The debate of whether "unisex" can ever be a bonafide category in fashion
has just intensified now that Selfridges and Nicola Formichetti's Nicopanda are in the game. The two powerhouses have teamed up for the launch of Selfridges Agender, a temporary space within the store designed by Faye Toogood, who has created retail spaces, installations and visual materials for brands like Comme des Garçons, Alexander McQueen, Opening Ceremony and Tom Dixon. The shop, which celebrated its opening with a party hosted by Formachetti on Wednesday, spans three floors of the department store and showcases a new take on the much talked about "gender neutral" category.
Selfridges has tapped into some heavyweight talent to kick the whole thing
off. Of course, leading the charge is Formichetti's Nicopanda, a new
unisex line he created during the rare downtime he gets from his post as creative director at Diesel: "I do Diesel all day long, but weeknights and weekends are Nicopanda time." Other designers include Jeremy Scott, Rad by Rad Hourani, Hood by Air, Off White, VFiles and many more. In other words, fashion's cool crowd. To make the campaign even more powerful, transgender model and actress Hari Nef was cast as the star of the launch video.
Despite pushes from human rights mavericks in getting alternative lifestyles
recognized not just legally, but also in people's psyches, those lifestyles
are still a political minefield for many retailers who worry about offending
their more conservative customers. So, for an established retailer to take
on a new category with so much enthusiasm is an impressively brave act, and
shows commitment to instigating change for the good. While many pay lip
service to "modernity" and "fashion forward," there is perhaps no better
example of those phrases being put into action than Agender. For that,
Formachetti is effusive in his praise for Selfridges, calling it "the best
department store in the world."
"It is an incredibly amazing institution that is taking so many risks
with Agender," he said. "They are really taking what is still an edgy concept and
bringing it to the mainstream. I mean, it's easier for smaller, niche
retailers to do this, but for a big commercial entity like Selfridges to do
it, and to create something so cool in such a humungous space took a real
team effort and shows what they are all about."
"The fact, too, that they hired Hari Nef to be the star of the campaign says
something," Formichetti continued. "I mean, she is known within the small New York party scene, but for Selfridges to embrace someone who is still on the edge just shows how forward-thinking they are."
Nicopanda (Formichetti's nickname in Japan) is inspired by his much loved
Harajuku, and the line was partially created to honor his fan base who adore him in a way boy bands can only dream of. For these young, cool kids, pricing was key: "I have so many younger followers who can't afford a lot of the stuff I do, so I really wanted to create cheaper stuff from them, yet still keep it cool and make it feel like they were buying into something more high priced." While prices at Agender top the £2,000 mark, you can start off with a piece at around £20, while Nicopanda's pieces hover at around £100.
Fit was another issue Formichetti labored over. Borrowing from a
boyfriend's closet has become so much of a 'thing,' that womenswear
garments are actually named after it: think the ubiquitous boyfriend jeans
and sweater. Less ubiquitous is a man borrowing from his girlfriend's
wardrobe. Ok, maybe he pinches some socks — but shirts and
jackets? Not so much. For Formichetti, proper fit could propel unisex to
really work as a category. "I had two fit models constantly, and we really
worked hard to ensure the fit could satisfy the genderless criteria."
On the subject of fit, there could be perhaps no more fitting a model to star in the Kathryn Ferguson and Alex Turvey-directed video than Hari Nef, the model/actress/performance artist of the moment. Dancing and strutting along to a track sung by Neneh Cherry and Dev Hynes (see below), she tells Fashionista: "I've been told so many times that my look and my attitude were 'too edgy' to appeal to big fashion clients, so the invitation to work with Selfridges felt like validation. When you're a transgender model, this kind of validation is less about your ego and more about your livelihood itself — a question of whether you have any business modeling in the first place."
"When I heard about Agender at Selfridges, first I thought: 'Really?' Then
I thought 'cool," Nef continued. "I'm on board with any effort to make institutions more accessible to people across a wider range of intersections of gender, race,
class, ability, and so on." Nef also weighed in on whether she thinks that gender
neutral clothing could take off: "Seeing as you can go to an organic supermarket and sift through 23 different brands of organic raspberry preserves, it's hard to imagine that we've only got two mainstream options for gender — and that this extends to something so essential as clothes."
The irony here is that gender-neutral clothing — if one were to turn fashion
geek/historian for a moment — is nothing new. Mulan, Joan of Arc,
Victorian-era cross dressers and latterly, Marlene Dietrich and Le Smoking, for example. Despite all the momentum created in bygone eras, the industry this century has been in slow motion into making it a category, perhaps testing the
waters of how tolerant clientele can be. What is telling is that Selfridges buyers noted that their clients were not only browsing, but buying in areas designated for the opposite sex.
So, baby steps have turned into fuller, more confident strides, or as Nef tells us:
"I think there are many people who identify as male, I think there are many people (like myself) who identify as female, and I think there are many people who might (or might eventually) identify as somewhere in-between. Like, thank goodness for a third option, you know? I think that clothes which operate outside of menswear and womenswear will eventually take off, because they have the potential to appeal to such a wide variety of people — men, women, anyone. Are consumers ready to take that leap? I'm not sure, but I think eventually they will be."
We're certainly hoping so.