The New Wave of Genderqueer Fashion Is Here
Designers like Random Identities, Common Leisure, and Transe Paris are reimagining the possibilities of gender-neutral style.
Still from Random Identities' "Domestic (between wars)" by Konstantin Bock and Christopher Aoun via YouTube
By the time I watched Random Identities’ latest presentation, “DOMESTIC (between wars),” over the summer, after buzzing my scalp for a second time, I could easily relate to Stefano Pilati’s muse, MJ Harper, preening and posing around the designer’s Berlin apartment, finding life feeling seen in the label’s romantic genderqueer aesthetic. Harper’s outfits are drawn from Random Identities’ past and present collections, where woven-paper, mask-blue bras are repurposed as ascots, their rope trim draped around the neck and down the torso like the trace of fingertips, where zippers on trousers offer rear access instead of frontal functionality because it’s only worth dressing at home right now, when there’s someone at hand to undress you.
Prior to lockdown, Pilati’s hip-hugging sheer pajama pants, high-rise denim slashed behind the thighs, and tapered flight suits never felt necessary for the trips I was taking, which seldom allowed for a layover at Berghain. But with nowhere to go, they’ve become essential, bringing more joy to bodega runs and curbside cocktail hours, the two-way zippers running the length of my cargo pants baring the ankle straps of my Vivienne Westwood Roman sandals or my Sang Bleu thigh tattoos, depending on how seen I wanted to feel that day. And during those first languorous nights confined behind muted walls, dressing up and swaying late into the night, alone or attended, as some foreign radio station played in the background, because I kept believing dancing twelve hours in the future might speed up the pandemic’s end, I cast away the pretensions of the 5-inch inseam debate, for nothing hugged like the waist of Random Identities’ paint splattered denim skirt, a perfectly cut trompe l'oeil silhouette of cutoff shorts, that let hang out all my inhibitions.
Pilati’s designs aren’t the only penetrable armor that speaks to our current moment. A new wave of labels like Transe Paris, Common Leisure, and Art School London straddle the hard and soft of gender fluidity, balancing practicality—the need to appear strong against everything from the dangers of a passing breeze to the cops and counter-protestors lurking around every corner—with the preciousness of touch, whether that’s the feel of a second skin, or the opportunity to bare the body you have.
At the start of the year, Gu Song An gave up the consulting gig that moved him from Shanghai to Paris to focus on a new line of handcrafted lingerie for men, Transe Paris, which filters the kinks he explores in Pigalle sex shops into a collection that’s a departure from the indelicate big logo briefs and jocks he’s always associated with toxic masculinity. Gu’s first capsule collection, Abstraction of Death, timed with France’s shutdown orders, featured pieces like a men’s slip brief embroidered with the words “Extra Painful,” a phrase as fitting for those seeking touch in isolation as those feeling they’re in a body they don’t recognize. His latest looks debuted last month, during a month-long pop-up shop in the 18th arrondissement, where passersby could drop into a hot pink boudoir walled in billowing silks, lured in by Transe poster boy and Balenciaga model Jordan Yemar playing his saxophone outside.
And while lingerie can be its own kind of armor, Gu also crafted a collection of silver jewelry inspired by H.R. Giger’s biomechanical designs. “I like silver, but Alien green silver, that’s very cold in color,” Gu says of his pointed accessories that include sterling talon rings, nails, and ear cuffs, that serve as one last line of defense against vulnerability. Their glimmer also alludes to the label’s name, as Gu’s quick to point out “Transe” means something else altogether in French—to be entranced or hypnotized.
The polished leather boilersuits and shearling aviators that dominate Seda Celikturk’s Common Leisure was born from the designer’s desire to challenge the gender constructs in her native Turkey, while empowering “women with a masculine edge and men with a feminine manner.” It’s the epitome of her own sex appeal, and what she finds attractive in a partner. “Being fluid is just what my body needs, and in fluidity I sometimes lose all sense of gender even though I’m a heterosexual woman,” she says. For fall, her latest collection “Breath” features broad shouldered leather track suits with nipped waists, and puffers with wide plunging shearling lapels.
“Too many pieces we say are unisex are actually mens,” Celikturk laments. “A T-shirt, a hoodie, an aviator jacket, a biker jacket—they all originated as menswear.” So she rethinks cut and texture which finds fans of the brands, like 032c’s Marc Goehring wearing a full-length double breasted shearling like a housecoat, and Hailey Bieber, who’s been spotted in high-gloss patent lambskin Raver pants, pairing them with an oversized mens Jil Sander blazer as ambassadors for her vision.
I got my first taste of Common Leisure with Celikturk’s first design, a blood-moon red robe. The robe’s meant for the streets; the designer would wear it to dance all night, then light a cigarette on a Ciragan Palace balcony over the Bosphorus before sunrise, in the hours when it’s easiest to forget yourself or know yourself, and rethink the potential of the person underneath.