Gender Inclusion in Fashion Means More Than ‘Putting a Dress on a Boy’ – WWD

The world has often thought of clothing as a way to express gender identity, but more and more, what the consumer wants — and the era increasingly demands — is clothing and dress that’s not bound by traditional gender norms.

While the unisex apparel arena continues to claim market share, that doesn’t mean it’s all-encompassing, though new product ranges advertised as “genderless” and “gender-neutral” have been flooding the market, some with more success than others.

From androgynous influences on the runway to mass market retailers spotlighting “borrowed from the boys” clothing edits for women, the blurring lines of genders has been prominent in fashion for years, but designers and industry advocates are now really pushing the boundaries in disassembling the historic binaries of menswear and womenswear.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin and his namesake label, for one, have inadvertently become synonymous with igniting the movement of bringing sex appeal and un-gendered sensuality back to the fashion landscape. In a time where gender fluidity is yet to be fully integrated into the fashion industry and mainstream culture, de Saint Sernin, who spoke alongside model Teddy Quinlivan at Fairchild Media’s recent Diversity Forum, have become pioneers of a gender positivity movement, especially within the LGBTQ community.

“For me, it was about being my most authentic self, and I realized there was a niche that needed to be exposed. I wanted to create a brand that the people who are going to wear it didn’t have to choose [from traditional options],” de Saint Sernin said. “And the impact in the industry has been the most amazing feeling, because I am not alone, there is a whole world of people who want to open their hearts and be part of this community.”

The link between fashion and sexuality is a complicated one, because for many years cultural norms have dictated how these two worlds connect. And this doesn’t just apply to what’s visibly revealed, but rather, a combination of clothing and emotions.

“Fashion has always been a barometer of where mainstream culture is at — what we find to be aspirational, cool and authentic at the moment,” Quinlivan said. “Sexuality in fashion and gender fluidity as a part of sexuality have all been expressed through our industry, but because I feel the world is ready for it. I think the reason why we are seeing such a big turn and push — culturally, we are at a point where society is ready to accept what this new change is and how we express ourselves, and it’s being shown through fashion, since fashion is the lens of how we view culture.”

De Saint Sernin, who recently walked in his own runway show, embracing the notion of “be your own muse” in a way fashion has rarely seen before, also just released an ultra-sensual ad campaign that, without showing any clothes from his label’s spring 2022 collection, has generated a huge buzz, laying bare the body of young Spanish model and rising runway star Fernando Lindez, lensed by photographer Willy Vanderperre, his sixth campaign for the LDSS brand.

“The images we created throughout [the last] five years was so overwhelming to see the reaction because it was so new and it was showing a new side of queerness, gayness and sex in fashion that didn’t exist before only because it wasn’t visible before,” de Saint Sernin said. “The way I look at fashion, gayness, sex, queerness, it wasn’t really represented before. I used references that I collected as a gay man discovering what it means to be me, what it means to be me in this community and how I wanted to represent it.”

Sensuality and its expression isn’t something new for fashion. Tom Ford’s reign at Gucci, which featured provocative and sexually charged ads, alongside Calvin Klein’s iconic fashion campaigns with a nearly nude Kate Moss (both during the late ’90s) were all about the allure of sex, which proved to be a veritable success. The industry, however, still has a way to go in accepting provocative homoerotic imagery.

More than just creating new and powerful imagery, pushing for that acceptance is part of de Saint Sernin’s mission and the DNA of his brand.

The designer said, “I was influenced by Robert Mapplethorpe, Madonna, pop artists and icons from the queer world over the decades. The ones that impacted me the most had a unique relationship to sex and didn’t mind showing sex in a way that was new and unique, their own take on it.…I needed to add this element to the brand and incorporate more of a lifestyle experience than just clothes. I think as a brand today you cannot be just making clothes, you need to have a message, build something that’s meaningful for your community, inform and create visibility for what you believe in.”

As Quinlivan added, “Luckily, right now we’re in a place, especially in our industry, creatively where there is so much gender expression and breaking of gender norms — a new frontier in terms of creativity is rewriting those codes in a way that’s more revolutionary than just putting a dress on a boy or a skirt. There are ways we can break down conventions of gender without being so obvious. That’s part of my admiration toward Ludovic, that it’s an expression of gender, but it’s not so obvious, it’s gender-fluid but not making it a circus.”

But today, challenging gender norms is becoming the new norm, and another route designers are taking to become more provocative is unconventional model casting for the sake of gaining publicity or going viral.

“Fashion is art and designers should feel free to cast who they want. But at some point, does it become like we are exploiting these individuals and putting these people in a position to become a headline just to generate a profit for corporations? We see this with Pride, as an example, and how it has become corporatized but it seems, unfortunately, the fashion industry is starting to follow that corporate lead,” said Quinlivan, who identifies as transgender and has spoken openly about gender acceptance. “The fashion industry can have unique casting and message without capitulating to the wokest most radical parts of the internet or Twitter. Unfortunately, we are trying to push the most radical elements of culture within the scope of fashion, but in a way, that doesn’t resonate with the people.”

Now more than ever, the global movement for gender equality has made great strides toward building a society where members of the community can freely express and enjoy their sexuality without fear. The fashion industry continues to celebrate beauty in its various forms, it contributes to creativity, and it’s slowly moving toward a world of greater equality. And with it, sex appeal is starting to transcend its primal role of pure appeal, and become a beacon to help end shaming, celebrate body positivity and allow the consuming public to embrace all the ways they identify.

“What’s amazing about what’s happening now is there are so many new voices being heard, we’re going in such an amazing direction, and we are opening doors, too, but because of those who opened them before us. There’s things that need to change, but adding new voices, and showing there’s new things to be done and new people to be represented, I think that’s key,” de Saint Sernin said.

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