Fragrance brands

Meet the gender-fluid brands that are shaking up the fashion industry

Maria Borromeo was inspired to launch her fluid fashion brand, ClHu (pronounced “hint”), after several frustrating and unsuccessful purchase attempts. However, it wasn’t her who left the stores empty-handed: it was her daughter, who identifies as gender-neutral, who was struggling to find clothes. “It was extremely difficult for her to find items that she felt comfortable in, that were well made, that fit her and made her feel like herself,” Borromeo told TZR. “Witnessing my own child’s courage to reject gender norms in a society that pushes back [that] was deeply inspiring. And I couldn’t help but wonder why we keep imposing these outdated gender binaries on a generation that doesn’t believe in them; They just want to feel comfortable and free to express themselves.

Borromeo, an industry veteran who has held positions at Thakoon and Alexander McQueen, felt galvanized to address the dilemma his daughter and countless others face when buying clothes that don’t reflect a binary understanding of gender. However, “after spending more than two decades in an industry based on excess and very little regard for the extremely harmful effects it has on the environment”, Borromeo was reluctant to contribute to the continuing cycle of overconsumption. She wanted to do things differently – and she did.

Borromeo launched ClHu – a tongue-in-cheek abbreviation of the brand’s founding slogan and mainstay, “Clothes for Humans” – in March 2022 with a 28-piece collection featuring items like cargo pants, gorpcore-esque utility skirts and fluid tank dresses. It also offered a direct-to-consumer model that minimizes waste, as well as an intuitive color-based sizing scheme that gives customers the freedom to explore their personal fit preferences. “It’s pretty simple – a horizontal line with colors that move through the color spectrum from left to right as the size increases from a youthful 10-12 to an adult XL,” she explains. .)

Perhaps most unique of all, however, is ClHu’s complete lack of gender labeling. “We don’t talk about gender at all in the shopping experience. If you find something you like, if it works for you, if it makes you feel good about yourself, it’s for you – no restrictions,” says Borromeo. “And if we have to refer to gender for the sake of clarity in conversation, we use the term ‘all genders’ because clothing is asexual in nature and, therefore, for all genders.”

The fashion industry as a whole has long separated clothing into two groups – men’s clothing and women’s clothing. Thus, “all genders” concepts such as those of ClHu are certainly revolutionary and, for inquisitive minds, beget the question: Who makes a binary categorization of clothes? Actually serve? After all, shouldn’t the consumer – the one who spends their hard-earned money and takes the time, effort and energy to shop – decide which garment is “for them”?

With the new gender-fluid label, Shamelessly, founder Caroline McCaul gives consumers the agency to make those individual fashion decisions. Shoppers browse a selection of stylish, unisex items like black jumpsuits with contrasting silver and athluxe nylon tracksuits – clothes that feel, good, very cool and make it implicitly clear that Sans Gêne (French for “without constraints”) uses an open and fuzzy binary design perspective. “Celebrating humanity was an important concept for me to implement in the brand,” McCaul told TZR, explaining how this ethos also manifests through his brand’s philanthropic partnerships with organizations such as National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Additionally, the founder of Sans Gêne takes great pains to recognize gender non-conforming consumers as more than just members of a growing market, but as individuals with fashion wants and needs. McCaul herself isn’t the one designing Sans Gêne’s offerings – that would be Parsons’ graduate Victoria Zito — but she was heavily involved in the process of creating the brand’s first-ever Pre-Fall 2022 collection. “I wanted to add multi-functional aspects to the clothes that would promote individuality,” she explains, referring to modular clothes like jackets with detachable sleeves, pants with detachable legs and a jacket with bag function. back. “We wanted the wearer to have a sense of freedom with the garments, a sense of playfulness and to feel empowered by customizing each garment to make it their own.”

With so many socially constructed boundaries already dividing us, McCaul doesn’t want to unnecessarily label people with her clothes. “In reality, we are much more similar than different,” she says. “At the same time, however, we are uniquely different with flaws and imperfections.” It is here, in this “beautiful dichotomy” of commonality and difference, unity and individualism, that McCaul wants Sans Gêne to exist so that its consumers feel emboldened to define themselves as they see fit, whether it goes with or against gender binary.

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Courtesy of Sans Gêne

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Courtesy of Sans Gêne

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Courtesy of Sans Gêne

Michelle Tolini Finamore, a fashion historian and curator, says that this modern sentiment that allows consumers to use fashion for their individualized expression very much reflects the understanding of gender in 2022. “Contemporary designers and the wearers of their work are proposing that style be rooted in their own definition of personal identity and gender expression rather than just the public perception of their identity,” she explains. “For Millennials and Gen Z, gender fluidity is not a subcultural or alternative style, but a rethinking of the concept of gender. Many recent surveys estimate that 20 to 50% young contemporaries identify as something other than strictly male or female,” reports Finamore, who did extensive research while curating a 2019 exhibit for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts titled “Gender Bending Fashion “. “What we are going through now [in terms of rebuking the gender binary] is of historic significance and I firmly believe that we will view this period as a time of paradigm shift.

Joseph Altuzarra’s ALTU, on the other hand, actually relies on the concept of labeling to celebrate joyful potential through the exploration and fluidity of genres. According to a press release from the fledgling label, ALTU is “a gendered brand that embraces the plurality of identity presented by an individual and encourages positivity across the spectrum of gender presentations and expressions”. (You may recognize the term “genderful” from Candle Company boy smellswho have long refuted the binary through their masculine-feminine scents.) With pieces like pants that sport stitched miniskirts, tank tops in subversive shades and cut-out dresses (including the singer Troye Sivan wore to the Met Gala 2021), ALTU “encourages the ‘fitting’ of identities with as much fluidity as we do with our clothes.”

Troye Sivan in ALTU on the 2021 Met Gala red carpet.Taylor Hill/WireImage/Getty Images

While today’s gender-fluid fashion may seem incredibly demonstrative, it’s not a new phenomenon and, as Finamore points out, shouldn’t be taken as such. “There were people and designers who questioned traditional ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ clothing going back well beyond the 20th century, when gender roles were firmly circumscribed,” the historian explains. For more modern examples, however, she invites you to browse the work of Paul Poiret in the 1910s, Rudi Gernreich in the 1960s, Rei Kawakubo in the 1980s, and Walter Van Beirendonck in the 2000s. Additionally, Finamore points out that “the stories behind gender and gender-neutral trends are often forged by queer and non-binary people, many of whom are people of color,” it is therefore crucial to approach understanding fluid fashion with a holistic narrative in disturbs .

Looking ahead, however, the future of fluid fashion is exciting to say the least. “At a very macro level, the world is experiencing a dramatic cultural shift,” says ClHu’s Borromeo. “And as a brand born in this era, we have an incredible opportunity to be more, to do better, to challenge traditional models and stereotypes and to further degender fashion for a generation that doesn’t view clothing as binary. .”

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