A week ago at the Soho Grand Hotel, Collina Strada designer Hillary Taymour and her team set up shop in a club room upstairs to see models for the line's fourth presentation, taking place Saturday. But instead of casting a more homogenous-looking kind of female model — "I swear to God I took a photograph of the same 12 girls today, and they are all on my no list" — she was looking for someone different.
"I've been given an opportunity to create basically whatever I want and given a time, a slot and a space," said Taymour, who shows through Made Fashion Week. (The organization covers the costs of venue and production and provides hair and makeup sponsors.) "How are you going to make it stand out from every other women's collection that shows? It's too much, so let's do something that is at least true to myself as well. I've always been very androgynous... I've never been like, oh, I can only wear women's clothes. I only buy menswear right now. I only shop in vintage men's 1970s sections."
Taymour is further exploring that point this season by casting mostly cisgender males, transgender males and females and gender nonspecific models to wear her womenswear collection — an idea that came from stylist and i-D editor Britt Mccamey. "I make very basic clothing but it's got that cool-kid factor to it... so how do you make that stand out? By casting very unique individuals that really have a presence," said Taymour. She added that she might include cisgender females, too. It doesn't matter as long as they have the x-factor she's looking for. "I don’t want to make them my little puppets... I want them to show themselves through [my clothing]."
It's a chapter in a much larger movement in fashion right now — on the runways, Gucci and Rick Owens have blurred traditional gender lines in industry-defining ways. The LA-based gender neutral and denim focused line 69 is another strong example: even the designer's gender identity is kept secret. In the contemporary market, AG shot a spring campaign starring Daria Werbowy in both the men's and women's collections. And Mother Denim recently produced a unisex capsule for fall, carefully designed to fit the full range of gendered (or non-gendered) bodies.
But Collina Strada's fall 2016 collection will remain firmly in the womenswear market. As a result, much of the clothing (which is shown to buyers almost immediately after the presentation) will not be fit to the models. Taymour finds this idea very appealing. "Some of the pants don't even zip up because they are women's high-waisted, tight trousers," she said. "I feel like everyone is so conscious about the way it looks, but right now I only wear men's pants — rolling them up and twisting them around so that they fit but they don't fit." She and her team are shooting a sales lookbook that will present the clothing in a more conventional way, allowing her to take risks at the presentation.
"It's about making what you feel is representative of you in that time... I create a few risky things and then I fill in [with basics]." But her unconventional casting choices aren't a superficial play for attention — she's thinking about young, insecure kids looking at fashion week images on Instagram. "We can't change the world, we're making clothing, but if there's anything we can do in that realm, why not? And it is interesting to me as well."
So what does she want editors and her customers to take away from her latest presentation? "I hope they get that gender has no boundaries and it's not he, she... you can just be you. And if you want to be your own you through me, go for it."
Note: This article has been updated to include mention of stylist and editor Britt Mccamey.