Fashion may be fond of declaring itself post-gender, but on a practical level, the binary is still the industry rule, not the exception. All it takes is a quick jaunt around the separate men's and women's floors of any department store or drop-down menu of most e-commerce sites to remind one of that fact. And it's not just true on a mass consumer level — from New York to Paris, the fashion calendar still requires designers to officially show on either the men's or women's schedule, even if they use models of more than one gender identification.
In the past, designers whose clothing doesn't quite fit into one category or the other have tended to show on the women's schedule, perhaps since womenswear has a reputation for being more experimental than men's in recent decades. And in New York, gender-fluid labels like Vaquera and Gypsy Sport have seemed to make that arrangement work for them just fine, using the the widely-attended womenswear schedule to lure people to shows that the designers can then fill with whatever kinds of clothes they want to, worn by models with a range of gender identities.
This season, though, a similar phenomenon seems to be spreading to the menswear side of the calendar, at least in New York. It's worth noting that the move coincides with a shift toward more eye-catching menswear on the red carpet that's prompted critics like Robin Givhan to declare that "the balance of fashion is shifting to the fellas." Whether that will prove true in the long term or not, one thing's sure: some of the most exciting shows on the menswear schedule this season at NYFW are anything but straightforward suiting-and-streetwear fare. Read on to meet some of the gender-defying designers shaking up the NYFW:M schedule.
A first-timer on the NYFW schedule, No Sesso is a Los Angeles-based brand founded by Pierre Davis and co-helmed by Arin Hayes. As a design duo that also DJs part-time, Davis and Hayes have found an easy bridge into the world of music, dressing the likes of Lizzo, SZA, Chloe x Halle and Kelela in their playful, pieced-together designs.
No Sesso (which means "no sex/no gender" in Italian) aspires to create truly gender-defying clothing that makes labels seem obsolete. It's worth noting that No Sesso is the first brand headed by a trans woman designer to show on the official NYFW calendar, according to the CFDA, though many will remember that other trans women like Gogo Graham have shown off the official calendar to quite buzzworthy results during fashion weeks past.
While each piece that No Sesso makes is currently one-of-a-kind — the brand tends to create based on commissions — the designers tell Fashionista on the phone prior to their Fall 2019 show that they're going to branch into more easily replicable creations like hoodies and accessories soon.
While Emily Adams Bode — designer of the eponymous line Bode established in 2016 — has been working more with all-male or male-presenting casts in recent seasons, her earlier presentations often featured women, as well. And though she insists she's creating menswear these days, it's easy to see the appeal her nostalgic pieces, which are constructed from vintage fabrics, would hold for onlookers regardless of gender.
Made from antique quilts, napkins, towels and curtains, the pieces Bode turns out bear the unmistakable mark of "feminine craft" of ages past even once they're transformed under her hand to become more modern, utilitarian workwear jackets or pants. It's those bits of delicate embroidery, bright colors and intricate piecework that place Bode's work beyond the fold of straightforward menswear, inviting both GQ editors and Midwestern quilting aficionados to nerd out with equal glee.
After briefly decamping to present in Europe, Palomo Spain is back in New York this season showcasing its campy, luxurious vision of costume-y glam. Founded by Spanish designer Alejandro Gómez Palomo, the brand typically displays its pieces on a bevy of pretty young male models in heavy makeup, whether they're posing in NSFW ad campaigns or on the runway. It's this distinctive vision that helped the brand land on the shortlist for 2017's LVMH Prize.
Palomo's attitude toward gender turns an old shopping conundrum on its head. Where femme-leaning queer men have historically been driven to the "women's section" to find clothes glam enough for their tastes, but may have struggled with getting the fit right on pieces not made with their bodies in mind, Palomo Spain creates dramatic gowns and jackets in styles more traditionally associated with cisgender women, but built for bodies that are more likely to come with a Y chromosome. (Of course, if you're a pop star with the dollars to back you, you can always get something custom-made with room for boobs, as Beyoncé did with the Palomo piece she wore to announce the birth of her twins in 2017.)
Fall 2019 only marks Cyprus native Vasilis Loizides's fourth collection to date, but the queer designer's eponymous brand is already starting to pick up some buzz. Loizides studied at Parsons after a stint in the Cypriot military helped him realize that what he actually wanted to pursue was fashion. Though he's still near the beginning of his career, Loizides's work thus far has proven that his range can include everything from the elaborate (think wearable illustrations completed with over-the-top ruffles) to the deceptively simple (think pared-back minimalist tops with mesh paneling).
Literary and art historical references litter his past work, too, with classical sculpture providing a recurring motif for last season. For Fall 2019, images and characters associated with the circus were in heavy rotation, inviting wearers into the kind of space where non-conformists – in matters of gender and otherwise — are invited to take the stage.
"Many of the looks allowed us to confront what a gendered garment is, and what a world beyond that can be," Loizides told Fashionista via email.