work-from-home culture, which saw everybody turn to comfortable, gender-neutral clothing like oversized T-shirts, pyjamas, joggers, tracksuits, etc. Now, as the world slowly returns to normal, it is time to ask an important question: will the post-pandemic world be gender-inclusive in fashion?
Hidesign’s London-based lead designer Fabian Lintott believes so and has designed the new collection for men with that in mind. His ‘Back to Work’ bag collection is called Homme, which literally means ‘man’, but the design sensibility goes beyond the accepted norms of ‘masculinity’. With British edginess and French chic, the bags have a unisex appeal. “I remember visiting Osaka in 2009 and seeing much more experimentation and the blurring of lines between men and women’s bags. Japan is more evolved in this case,” Lintott says, adding, “The future of fashion will see less seasonal and more inclusive lines where comfort and practicality will be primary.”
To make the bags gender-inclusive, a lot of time was spent on finetuning the collection. “If you look at our bags, you will find softer lines and silhouettes that will look good on anyone. We have also played around with otherwise classic work bags by adding swirls of embroidery and soft quilting,” explains Lintott, adding that the ‘new normal’ will certainly have an effect on the fashion industry-on what we buy and what we choose to wear as well.
Hidesign is not alone when it comes to bringing out androgynous fashion and being experimental. Sportswear brands Nike and Adidas both have a line of unisex shoes. Reebok, too, has its line of unisex sportswear. Italian luxury fashion house Fendi has its collection of unisex sneakers.
As an outdoor lifestyle brand, Woodland has both casual and formal fashion, but with an edge. Its boots are unisex and can be worn on any occasion. “Our leather boots are designed for all. When we design a product, we make sure it is not put in a box in terms of design and colour. We envision making it accessible for everyone,” says managing director Harkirat Singh. Footwear retail company Bata, too, has unisex shoes under its brand Power.
Then there is Antar Agni, a young Indian brand, which stands out for its androgynous styles. Ujjawal Dubey, founder of the label, debuted his first collection at the Lakme Fashion Week in 2014. “Society is moving towards becoming progressive because there is a lot of acceptance that has come in the last few years. As a result, androgynous and gender-fluid fashion is making its presence felt now more than ever. This has stemmed from the need for people to be free. Secondly, wearability and ease are the second biggest reasons behind the popularity of gender-fluid fashion. We spent a majority of last year in pyjamas and although this may continue for a while longer, people now want to dress up. Wearability has been our key rule since the inception of the brand and we will always work around that and try to interpret it in our clothing as much as possible,” says Dubey.
While clothing may not be new per se to the unisex domain, the most recent feminine accessory that has entered men’s fashion is pearls. In December, actor Ranveer Singh, who is known to challenge acceptable fashion norms, sported a double pearl necklace in one of his Instagram posts. In Hollywood, singer and actor Harry Styles has worn a pearl necklace on many occasions.
Similarly, the neon sports shoe trend, which is also gender-neutral, has raided the market. Actor Anil Kapoor’s bright pink Nike Zoom Fly sports shoes have been in the public eye through his Instagram posts and, recently, they even made their debut in the Netflix movie AK vs AK, where the actor could be seen wearing his favourite pair of shoes.
But the celebrity who has been truly leading the charge when it comes to bending the gender in fashion is American actor Billy Porter. He has introduced what we can call the ‘gown-suit’ or
the ‘tuxedo-gown’ as part of his signature style during events. At the 91st Academy Awards in 2019, Porter arrived in a black tuxedo gown designed by Christian Siriano and challenged the formal dress code for the Oscars. His red carpet looks have consistently transcended traditions and set new standards. In February last year, Porter wore a black and pink floral blazer with black spandex leggings for Richard Quinn’s fall 2020 fashion show. The same month, he wore a purple pant-gown with a purple hat for the Vanity Fair Oscars Party and a yellow-gold feathered bodice and skirt for the 92nd Annual Academy Awards.
“Why limit yourself when you can be neutral and creative at the same time?” says designer Sahil Kochhar, who has worked with Rohit Bal and has his own label under his name.
Time for makeup
Gender neutrality has made its mark not just in fashion, but also in the makeup industry. Men’s grooming is now no longer restricted to shaving kits, perfumes and hair gels, but includes mascara, foundations and even concealers. “It is radical inclusivity. Generation Z in particular will drive this trend, with social media inspiring and encouraging them to reject gender-conforming identities, and search for brands that represent and reflect their desire for diversity,” says Jenni Middleton, director of beauty in London at WGSN, the global authority on consumer and design trends. The WGSN, she says, welcomes diversity in all its forms.
Brands specialising in makeup for men have already made their debuts. UK-based brands Shakeup Cosmetics and War Paint for Men have come up with makeup sets for them, including powder, foundations, tinted moisturisers, primer, bronzers and so on. Phy, an Indian men’s lifestyle care brand in fact, exclusively deals in men’s grooming and styling products like facewashes, moisturisers, face masks, etc.
Not only celebrities but social media stars and influencers, too, have jumped on to the gender-neutral bandwagon. Comedian Benito Skinner, who goes by the name Benny Drama and has 1.3 million followers on Instagram, is known for putting on makeup and wearing gender-neutral clothing often. In India, content creator Ankush Bahuguna has been normalising makeup for men through his Instagram videos. He advocates using makeup to cover flaws the same way women do. Influencer Siddharth Batra, too, has been normalising the topic through his #GuyBeauty series on Instagram. Batra can be seen wearing bright and printed patterns with necklaces, including pearls, in his pictures.
Hidesign’s ‘Back to Work’ bag collection has a unisex appeal
Indian androgynous brands
The Indian brand is reviving traditional Indian arts and textile designs
The Delhi-based brand, founded in 2017, is gender- as well as size-fluid
A non-conformist design label
Founded in 2015, the brand advocates breaking stereotypes, barriers and prescribed norms in every aspect
Launched in 2012, it is all about sustainability, inclusivity and mindful buying
The Mumbai-based label, founded in 2019, is known for gender-fluid and custom-made clothing
Founded in 2014, the brand is known for its relaxed and raw silhouettes
International androgynous brands
Californian genderless clothing label, founded in 2016, that sources fabric from California and Japan
Unisex line established in 2005 in New York City
Founder Emily Adams Bode was the first woman to show a collection at the 2016 New York Men’s Fashion Week
Los Angeles-based fashion house founded in 2015 by Pierre Davis. No Sesso in Italian means ‘no sex’ or ‘no gender’
Makes universal garments tailored to fit all genders
Specialises in gender-free, anti-waste and upcycled garments
Eco-friendly and genderless New York-based label
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy
The brand ignores all gender norms, preparing the way for a post-gender world
The unisex line designs sustainably-made heritage pieces
The label, which mixes leisure and luxury, has a number of gender-neutral clothing, including shirts