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Free the body: three New York brands that speak to Gen Z

By Julia Garel

19 Oct 2021

Fashion

Maryam Nassir Zadeh, photo by ANDRES ALTAMIRANO (DLX agency)

Launched between 2011 and 2013, New York brands Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Eckhaus Latta and Vaquera have showcased last month their spring-summer 2022 collections at New York Fashion Week. The three of them have been referred to as “emerging designers” over the last few years and now embrace a body positivity that speaks to Gen Z: emancipation and inclusivity. FashionUnited dives into a trend that’s here to stay.

Second skin body

At the beginning of September in the streets of New York, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Eckhaus Latta and Vaquera’s shows featured models striding down the runway with skin showing: breasts, chests and thighs were bare or delicately covered by see-through fabrics. But styles were far from the porn-chic era and the sexualised bodies of the noughties. “We use skin as a fabric and not as an inappropriate unveiling,” explains trends consultant Fériel Karoui.

Eckaus Latta, Photo by Rob Kulisek (DLX agency)

The idea of showing more skin might not come onto the streets in the near future, but it stands for values that are close to Gen Z and Millennials. Indeed, the younger generations are “usually at the heart of cultural shifts,” says Karoui. “We’re talking about sensuality, liberation, empowerment and emancipation”, she adds.

For her, “these are also topics we didn’t want to tackle right after the #metoo movement. We were in a more modest era, we used to talk more about our relationship with seduction, women and body consciousness. Today, we stand for self affirmation when we show parts of our body, it’s more about making a statement than being sexualised, about sensuality more than sexual object.”

Maryam Nassir Zadeh, photo by ANDRES ALTAMIRANO (DLX agency)

Authentic genderfluidity

Questioning how we present our body is largely linked to gender codes - they’ve been questioned over the last few years mostly on social media by teenagers looking to identify themselves in better ways. Since the beginning, Eckhaus Latta and Vaquera have included the no-gender notion in their experimental DNA. They’ve been forerunners: these brands appear as real activists for change, ready to speak sincerely to the young generations. Indeed, they tend to prefer “real talk” according to Nelly Rodi’s inspiration director Vincent Grégoire.

In the three brands’ spring-summer 2022 shows, revealing a naked body has been seen as progressive. Both women’s and men’s legs, breasts and chests were bare. Eckaus Latta presented masculine silhouettes made of knitted mini shorts, open and cut-out tank tops. At Maryam Nassir Zadeh, shirts were open to show the chest and flowy silk and cotton pieces were donned by all.

Eckaus Latta, Photo by Don Ashby et Rob Kulisek (DLX agency)

Even when models didn’t walk down the runway with bare skin, transparency was still present to emphasise a genderless and anti-conformist wardrobe. At Eckhaus Latta, men wore delicate tops and trousers close to womenswear while at Vaquera see-through bras were worn by men to make for gender-neutral looks.

Vaquera chose to highlight its models’ subversive side by making them walk in a hurry - a way to state that we definitely are in a rush to destroy any preconceived codes. Actor Jaden Smith recently pinpointed in a Cheatsheet Magazine interview that despite a growing genderless wardrobe on the runway, it’s still an issue for a young boy to sport a skirt at school. The Critical Pulse confirmed, “a man sporting a dress or skirt can always be associated with an LGBTQ+ stereotype, which is not necessarily what these men want.”

MADISON VOELKEL, COURTESY OF MARYAN NASSIR ZADEH / COURTESY OF VAQUERA (DLX agency)

However, it seems that this season might simply want to stand for freedom - a way to embrace post-lockdown months. “We’re deconfining bodies,” says Karoui on the phone. Irony? Not that much. When explaining the concept behind his spring-summer 2022 collection to Vogue Italia, designer Eckaus Latta said his goal was to, “feel like ourselves, finally get out of this period of time and feel sexy, confident and free.”

Maryam Nassir Zadeh, photo by ANDRES ALTAMIRANO (agence DLX) / Eckaus Latta, Photo by Rob Kulisek (DLX agency)

This story was previously published on FashionUnited.fr. Translated by Leana Esch.