Words and imagery by Ellie Connor-Phillips
It has to be said, London Queer Fashion Show was the most exciting event this fashion week in the UK. A multitude of talented designers shared their work with us on probably the most diverse catwalk of models the world has seen. Gender, physical ability, race – it just wasn’t relevant - and rather than including “different” models to tick diversity boxes, this show cast people as themselves, and that just so happened to be incredibly intersectional (as most things are when you cast based on talent alone). One of the most interesting parts was the rejection of gender – clothes were modelled on a variety of gender identities and marketed to all. It’s what the fashion world has been “moving towards” for several years now, but still not quite achieved. London Fashion Week is still split between “Men’s” and “Women’s,” as are the courses that young designers study at universities across the country. Everything is centred on making that choice, the decision to tick either box. Even new brands such as Collusion for ASOS, who describe themselves as being non-gendered and “for the coming age,” still are sold under “Men’s” and “Women’s” on the ASOS website. It begs the question – if we are really so forward thinking, why can’t we get gender binary out of our heads?
A lot has been changing in society in the past year. Camden Council held a survey open for people to have their say about the Hampstead ladies pond being open to transgender women. Right now, the Gender Reformation Act is being discussed, with people living in the UK able to have their say on whether they think people should easily be able to have their identity legally recognised. This is hoping to cut out a lot of the unnecessary “proving” that is currently needed, and recognises non-binary gender identities as well. Things are happening. People are mobilising to make real social change to benefit those of us who do not identify as cisgender, and educate each other on ways to improve our acceptance and understanding of diversity. Obviously there’s a lot more to be done, but the path is being paved towards change. However, this change isn’t being reflected in the field of fashion in quite the same way. Brands seem to be holding up an image of progression, yet not actually changing their set up or business to truly reflect their apparent beliefs. Universities, who benefit from the success of gender non-conforming students or who use their existence as proof of their diverse student clientele, still use only male and female models, and still insist on young designers choosing only one gender on which to base their work. It seems that, like diverse casting in fashion photography, it's not something that is done with pure intent but rather a latching onto intersectionality as a “trend” that will help guarantee the company more press coverage, and sales of either their products or their course. This could clearly explain the lack of real change in fashion marketing - it’s not that they can’t, it’s that they probably don’t want to.
Dilara Findikoglu is an example of a true progressive designer: not only are catwalk shows diverse in terms of gender, but also clothes are marketed online to all, categorised only by their occasion or style. The designs are not altered to be “gender-neutral,” just simply available to any gender interested. It works much more smoothly and comfortably than something like Zara’s infamous “ungendered” line, which were actually just hoodies and minimal basics...already worn by everyone. By marketing it as progressive and gender-neutral put pressure on the designs to be new, exciting, showing some kind of real change: however in fact just simply removing gendered labels could do exactly the same thing in an easier way.
In order for fashion to really empower its followers, it needs to be acting on the messages it seeks to promote. Whether that be sustainability, model diversity, body positivity or non-gendered clothing - brands and universities alike, need to show that they really do want to see real change happen and aren’t just going along with today’s social movements to follow a trend. At the end of the day, it is as vital in fashion, as in all things, to practice what you preach. When clothing fully embraces and reflects the natural diversity of all folk - only then will gender barriers be fully removed and fashion will truly speak louder than words.
Modeled by Izzy Khakiq
All photography shot by Ellie Connor-Phillips