When two be­come one

Hot off the in­ter­na­tional cat­walks, uni­sex, or gen­der­less, cloth­ing is fash­ion’s next big thing.

Taranaki Daily News - - Fashion & Beauty -

‘‘We still make men’s and women’s pieces – they cross over – it’s in­ter­change­able rather than try­ing to de­sign for one body shape.’’

Rob Rigutto Co-founder of Level streetwear

Last week on so­cial me­dia, a meme did the rounds in which New York copy­writer Chris Men­dez asked why women all over the city ap­peared to be dress­ing like the Sacha Baron Co­hen char­ac­ter Ali G.

While Men­dez’s ex­am­ple was ex­treme – Ali G, a par­ody of the ‘‘white guy’’ ap­pro­pri­a­tion of hiphop cul­ture, usu­ally wore a yel­low para­chute track­suit and train­ers – he wasn’t far from the truth.

What Men­dez was ob­serv­ing, at a broader level, was the spread of baggy, over­sized cloth­ing – in­spired by 1990s cul­ture – and the blur­ring of gen­der lines in the fash­ion world and more widely. ‘‘There’s a global change, the world and pol­i­tics are all in align­ment. It hap­pens once in a gen­er­a­tion and be­comes the norm,’’ says Rob Rigutto, co­founder of streetwear brand Level.

While Rigutto and his busi­ness part­ners were dream­ing up a truly uni­sex cloth­ing brand two years ago, well be­fore #metoo and the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump, he can’t help draw par­al­lels be­tween the de­mand for diver­sity and in­clu­sive­ness in fash­ion and the suc­cess of uni­sex, or gen­der­less, brands.

‘‘There were a lot of girls wear­ing boy things – the boyfriend jacket, the jean – there’s some­thing about sweats that is in­her­ently uni­sex,’’ Rigutto says.

Since the late noughties, fash­ion has also be­come more ca­sual – you only have to look at the ob­ses­sion with ‘‘ath­leisure’’ – an­other fact that plays into the hands of uni­sex brands.

On the run­way, every­one from Gucci to Tom Ford has shown men’s and women’s cloth­ing to­gether.

Last year, Swedish fast-fash­ion chain H&M dis­pensed with gen­der spe­cific mar­ket­ing of its denim lines, while Bonds has re­leased a uni­sex range for tweens. Be­fore you ask, it in­cludes pinks and blues.

One of the com­mon mis­con­cep­tions around uni­sex cloth­ing, says Rigutto, is that it’s in­her­ently ‘‘greige’’, or un­flat­ter­ing. When he was start­ing Level, he wanted to cre­ate pieces that could fit ‘‘every­one from a bal­le­rina to a foot­baller’’.

‘‘We wanted to tai­lor our sweats, they’re not big and boxy – they’re not shape­less bags you throw over,’’ he says.

Stylist Kate Gaskin says a strong shift to looser sil­hou­ettes could tempt more con­sumers to pur­chase clothes ini­tially made for the op­po­site sex.

‘‘Baggy and over­sized is some­thing the Aus­tralian con­sumer will em­brace, we love a ca­sual look, it suits out life­style,’’ says Gaskin, who reg­u­larly buys from the men’s sec­tion at re­tail­ers.

‘‘Women shop­ping in the men’s depart­ment has been a thing for a long time but I don’t know about the men [buy­ing women’s clothes] mainly be­cause of siz­ing but there’s def­i­nitely a mar­ket for it.’’

Court­ney Holm, of A.BCH, has made a con­sid­ered ef­fort to re­move gen­der from her brand iden­tity. Her web­site has no ded­i­cated men’s or women’s sec­tions. And al­though she de­signs her pieces with a gen­der in mind, she doesn’t care who buys them.

‘‘[Uni­sex] doesn’t have to mean a drop crotch. If a guy likes the dress, he can wear the dress. We try to let peo­ple just feel free to buy what­ever they want,’’ she says.

Holm, 32, be­gan her ca­reer in menswear and launched A.BCH to be some­thing clas­sic and not trend driven, which suits the uni­sex phi­los­o­phy.

‘‘We still make men’s and women’s pieces – they cross over – it’s in­ter­change­able rather than try­ing to de­sign for one body shape.’’ Rigutto says it’s im­por­tant that brands in the gen­der-ag­nos­tic space make good clothes that any­one can wear, then get out of the way.

‘‘There’s a lot of in­clu­sive­ness in the prod­uct we do. It’s also a bit class-ag­nos­tic.

‘‘We leave it to the cus­tomer to de­cide how they want to wear it. We don’t preach.’’

– Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald

Here at home, Welling­ton de­signer Bron Eich­baum cre­ates slouchy, com­fort­able gar­ments with a play­ful an­drog­yny.

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