iii is a Brooklyn-based independent clothing designer who currently is developing gender neutral wear and is self-diagnosing vagina envy
Sedate: Where are you from? Where are you now? Where are you going?
iii: I’m from my own Silk Road with Manila and Queens, New York as poles of the route. I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn around four years ago and at present call it home. I’m always in a transitional state of body and mind, so a destination may not even exist.
S: What is your aesthetic and what is gender neutral wear?
iii: I make clothes to appease a lot of my anxieties resulting in an aesthetic that is nervous, confrontational, and flawed.
I’m also going through my second adolescence. As I reconstruct my own sense of gender identity, I find myself breaking down concepts of clothing that are gendered and historicized. Associating garments with roles, genders, and markets dictated by practice creates a fashion culture that is self-conscious, and not self-aware. And I want no part of this repressive conformity.
The goal is ambitious: to detach notions of gender in clothing. Dresses and skirts are just dresses and skirts. They are no longer labeled as womenswear or feminine clothing available for men. Now the process can be confusing. So what happens to gender guidelines in construction? I resolve to mirror the method to the goal. Closure orientation and techniques–in particular, cuts, darts, and tucks are just design variables and not gender markers. For example, if a heterosexual transgender man decides to wear a bust darted halter-top and pants that close right to left with no regard to his intention, then the goal is fundamentally fulfilled. It’s fashion. It’s not about cross-dressing or gender fucking–because seriously a boy in a dress? Groundbreaking.
The term unisex also is problematic. It’s constricting and it supports the binary system. I’m not into that. The premise of gender neutral is to honor all points of the spectrum. The promise of reinventing fashion is to realize clothing and style as in between, never puristic.
S: You’re currently working on a spring/summer concept collection to be released this fall, can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
iii: I’m in a state of undress–shedding familiar forms for the foreign as I transition. I’m more comfortable in the nude now because clothing doesn’t seem to relate to my body as it used to. I’m also questioning a lot of my internalized gender expression on a daily basis, only to see myself in a grueling process of deconstruction. I take my clothes off and put them back on redesigned, repurposed, and recontextualized. I’m taking patterns apart, cutting pieces off, and displacing. I’m attaching pieces together and layering garments in varied, irregular ways. Easily there is an overall incongruous quality to the clothing, somewhat surrealist, but inevitably impressionistic of my intimate concerns.
S: Has fashion always been something that was close to you?
iii: Totally. I always was interested in what people around me wore. I have vivid memories as a child where I’d stare at people on the street, on TV, and in photographs for their sartorial choices. I still do it up to this day. It’s become an integral part of my design process.
S: As a trans woman, what are the misconceptions that surround your identity?
iii: I’ve had a lot of encounters with people whom had me thrown by their thoughtless and bigoted remarks about my gender identity–comments that pose serious threats to the trans community at large. These are sensitive and complicated topics but I speak of my trans experience in my perspective and of what I recall from unfriendly exchanges.
My trans-ness is unique to myself and there persists a diversity of trans narratives that needs to be sought out to further understand the enduringly evolving identity. It’s also safe to assume that there are intersections among trans perspectives.
Now what are these misconceptions that surround my trans identity? My trans experience and presumably the trans experience in general do not revolve around pretending to be a man or a woman–deceiving the public. “You’re pretty good at what you’re doing, you fooled me,” snootily said by a heterosexual cisgender man to me once. Backhanded compliments such as that are insulting and they perpetuate inaccurate views of the community.
The “born in the wrong body” narrative is also not the truth for every trans person. It certainly isn’t the truth for me. To generalize trans experiences of body dysphoria as all the same is to undermine the complexities of individual identities. In some cases, dysphoric backgrounds do not even exist. It only goes to show that sex and the body don’t necessarily relate to one’s sense of gender.
“If you’re a trans woman, then why do you wear boy clothes?” “I respect your decision to transition, but you’re still not a woman until you have had surgery.” “You must idolize Caitlyn Jenner, she’s already there.” Full disclosure: One’s gender expression doesn’t always agree with one’s gender identity, more so it doesn’t have to. The way I appear does not determine my sense of gender. There is not a checklist or a set of rules that endorse what it means to be trans. I don’t need to wear a bra, grow my hair long, wear makeup, or undergo sex reassignment surgery to identify as female but I can if I want to. The thing is, while media visibility, thanks to big names like Caitlyn whom I adore, is crucial to the community, it can be problematic too especially when representation is lacking. It presents limited ideas of how it is to be transgender and reduces the experience to a sensationalized image that in time can become the norm. Ultimately, me being trans is not about how I present myself, what I have achieved, and where I’m going.
S: If anything, what would you like to see change in today’s youth culture, and what are you doing to change that?
iii: Don’t be basic. But if you’re going to be basic, commit to it and be basic to the highest degree that you subversively become non-basic. Try not to play it safe. It’s not enough to have an aesthetically pleasing Instagram feed or to be a passable woman in daytime–you’ve got to be more than that. You’ve got to change the way people think and see things. You’ve got to have an agenda. To be fair a lot of my friends are already doing it and essentially I’m saying all of this to remind myself as well, that we always have to challenge the values of the stifling status quo. We don’t have to follow what has preceded our time. We can make it up along the way.
Photography by Giles Pates. Clothing by iii.