In 2015, Selfridges attempted a project on a scale which contemporary retail had not seen before - this project being the opening of an agender shopping space. It is with this in mind that we reconsider it's goals, and it's place in retail design and presentation. The launch of the space coincided with the now-famous first collection of Alessandro Michele at Gucci, who was posed with the question of how to revitalize the brand in the face of stiff luxury competition. His answer was evident in his first show: Boys and girls in well-dressed school-garb, wearing bow-tied blouses, and sharing both the same podium and style, the same haircut and the same prominent cheekbones. This parade destroyed the last vestiges of Tom Ford's hyper-sexualized era, which was in keeping with Frida Giannini's vision for the Gucci brand. Alessandro Michele's design celebrates an aestheticism and decadentism that transcends gender differences.
Alessandro Michele is not the only one to explore this new world where men and women dress together, and where sex stereotypes appear as traditionalist, even archaic. Prada, Givenchy and Saint Laurent all made it a leitmotif during their fashion shows, models and outfits were so similar that the game of "guess the sex of this person" became the favourite pastime of Fashion Week pundits. But does this trend have a commercial future ? Are consumers ready to get rid of the codes that define our outfits for centuries, and the way we buy? Maybe not. But it is obvious that a real change is under way. "We see men buying from women's labels like Céline, as well as women attracted by Givenchy's men's lines, whose offers in sweatshirts and t-shirts are more attractive," says Lianna Mann, vice president of womenswear, interior design and jewelry for Lane Crawford.
Selfridge's Agender exhibition
"For decades, we have been wearing interesting clothes. However, today, all eyes are on Shayne Oliver from Hood By Air and JW Anderson. In fact, it's all about beautiful, rare, special outfits. We're coming out of the male-female binary vision", says Tom Kalenderian, vice president and product manager for men's fashion at Barneys New York." It's not everyone's style, but we all know someone who does it." According to a recent Trendwatching.com report, "people of all ages and backgrounds are building their own identities more freely than ever before. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by "traditional" demographic criteria such as age, sex, region, income, family status or other." "The share of men's clothing bought by women roughly amounts to 30% of total sales. JW Anderson, Rick Owens, Saint Laurent [...] These brands have already changed the way we style products," says Monica Pascarella, purchasing manager for the men's sector of Luisa Via Roma."The organization of department stores is in question. For us, as a concept store, the impact is less, but it will become more important in the future."
In March of 2015, the British department store Selfridges launched Agender, an ephemeral and experimental department, which extended over three floors of the Oxford Street store, as well as in its shops in Birmingham and Manchester. "We see get it for a while. It's not a secret. Something is happening out there, it's in tune with the times," said Linda Hewson, Artistic Director of Selfridges. It is the defining movement that has taken hold of the catwalks which is generally focused on men's collections, which are inspired by more feminine styles, for instance Raf Simons tennis dresses or JW Anderson suede skirts. At the sales level, it is the women who lead the charge, however. "From our business point of view, they are the ones who shop in the men's department," says Linda Hewson. Agender will offer a wide choice. "The traditional department store is designed according to categories: one floor for men, another for women ... We decided to think differently. It will go from streetwear to avant-garde, like Haider Ackermann and Yohji Yamamoto, and unisex haute couture from Rad Hourani and Nicopanda by Nicola Formichetti. What's interesting is this mix of different sectors and price ranges," she continues. Getting rid of genres is not without some challenges. "It's obvious that size does not always fit, and that's one of our topics. How to simplify all this for the customers? How does one explain that a man size medium corresponds to a 40 or a 42? "
One of TooGood's sculptures in the display
One of the biggest challenges Selfridges had to deal with was the Agender environment. Operating without the signage that guides customers to the conventional aisles was not easy, and the store turned to Faye Toogood, an interior designer who worked for Hermes, Comme des Garcons, Kenzo and Alexander McQueen. "I wanted a very neutral space. A series of sculptures served me as models, but asexual models. I convinced Selfridges to package the products in white canvas, to avoid any brand, any reference to both genres,"she says. "It's a whole new life-size experience for us, a new business environment," says Linda Hewson . It could be a prerequisite space in the future. Or is it to develop what already exists? For the first time, our buyers have mixed categories of items and prices. It will be interesting to see the impact on the rest of the purchases. We have always experienced this sectorization. Perhaps all of this should become more fluid. Maybe we should create rays that speak more about identity and personality. "
For Monica Pascarella of Luisa Via Roma, however "It's the future. The lines will become more and more blurred, and there will be less and less difference between the genre collections. Even the appearances of men and women tend to be closer: thinness, impeccable eyebrows, light makeup for everyone ... The list goes on and on. " " Traders will have to evolve in step with their customers, as they have already done in other areas as fashion," observes Marshal Cohen, manager of industry analysis for NPD, referring to the way young buy technology products and sportswear."Teens and young adults do their shopping together, regardless of gender. This clearly plays a role for fashion." But the day when the big brands will reason this way, and will go far beyond an ephemeral shop, has not arrived yet. "Lane Crawford is not very interesting," says Lianna Mann. "This is not really our concern," said a spokesman for US giant Neiman Marcus.