Fashion forward

Rising fashion stars are changing the industry by bringing sexy back and redefining gender boundaries

The fashion agenda today is being set by a new generation of stars who are refreshing and reinventing their respective corners of the industry.

In womenswear, there is Nensi Dojaka, last year's LVMH Prize winner, who is redefining what sexy looks like. Bianca Saunders, last year's recipient of the Andam Fashion Award, also casts a female gaze but on menswear - where she has created a distinctive look that is off-kilter yet graceful.

And then there is Harris Reed, the non-binary designer pushing gender fluidity to its most expressive, extravagant heights with demi-couture creations.

Dojaka is currently the darling of the industry, her work beloved not just by the establishment (evident by her LVMH Prize triumph), but also by some of the most photographed women in the world.

Trendsetters, such as singers Rihanna and Dua Lipa as well as models Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, have been spotted in Dojaka's signature lingerie-inspired looks.

Soft but strong, sexy yet never trashy, the designer's aesthetic dovetails perfectly with our current cultural moment - one in which sex has returned to the forefront of fashion and the pent-up demand for party dressing is close to boiling point.

With their delicate criss-crossing straps and cleverly placed French-seamed panels, Dojaka's dresses brilliantly straddle the line between underwear and eveningwear. The clothes are barely there, but what is there is impeccably constructed and engineered to caress the body in all the right places.

In a conversation with Zadrian Smith for Harper's Bazaar UK, Dojaka said: "What I love is to make women feel empowered, but also to keep it very fragile because that's what makes us women. We are strong, but there is also that lightness and fragility, which is something really beautiful."

The tension between strength and softness is also something that colours Saunders' work. Her vision of menswear is undeniably masculine, but not in the traditional sense. There is something quiet but powerful in the way she reimagines foundational menswear garments such as tailoring, sportswear and workwear.

There is nothing campy or overwrought about her work, but it is strikingly singular nonetheless. Her prowess is in her patterns - a distortion here, a contortion there; a seam twisted here, a sleeve curved there; a shirt cinched or a tee ruched just so.

The result is clothing that looks like it has movement built into it, as though it were frozen mid-action.

Saunders said in an interview that her starting point comes from "bridging the gap between the masculine and the feminine energies and gestures".

She also explained why she opts for subtle drama instead of flashy showpieces: "In fashion, we tend to think about the more stylish people, but the consumer that's buying the clothes is everybody else. I really want to make people like that feel comfortable about themselves and feel as though they can be a mixture of people. I think the modern man is more of a polymath. So even if the person is involved in finance, he's going to an art show on the weekend or has an extensive music collection. It's very much broadened."

Perhaps no one is doing more to broaden fashion's boundaries than Reed. Reed is no stranger to viral moments, having dressed the world's biggest pop stars, including Harry Styles, Miley Cyrus and Solange Knowles.

There is a reason why these flamboyant showmen are drawn to the designer. Reed's work falls on the spectrum between club kid and glam rock, and its over-the-top opulence has more in common with the couture of the 1980s and the royal court fashions of the 1800s than the streetwear and athleisure that dominate runways today.

Reed explained the drive behind the unabashedly in-your-face designs in a self-penned essay for Harper's Bazaar UK: "So many of the people who wear my clothing aren't gender fluid or queer, but they believe in this idea that things shouldn't be boxed in as 'male' or 'female' - you should just put on something that makes you feel divine and confident."

The designer also hopes to be part of a larger movement "that makes people think and go, 'We've been through this pandemic - we don't want to be boxed into our apartments or bodies. We want to explode. We want to express and explore'".

Reed added: "People need to put things on their bodies that best represent who they are, how they identify, how they want to be seen. I want to be a fabulous fashion designer who fights for people to be who they are."

  • This article first appeared in Harper's Bazaar Singapore, the leading fashion glossy on the best of style, beauty, design, travel and the arts. Go to harpersbazaar.com.sg and follow @harpersbazaarsg on Instagram; harpersbazaarsingapore on Facebook. The June 2022 issue is out on newsstands now.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2022, with the headline Fashion forward. Subscribe