For the conversation series, ‘La Pietra Dialogues’ hosted by New York University’s Florence campus at Villa La Pietra, Polimoda was invited to participate in an interdisciplinary conference on gender and identities in fashion.
Organised by NYU Florence student, Jordan Smith, the conference was opened with the question; garments are often the first steps to understanding identity, but why does fashion have to be so binary? Leading thinkers, activists and personalities from fashion and academia, including Polimoda professor Silvia Tolaro and alumnus Alessandro Trincone, the discussed how gender is constructed in fashion. Royce Mahawatte, professor at New York University and Central Saint Martins, explained that when thinking of gender, it’s useful to in fact replace the word ‘gender’ with ‘institutional-’ or ‘governmental power’.
The reason we’re talking about gender is that gender threatens to revolutionise cultural order.
Christina Pacelli, stylist for actress and LGBT advocate Laverne Cox, saw that there is more inclusivity today than in the past, and the androgynous collections from HBA for example, are only leading the way in this sartorial progression. The work of Alessandro Trincone, whose ‘dress’, you may remember, was worn by rapper Young Thug on the cover of his most recent album, likewise pushes forward ideas of non-binary gender representation in fashion.
For me, there is no gender. Everyone has the same heart.
The consensus in the end, however, was that the industry – and society – still have a long way to go. Mr Mahawatte explained that as long as there will be a gender binary where self-presentation is linked with status, men will be considered high status or effeminate as a force from the instructional powers that “police people, police dress and police the body.” Effectively when it comes to dress, the binary is not helping anyone, not even people who are cis-gender.
Ms Tolaro concluded that clearly an ideal situation would be “a continuum between gender rather than a division,” which will then create more freedom in sartorial expression, and that the only way to achieve this is to disrupt preconceived ideas through “communication, information, and education”, not unlike the conversation on this day.
Thank you to NYU for hosting this conference and congratulations to Jordan Smith for your initiative to organise it.