From 69’s democratic denim to Vejas’s twisted American classics – these six underground, unisex labels are taking the world by storm
“It’s boring to make clothes marketed to one group of people defined by their age, race or sex,” Patric DiCaprio of New York label Vaquera told us yesterday, and he’s certainly not the only designer who feels that way. Most prominently coming out of America’s coastal cities of New York and LA, a new wave of young designers are making your typical gender-targeted men’s and women’s collections feel well and truly behind the curve. Employing models of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes in their shows and campaigns, these six independent brands are currently redefining the American fashion industry’s straightforward standards.
Self-proclaimed “non-demographic” label 69 doesn't let any human variables constrain its designs. The LA-based brand’s cartoonishly oversized silhouettes imply that its clothing is not tailored to any age or gender, and this ambiguity makes its garments somewhat universal. In addition to its androgynous designs, 69’s head designer chooses to remain completely anonymous, thus allowing him or her to create a brand that is essentially free of prejudice. For AW15’s debut presentation, the designer employed real people (a solid group of 50 of his or her creative pals) to showcase the garments – the diversity of these non-models reaffirmed the brand’s ethos rooted in realness. Friends included Mike and Zoe of Eckhaus Latta, Gerlan Marcel of Gerlan Jeans, and a baby rocking custom mini-69, proving that the brand really is made for guys, gals and everyone in-between.
Eckhaus Latta is actively closing the gap between targeted, gender-specific and sexless apparel. It does this through its convertible designs and strong ties with key players in New York’s gender-fluid movement, including Dev Hynes. “I think we design by feeling,” Mike Eckhaus told Dazed late last year, and it’s a freedom that allows the label’s garments to be created organically and completely based on instinct. Eckhaus Latta’s “women’s” NYFW shows have consistently featured unisex designs on both males and females. Specifically, its AW15 NYFW show displayed boys in midriffs cut into fitted silhouettes, and girls wearing wavy-hemmed, shapeless garments in what appeared to be men’s shirting style fabrics. It’s the brand’s autonomous nature that allows it to adapt its clothing to how the designers see fit. And this defiant nature breeds its wildly free aesthetic.
This subversive New York-based line raises the middle finger to its designer’s conservative Christian upbringing in Alabama, with made-you-look cut-outs and homoerotic references. The former DIS Magazine intern Patric DiCaprio’s AW15 collection gave pastoral American culture a romantic and modern edge, whilst also inciting Picnic On Hanging Rock vibes (if Picnic on Hanging Rock was a porno). For his most recent presentation, Vaquera not only replaced traditional models with friends (including Yulu Sereo and David Moses of Moses Gauntlett Cheng), but it also staged the event in a busy underground subway station in NYC, exposing DiCaprio’s thought-provoking collection to the general public. “I’m sick of fashion inviting the same people and the same magazines to the same spaces, having the same catwalk with the serious models,” DiCaprio told Dazed. “I don’t need to see that again and I don’t need other people to see it again. I’m interested in normal people seeing my clothes and being aware of what I’m doing because Vaquera is so inspired by everyday people.”
Bringing its weirdness to the masses, independent fashion powerhouse Moses Gauntlett Cheng infuses a soft androgyny into each one of its garments. As former Eckhaus Latta interns, the threesome was influenced by EL’s deconstructed designs and anti-establishment outlook towards the fashion industry. MGC’s debut AW15 collection featured conceptually manipulated fleeces in gentle colours, and sultry unisex designs, which have caught the eye of neo-celebs like Lily Rose Depp and Kim Kardashian, who have both been spotted rocking MGC looks. When Dazed asked the crew who they would most like to dress earlier in the year, Esther Gauntlett chose political activist and trans woman Chelsea Manning. “She’s a massive massive fucking inspiration, what she did was one of the greatest acts and it’s amazing when a government has tried to strip her of everything, she’s embraced and is really exploring herself as a woman.” Her statement sums up the values of these young designers, and demonstrates that their clothes are for interesting people, whatever their gender definition.
New York label Gypsy Sport has always been about celebrating the misfits. After hitting the runway with VFiles at its Made Fashion Show in 2013, designer Rio Uribe went on to publicly broadcast their collection for SS15 in Washington Square Park, featuring an array of scantily clad male “nodels” wearing sassy midriffs, halternecks and mini-dresses. They upped the gender-bending ante for their AW15 collection, where show guests were greeted by the words “Welcome gypsies and genderless!” before a slew of wild entertainers of all genders and looks danced and performed in Gypsy Sport’s signature androgynous athletic-wear. The fact that the brand’s collections are typically boxed into the “men's” category doesn't stop Uribe from showcasing his designs on all types.
“It didn’t matter if it was a boy, a girl or a trans girl – it was about their persona,” explained Canadian designer Vejas Kruszewski last season after his AW15 presentation, an informal affair at New York Fashion Week modelled by his diverse group of friends. Offering a twisted, post-gender take on Americana (think wifebeater vests reworked into androgynous dresses and lace up baseball trousers paired with crop tops) Kruszewski’s collection took inspiration from the idea of resilience and the horror movie trope of the Final Girl – the last one standing. “I just want to be as inclusive as possible,” Kruszewski explained of his vision – “because this is representational of the outside world.”