It’s 2021—are gender-specific collections really relevant anymore? With the AW21 virtual shows awash with co-ed offerings, a whole host of up-and-coming talents have caught our attention with their genderless designs.
From Ella Boucht’s trademark sleek suiting and Anchovi’s retro-inspired soft dressing to Luis De Javier’s leather, sculpted tops—there are ample designs to enthral any fashion enthusiast. Plus, as society awaits post-pandemic normality (whatever that means anymore), with it comes a refreshed attitude and newfound desire for authentic self-expression through clothes.
Here, Vogue spotlights five boundary-breaking designers who need to be on your radar now.
1. Bloke by Faith Oluwajimi, Lagos, Nigeria
Oluwajimi, 25, bridges contemporary design with a handcrafted approach. Working closely with artisans in his native country, the designer—who recently showed at Milan Fashion Week autumn/winter 2021—locally sources materials to execute androgynous creations.
What is the ethos behind your designs?
We continually explore the possibilities for the creation of ethically made garments with impeccable attention to textiles and craftsmanship. I believe garments should not be limited to gender as a scale for its purpose as an object. I enjoy dressing both genders and breaking down stereotypes surrounding gender and identity.
Tell us about your favourite look.
The laced kaftan is worn with a handmade knitted cardigan. The silhouette works perfectly on any gender. The kaftan’s fabric was spun in Funtua [a town in Nigeria] from locally grown cotton and hand-dyed with a generational dyeing technique called batik, and the cardigan was handcrafted—both were made by artisans in Lagos.
2. Arturo Obegero, Paris, France
Obegero, 27, is one to watch. The Central Saint Martins graduate, who hails from northern Spain, is known not only for precisely tailored gender-neutral separates, but also for creating from sustainably sourced materials left over from haute couture houses.
Why is it important for you to do genderless collections?
I want to create garments with soul and substance that people can cherish forever and make them feel free to express themselves. It’s about fantasy, especially today when it’s most needed. Genderless fashion is not a new topic for me—it’s how I’ve always appreciated clothes. Society forces a close-minded idea of gender on us all, and my role as a designer is to help deconstruct it.
What does your design process entail and has this changed during lockdown?
Research is important and I don’t usually draw—cutting and draping are my strengths. The lockdown hasn’t changed my process as our styles are produced in limited quantities from leftover fabric rolls. We’ve felt encouraged to slow down, though.
Who would you most love to dress?
I’ve always dreamed about dressing [UK soul singer] Sade.
3. Ella Boucht, London, UK
The 28-year-old Finnish designer mixes leather silhouettes and sharp tailoring to inform their pieces. The Central Saint Martins graduate called their final collection Butch as an ode to their reinterpretation of nonconformist gender clothing, marginalised butch identities and visibility.
What’s the inspiration behind your designs and what does your process entail?
Most of the clothes produced today are still created mainly for the cis heteronormative audience—I want to provoke change through gender, queerness, sexuality, style and beauty. Previously my creative process included going out and meeting other queer people. This past year has not been much of a social playground; it’s pushed me into new ways of thinking.
Tell us about a favourite item you’ve made?
The light-brown, two-piece suit, including a leather harness waistcoat, knee-cut tailored suit trousers and black leather belt. It’s the perfect balance of leather, sex, skin and tailoring.
4. Anchovi by Kwun Hyuk Kim, Seoul, South Korea
The 27-year-old—who has a knack for referencing both his youth and modern teen culture—creates tongue-in-cheek looks that play with experimental (and delightful) proportions and fabrics, while blurring the lines of gender norms.
What is the goal behind your genderless designs?
It’s to bring beautiful childhood memories to the surface by mixing up styles that would remind people of their younger days, but done in a humorous way. There should be no gender in clothing—wearing clothes should be all about expressing yourself however you want. The advantage [of making genderless clothing] is that we make clothes that have the potential to attract more people, regardless of gender, but it means that the fit can be limited in terms of size.
Tell us about a favourite piece you’ve made
I like the changpao shirt from spring/summer 2021—it can be styled casually for any gender.
5. Luis De Javier, London, UK
The 24-year-old’s gender-defying clothes speak to female allyship, queer empowerment and sex. Having made his London Fashion Week debut in 2020, the Westminster graduate’s SS21 collection is brimming with rich obscure corsetry, alluring leather accessories and overzealous shoulder pads.
What is the message behind your designs?
[I want to create a] link between my past life in Spain and my life in London now. I want my work to be both a challenge and a celebration—of queerness, of freedom, of sex, of aspiration. I named my SS21 collection Madre, Hermana, Amiga in celebration and recognition of the allyship of women. Clothing should not have a gender; clothing should not alienate or differentiate. Consumers should start expressing themselves without fear of repercussions or judgement.
Which collaborators have been fundamental to making your collection?
My friend and creative director Betsy Johnson. She is a core part of the brand and it’s incredible sharing this journey with her.