Selfridges Challenges Norms With Gender-Free Shopping Experiment

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Selfridges—the iconic British retailer with its own TV series—is mastering the art of disrupting retail norms.

From de-branding (and going “silent“) in 2013 to celebrating elder beauty with its “Bright Old Things” in-store experience and designer collaboration as a counterpoint to its annual “Bright Young Things” emerging talent showcase, it wants shoppers to think about how they consume and why, and to upend preconceptions of what the retail experience can and should be.

Such moves have won the “world’s best department store” (a title it’s held for the past three years) wide acclaim as an iconoclast—an honor it will no doubt maintain with its next experiment in reinventing the shopping experience.[more]

The Agender project, launching in mid-March, will create a gender-neutral in-store and online pop-up at its Oxford Street flagship with the goal of taking gender-blending mainstream as “a fashion exploration of the masculine, the feminine, and the interplay…found in between.”

Or as the retailer puts it in a grad school-worthy thesis, by “moving away from the tradition of a societal and sartorial binary gender definition, we will take our customers on a journey where they can choose to shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes.”

The three-floor installation and store windows by designer Faye Toogood will showcase unisex lines including a capsule collection by Bodymap, the UK launch of Nicola Formichetti’s collection Nicopanda, a collection from footwear label Underground and Rad Hourani’s made-to-order couture designs. Designer labels including Ann Demeulemeester, Comme des Garçons, Meadham Kirchoff and Gareth Pugh will also be featured.

The Agender concept space will also eschew traditional mannequins in favor of photography, film and music to display the designer collections in a non-gender-specific presentation.

Running from March 12 through the end of April, it may go down in the playbooks as the first gender-fluid mainstream retail experiment to blur our notions of style and sex, just as Bright Old Things is blowing up society’s obsession with youth and disregard for senior citizens.

By striking down gender-based signifiers, Selfridges is “tapping into a mind-set and acknowledging and responding to a cultural shift that is happening now,” said Linda Hewson, the store’s creative director, who’s continuing the disruptive retail concepts spearheaded by now-chairman Alannah Weston when she held that title and sought to enliven the shopping experience with entertaining, and thought-provoking, spectacle.

“The project will act as a test bed for experimentation around ideas of gender,” Hewson added, “both to allow our shoppers to approach the experience without preconceptions and for us as retailers to move the way we shop fashion forward.”

Moving shopping fashion forward in a myriad of social and ethical corridors, designer Rick Owens just launched the first fashion show with full frontal nudity, Saks Fifth Avenue is being sued for discrimination against a transgender employee and female models are taking to the catwalk at Men’s Fashion Week.

Designers such as Jeremy Scott, Hedi Slimane and Proenza Schouler have made gender-bending fashionable this season, while a former Google employee turned designer, Nik Kacy, is launching the first-ever luxury gender-equal footwear line.

Launched on Kickstarter, the five shoe styles, including wingtips, brogues and boots, have androgynous sizing in “gender-neutral” proportions. “I want to show the shoe industry that our community matters and that style should not be defined by gender,” said Kacy, who identifies as gender fluid, or third sex. 

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