Has gender-neutral fashion reached fever pitch? Ever the zeitgeist, Selfridges has its finger on the trend pulse with new store-wide campaign Agender, its gender-neutral creative concept in association with Studio Toogood.
Billed as a campaign that presents fashion, beauty and lifestyle products free from any gender directives, Selfridges is setting the retail bar for its brave exploration of the new rules of feminine, masculine and the interplay in between.
‘What we have noticed from a retail perspective is that a lot of women are shopping on the men’s floors,’ says Linda Hewson, creative director at Selfridges, who turned to creative director and store designer Faye Toogood to collaborate on a physical manifestation of this blurring between gender distinctions.
With its abstract design-meets-art gallery space wrapping the central atrium on the first, second and third floors, Toogood’s concept is testament to what statement retail design can do to foster imagination. The spaces are conceived as ‘houses’ including wardrobes, shelving units and doors inside, while the exterior is made from chicken-wire as a framework to distinguish the Agender areas from the rest of the store. There are abstract sculptures dotted around from pink vulcanised rubber shapes to horsehair and earthy, primal pieces with an Art Brut feel. ‘It’s about trying to pare back the superficial layers of polish and branding, and by doing so, reveal something that is innate,’ says designer, Faye Toogood.
Toogood says she wanted the space to have the feel of an archive, ‘to reflect the curatorial decisions that go into any fashion edit.’ She purposefully removed branding, references to gender differences and merchandising, to allow the garments to speak for themselves. ‘In the 21st century we’re increasingly aware that gender is not a binary, and the way we choose to present ourselves as individuals shouldn’t be constrained by the artificial divisions of society or commerce.’
Toogood’s branding for Agender is dominated by rough sketches, masking tape and scrapbook-style collections of makeshift labelling – all contributing to the archival mood.
Unmarked, unbranded garment bags have the affect of democratising choice for Agender shoppers, who will have to rely on instinct when they pick one of the neutral waxed linen hanging bags. It’s a clever tactic that removes merchandising assumptions or any pre-conceived brand messaging.
Hidden under Toogood’s stark clothing bags are non-gender specific pieces from 40 labels, including VFiles, Hood by Air, Haider Ackermann, Alexander Plokhov, Ann Demeulemeester, Casley Hayford and Meahham Kirchhoff. Five gender-fluid collections launched in store for the campaign: Toogood’s Collection 002, Rad Hourani, Nicopanda and exclusive collections by Underground and Bodymap.
The Agender window scheme turns the VM approach on its head too. Without mannequins the windows convey the abstract gender-neutral theme of the campaign and invite commentary on the campaign topic from the outset.
‘We wanted to challenge our own understanding of retail, and contemplate the future of shopping at the same time, Hewson told me at the press launch. ‘We hope that through Agender, we’ve changed the context of shopping in store and online; by removing gender codes, our shoppers will be free to make choices based purely on personal taste,’ she explained.
What does it mean? Selfridges is setting a new retail agenda with Agender. Inspired by the raft of gender-fluid designer collections on the AW15 runways and a swirling focus on transgender identity in the media and entertainment biz, the timing is spot on. Selfridges has played some collaborative trump cards via its film partnership with Nenah Cherry and her He She Me video, while Toogood’s design-led retail concept and a foodie/art launch party courtesy of Francesca Sarti for Arabeeschi de Latte are both thought-provoking and handled with a lightness of touch that offers a contemporary lens on the non-binery conversation.