February 19, 2015

Selfridges Set to Suit Everyone's Agender

Selfridges department store located on London's Oxford Street, photo courtesy of Dezeen
             If we take a trip back to the 1980s, we will discover that the bending of gender rules is not a new concept. Stars such as David Bowie and Grace Jones dominated and perhaps even pioneered the open discussion about blurred lines. Fast-forward to the present day and we have the intriguing androgyny of actress Tilda Swinton (who inspired Vivienne Westwood’s Autumn/Winter 2014 womenswear collection), singer Janelle Monáe, and model Andreja (formerly Andrej) Pejić.

Actress Tilda Swinton looking rather reminiscent of David Bowie (left) and singer Janelle Monáe sporting her characteristic suit and tie ensemble (right), photos courtesy of Pinterest
             For example, Pejić was born a male, but went on to model women’s and men’s clothing (both beautifully, might I add). Pejić, curlers in hair, posed removing a white shirt on the 2011 cover of Dossier Journal. U.S. bookstores Barnes & Noble and Borders feared that their customers would view Pejić as a topless woman, which resulted in shielding the image with an opaque sleeve. Pejić, who previously reported living “in between genders,” underwent sex reassignment surgery to become a woman in 2014.

Andreja Pejić's controversial 2011 cover for Dossier Journal, photo courtesy of The Huffington Post
             Some people might argue that, in the year 2015, we are in a more enlightened and accepting age than ever before in terms of gender identity. It is indeed true that the times, they are a-changin’. A year ago, Facebook traded in the “male” and “female” gender options for a more inclusive 56-item list to choose from, such as: bigender, cisgender, gender fluid, genderqueer, pangender, transgender, transsexual etc. If you don’t know what any of those mean, I highly recommend that you look them up (I definitely had some researching to do)!  

             The word on the street is that Selfridges department store, located in the heart of London’s Oxford Circus, will be dedicating three of its four floors to a gender-neutral shopping space called Agender. Grace Jones, eat your heart out. The Manchester and Birmingham Selfridges outlets, as well as the official Selfridges website, will also be jumping on board. The takeover will be implemented come March 1st until the end of April.

             The next kicker is that the new gender-neutral revamp will also apply to mannequins, beauty products, and accessories. Instead of traditional male and female mannequins, the department store’s windows will be given a non-gender-specific makeover. Photography, film, music, and design pieces delving into the concept of gender will additionally be featured in-store and on the Selfridges website.

A previous KTZ design (left) and a creation from Hood by Air during this month's New York Fashion Week (right), photos courtesy of The Daily Mail and The New York Times
             Interior and furniture designer Faye Toogood will be responsible for bringing the concept spaces to life. Expect to see brands such as KTZ, Trapstar, and Hood by Air. I predict that BOY LONDON will stay sitting pretty as it watches the newcomers encroach on its already well-established unisex territory. Toogood’s ready-to-wear collection, a capsule collection by Bodymap, Nicola Formichetti’s collection Nicopanda, a collection from footwear brand Underground, and Rad Hourani’s made-to-order couture designs are all set to make an appearance. You will also be able to feast your eyes on designs by labels including Ann Demeulemeester, Comme des Garçons, Meadham Kirchhoff, and Gareth Pugh.

Gender-neutral looks by Meadham Kirchhoff (left), Toogood (center), and Nicopanda (right), photos courtesy of Women's Wear Daily
             Gucci’s Autumn/Winter 2015 collection saw the emergence of women walking the menswear runways, while Acne’s male models donned feminist scarves with empowering phrases: “Woman Power,” “Radical Feminist,” “Gender Equality.” Cos and Gap have noted the upsurge of menswear purchases by women, while men have gravitated towards buying women’s knitwear. As if we needed further proof, this month’s New York Fashion Week has shown that the next big trend to adopt comes in the form of a gender shakeup.

Gucci's Autumn/Winter 2015 menswear collection included women on the runways (left), while Acne debuted feminist scarves (right), photos courtesy of DAZED
             In Sweden, a toy catalog challenged gender stereotypes with images of a boy in a Spiderman outfit pushing a pink stroller and a girl wearing denim riding a yellow tractor. In 2012, the gender-neutral personal pronoun hen was added to the online version of Sweden’s National Encylopedia as an alternative to the Swedish han (he) and hon (she). In the United States last year, an employee who wished to be identified by a gender-neutral pronoun sued her company for $518,000 when coworkers insisted on using female pronouns.

Leklust, a Swedish toy company, proposed a gender role reversal in one of their catalogs, photo courtesy of Leklust
             Where you draw the line on the gender-neutral discussion is a matter of opinion, but soon Selfridges will be forcing the conversation out into the open. The fact that the high-end department store is backing such a revolutionary implementation speaks volumes. Perhaps Selfridges could act as the catalyst for some major changes to occur as it tests the cultural norms of our society.
             A Selfridges spokesperson told The Times, “We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes…a space where clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self.’” This powerful statement is hopefully a foreshadowing of a new wave of fashion to follow suit, where boundaries are jagged and edges are fuzzy. Lines will be crossed and that’s okay. Fashion is meant to be controversial, a talking point. Life isn’t always black and white, so it’s about time we made room for the gray. 

             Female, male, or anything in between…it doesn’t really matter. All I know is that never before have you been given a better excuse to steal your boyfriend or girlfriend’s shirt and absolutely rock it. Browse the Selfridges website here.

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