Take a look at the designers and LGBTQIA+ brands who are paving the way for queer and non-binary high-end fashion.
By Mary Stringham.
This June saw the latest iteration of London Fashion Week (LFW) go completely digital. Though many big-name-houses like Burberry opted out of the three-day event, it still marked a momentous occasion—the first-ever gender-neutral LFW. The British Fashion Council merged this summer’s online festivities to included menswear, womenswear as well as gender-non-conforming labels
In the last few decades, there has been a surge in ‘genderless’ and ‘gender-queer’ fashion with high-street brands like Zara creating gender-neutral lines and luxury houses such as Gucci, Haider Ackermann, and Saint Laurent shifting their runways to co-ed productions. This, along with Gen Z entering young adulthood and redefining LGBTQIA+ identity, means that the gender-queer ‘trend,’ as some might call it, is probably here for the long-haul.
What is trendy for some brands, is integral to the ethos of others. Designers behind labels like ART SCHOOL and Official Rebrand have had non-binary and gender-queer design stamped into their brand philosophy from the very beginning. As forerunners of the movement that work to dismantle gender-norms, the following designers and LGBTQIA+ brands create clothing to show the world what elevated fashion outside of the confines of gender can look like.
ART SCHOOL is a London-based non-binary, queer luxury fashion label redefining ready-to-wear for the contemporary age. Founded by creative duo Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt, whose backgrounds are in both fashion and art criticism respectively, the label explores all things LGBTQIA+ and gender-nonconforming through the lens of luxury fashion. The new brand premiered its first collection back in 2017, at the well-known Fashion East showcase. According to Dazed, ART SCHOOL “is a celebration of the non-binary body” and reflects each designers’ personal gender-fluid experiences. Their most recent A/W 20 collection FEARLESS LOVE premiered in January and is on LFW’s digital platform to view.
TELFAR is a New York City-based unisex clothing line that was established in 2005 by its namesake, Telfar Clemens. Its short but sweet tagline, “It’s not for you — it’s for everyone” sums up the democratic philosophy of the company that, according to The Cut, has become synonymous with New York creatives, BIPOC, and the queer community. The devotion to TELFAR likely stems from the fact that Clemens has been creating genderless garments for 15 years, well before it was relevant to the industry. In 2017, fashion insiders finally took note and Clemens was awarded the top prize from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. More recently the brand was nominated for the 2020 CFDA American Accessories Designer of the Year Award. You might know the brand for their signature Telfar Shopping Bag that has been affectionately nicknamed the “Bushwick Birkin” by the many Brooklynites who own and love it.
Vaquera is a gender-neutral fashion label whose purpose is to “[make] fashion fan fiction while aiming to subvert luxury and tell stories with clothing.” Founded by the stylist-turned-designer Patric DiCaprio, and run alongside its two other designers—Claire Sullivan and Bryn Taubensee— Vaquera is known for its impactful deconstruction and wildly-oversized silhouettes. In a recent feature in AnOther Magazine, DiCaprio says, “[we] make clothes that unite people who identify as outsiders.”
A self-proclaimed gender-free label, Official Rebrand (OR), founded by New York-based non-binary artist MI Leggett, upcycles and reinvents unwanted clothes to create sustainable garments for those with fluid gender identities. These pieces meet at the intersection of art and fashion to create dynamic garments with rousing phrases like “GOD IS TRANS” painted across them. In a Teen Vogue feature Legget says, “[the] brand is all about being yourself and not being defined by any other expectations— expectations like you have to identify with your body.” Most recently OR made their CFDA debut with their AW20 collection titled WHAT IS A MAN at this past NYFW.
VEEA, a gender non-conforming androgynous fashion label, is making big moves in the industry by reinventing the sizing system to be more inclusive while crafting quality garments available for at–home try–on. What started in 2012 as a brand that created menswear–inspired looks for androgynous women has since transformed into a company whose mission is to provide a fashion outlet, “where gender non-conforming, non-binary and LGBTQ+ individuals really have the freedom to explore, represent, express, or find their true essence across the whole gender spectrum.” Founder and chief designer Vee Lee works to make sure the brand pushes the design envelope beyond the stereotypical unisex garments that consist of “oversized basics, loose silhouettes [and] neutral colors.”
Rich Mnisi is a South African brand that launched in 2014 after its founder won the AFI Young Designer Award. The eponymous label creates gender-fluid designs that reflect on the culture of South Africa, focusing on narratives of colonization and apartheid. From its very first campaign, Rich Mnisi has made sure inclusivity is central to their brand narrative by casting Luke van der Burg, a transgender model and activist, someone they still work with today. According to an interview with i-D, the label’s founder addresses his queer sexuality through the visual language of his garments, while simultaneously using his platform to promote LGBTQ+ representation in South Africa.