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September 18

JAMES CHARLES Highlighting his way to GENDER BLENDING


The night noir edit Documented by Anastasiya Lobanovskaya


CONTENTS 3 Under the influence 8 Gender nonconforming at a wedding 12 Seven emerging designers leading gender neutral fashion

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Under the Influence

Styling: Kaila Mathews Photographs: Levon baird Picture this: you’re in an auditorium full of teens and pre-teens bubbling with anticipation. They’re shifting nervously in their seats, which, for those in the front row, have cost $499 each. Some are on the brink of crying. Many are accompanied by a parent, and almost every single larynx will soon quiver to emit a frequency that only dogs and adults born after 1972 can hear. Now, who do you think this audience is here for? A rock star? A hot actor? A teen dream pop sensation? Nope.

and has his own line of merchandise, Sisters Apparel. He has one of the most engaged followings on YouTube, many of whom, as one learns when attending his live show, are not afraid to call him out on, well, anything they see fit. “These kids know me,” he later says. For example, during the Q&A session, one attendee calls him out on his filthy beauty blenders. Savage, but Charles doesn’t flutter. And so he shrugs and says:

A decade ago, sure, the above would probably hit the mark, but in 2018 puppy love thirsts for a different type of celebrity, one who blurs reality with aspiration, speaks brutal truths, uses the word ‘extra’ as a self-description and comes armed with a front-facing camera and a subscribe button. In this particular instance, they’re here for 19-year-old American beauty YouTuber James Charles, who is taking the stage to perform a live make-up tutorial and a Q&A session. Soon, the athletic brunette, with fierce brows and chiselled cheekbones, will emerge, exclaim a big, warm “Hi, sisters!”, his catchphrase that addresses the tribe (every ’tuber has one). Screams, stamping and tears like nothing you’d ever expect, considering the context, will follow. “I’m so excited to be here,” he soon says. “Let’s get glam!”

“Oh, I know! I’m so disgusting!” And someone from the audience tosses a new one onto the stage from their goodie bag. Everyone laughs. It’s hard to imagine being so blunt with a teenage celebrity role model, but this connection is different – it’s personal. I doubt Taylor Hanson or Justin Timberlake would have stayed up all night replying to messages and creating an online fan community nearly as big as Charles’s Sisters … Alas, them’s the breaks as a YouTuber: you’re held accountable at all times, from the products you peddle to what you say, as Charles (along with many other creators) has learnt the hard way, via with a few miscalculated, racially insensitive comments that have resulted in major call-outs by fans and big apologies by him.

At the time of writing, Charles has over 6.8 million subscribers on YouTube, 1.32 million Twitter followers, 6.7 million Instagram followers and 125,000 likes on Facebook (which tells you a lot about his demographic’s preferred platforms),

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Having had a beauty channel since 2015 (besides an “unfunny comedy channel” prior to that, which we’re not to talk about, he jokes), Charles rose to fame with a meme about being so extra that he brought a ring light (a portable LED light famously used by Instagrammers and Kardashians) to his prom photo shoot specifically to pop his highlight. It later came out that the meme was a joke, but not before he was appointed CoverGirl’s first male face, appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and became a viral sensation. Along with make-up related content and tutorials, he also produces a show, Brother & Sister, with his younger brother Ian Jeffrey, where they talk about growing up, sexuality, relationships and fashion – a casual breakdown of family, youth and brotherhood, with an sensitive undertone of James’s coming out as a 12-year-old. It’s adorable, to say the least. According to internet statistics portal Statista, Charles’s content is a drop in an ocean of 88 billion beauty videos annually uploaded to YouTube. However, not everyone has the influence that this Los Angeles-based teen does, and certainly few could charge $499 for a front-row seat at a live makeup tutorial, breakfast, selfie and goodie bag. That is a feat in itself. “I could speak all day with reasons why James is so successful,” says Ellana Byers, founder of cosmetics brand Be Coyote, the headline sponsor for Charles’s Australian tour. “He is charismatic, ridiculously talented (and not just in make-up), extremely hardworking and he appreciates his millions of fans. Watching him backstage, as well as in the meet-and-greets, you could see a genuine love for every single person. That’s what makes a difference. Fans can very quickly see his authenticity, and that, mixed with his unbelievable talent, is what makes him truly influential, and a force to be reckoned with.” But to anyone over the age of 25, the question remains: what is it about YouTubers that appeals to this generation? And aren’t they a little young for make-up? Well, to understand the rise of A-list beauty YouTubers, you need to look beyond skin-deep. “YouTube as a platform has a particular appeal to teenagers/ pre-teens for a couple of reasons, but it is mostly because of the immediacy of the platform and the feeling that it could be them one day,” says Daniela Walker, foresight editor at the Future Laboratory, a trend forecasting agency in London that looks closely at the behaviour of millennials and Generation Z (those born in the late 90s to early 2000s). “All these young

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YouTube stars fit the mould of being ‘just like them’,” says Walker, “rather than the unreachable heights of celebrities on TV or in the cinema. [This is] despite the fact the likelihood of actually becoming a famous YouTube influencer is just as low as becoming a famous actor.” A large part of Charles’s success is that he runs deeper than your run-of-the-mill beauty blogger. He shares personal stories – his failures, successes, family and his private life – all while engaging with his young audience and talking directly to the camera, creating a sense of eye contact. He also happens to do great make-up. “I get a lot of fans who deal with poor mental health,” he says, mentioning a girl he took a selfie with at the Sydney live show who hugged him and confessed, through tears, that his channel stopped her from taking her own life. “But that’s the good thing about the internet – that there are so many kids who can confide together and help each other out. I try to be a role model to these kids and so it’s really important for me to explain to them that I love them, that so many people love them and that no matter what, eventually, this will get better.” The star himself admits to his own dark clouds, often leaning on his fans for support. “The fans are the only reason I do this job,” he shrugs. “As much as I love make-up and the creativity behind this, the internet can be a horrible place and sometimes with so much negativity and hate, it’s hard. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is knowing I can help inspire young kids to be themselves, that they’re waiting for me to put out awesome content for them. I love make-up, but I’d probably just be doing it in my apartment if it weren’t for this community. So it’s a two-way street.” And this is where another allure of YouTube comes in – the community, something mainstream media rarely provides teens. “As long as there are teenagers, there will be a ‘find your tribe mentality’,” says Walker. “YouTube and the internet has just made it easier to realise you are not alone. Prior to that accessibility, role models were very mainstream, and for a kid from a small town in the middle of nowhere, they may find that they have no-one. Whereas now, they simply have to turn to their computer to be able to find like-minded people. Social media has given different communities more exposure, and made it easier for people to find a niche where they feel accepted.” Hence Charles’s ‘sisters’. Walker adds that it’s not that mainstream media has done anything to lose this audience, it’s just the nature of YouTube, the intense accessibility and immediacy. “It’s funny, because now most of these influencers have a lot of money, expensive equipment and production and yet there is still a feeling that


The misconception that many beauty content creators are shallow, vain and lazy is a common one. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “A lot of people just don’t understand what the life of a YouTuber really is,” says Charles. “It’s not just sitting down in front of a camera, pressing record and uploading it 20 minutes later. It’s a full-on process, and I do three videos a week right now. Two beauty videos, plus our full production show with my little brother. Then, I’m also working on Instagram posts at all times, product launches and projects.” Charles has a team of four people, and a production company that helps out with Brother & Sister. “I really don’t get that much sleep! I love it, but it is a lot of work and so many people don’t understand the pressure that actually comes with it – to perform well, to look good on camera, to put out really great content, to always step your game up. It’s hard.” Aside from changing how an entire generation consumes media, the community is shaping how that generation thinks about beauty and how the beauty industry is thinking about them. No longer is the industry focused on changing you or making you into someone better, but on how it can slot into the life of you, the creative individual. “I think it has had a major shift in a positive way,” says Charles. “Now it’s about really supporting each other, being inclusive and how this beauty product can make you feel better. It’s long overdue.” Byers echoes this. “It’s the biggest change I’ve ever seen in the beauty industry,” says the cosmetics CEO. “The level of influence that some YouTubers have is unbelievable … Gone are the days when a product was released, marketed and ultimately consumers tried it out. We now live in a world where entire brands can be made or broken on reviews from YouTube stars. New brands and products appear daily, and these modern-day celebrities get to decide what wins and loses.” And so the beauty industry has had to rethink its business. The YouTubers with integrity will not stand for sub-par products, because if they gain a big enough audience on trust, the money from views rolls in, which lures the big fish they actually do want to work with, but all it takes is one false review to make it all fall down. And the kids all have noses for frauds. “I’ve built up my integrity so much over time, and it was so hard to earn my fans’ trust, so I have to make sure I’m only recommending good products,” insists Charles. “For me, first and foremost, I have to love the product. I absolutely have to. Obviously, with YouTube, let’s be real, you can make a decent amount of money and it’s a great job to have, but there’s no pay cheque I would ever receive in exchange for sacrificing my trust with my followers.”

Styling: Kaila Mathews Photographs: Levon baird

it is home-made. Plus, they are available after their YouTube video is off. There’s Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Instagram, etc, so the storytelling and the relationship between them and viewer never ends, making it much more intimate than a fictional television show/star.”


That said, YouTube, Instagram and the other image-driven apps have been driving change within the beauty industry for some time now. Walk into Sephora or Mecca and really look around. The days of glamorous golden palettes are fading, replaced by a more creative culture of beauty. Almost everything looks like an art supply or is designed to be ‘photoready’, optimised for personal photo shoots instead of daily life. Kim Kardashian West’s KKW Beauty line looks like a range of chic pastel crayons, and then there’s Pat McGrath’s cultstatus otherworldy sheens, glitters and molten hues, sold in bags, palettes or pots. There is a graphic connection to artistic expression here, not beauty as our mothers knew it. This might seem vapid and narcissistic on the surface, but this movement is rooted in individuality, belonging and a confident sense of self. “It’s the long-lasting impact of everything else we’re talking about that matters the most,” says Charles. “And all this,” he says, motioning to his perfectly contoured, highlighted and baked look. “You can do anything you want, because at the end of the day, it washes right off. It’s just make-up, after all.” This article originally appeared in Vogue Australia’s September 2018 issue.

Photograph: James charles

“The beauty industry has made massive strides in recent years when it comes to inclusivity and rethinking its campaign models,” says Walker, noting how the representation of people in beauty campaigns is also changing, thanks to this generation. “There are so many facets of this, but if we are talking about YouTube specifically, then I think, yes, they have to work harder on their formulations and products, because now you have popular YouTubers doing things like ‘unboxing’, hauls and reviewing products – breaking it down for the consumer. They trust these people. The internet overall has bred a review culture, and also a space where you can contact brands directly. If a brand does something wrong, never before has it been easier for a consumer to shout about it, whether that be on YouTube, in an Instagram comment or through Twitter and retweets.”


Photograph: Mihani Stefan


What It’s Really Like to Be Gender Nonconforming at a Wedding

I’m privileged to feel comfortable in a range of clothing— though 99 percent of my wardrobe is stocked from the Ladies Department™—and to be able to understand and see myself, now, as beautiful, no matter what I’m wearing. (Usually no matter what I’m wearing.) Which is lucky, because one friend, pointing accusatorily at an Instagram post from last spring in which I’m Angelina Jolie’s Leg-ing at an event in a thrifted, barely there dress and black tights, has already warned that I can’t wear a dress to her wedding. (Joke’s on you, because damn if Look 9 from Erika Cavallini Resort 2018 isn’t peak androgynous nuptial witness-bearer.) Granted, she is marrying into a more conservative family from a different cultural background, in which my striking resemblance to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in my post-reception bathroom selfies is not a high emotional priority. Which is to say, I suppose, that she is not marrying a Kardashian nor into a rogue coven of teen makeup artists. The culture shock would legitimately be distracting on her big day; I would stick out like a sore thumb and, you know, ruin everything. Jacob, you were saying? But my other friends are getting married in an intimate queer ceremony. They seem “chill” about it, so much so that I again am left wondering—will I distract from the ceremony? If I put

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in too much effort while they opt for Yohji-esque pants and asymmetrical wrap jackets, all the better to focus on, you know, loving each other, will I just ruin their wedding photos? Their style is easy in a way I could never pull off, because people who write essays about dressing for someone else’s wedding months before said wedding are not “easy”; at least, obviously, not when it comes to getting dressed. But then I think back on Terence Koh’s at-the-time-not-sanctioned marriage to Garrick Gott, a picture of them drowning in the 30 feet of tulle Koh had added to his mother’s wedding dress, and remind myself that I stick out in a lot of situations. People have laughed at me on the street and said things like, “I know you want to be a woman, but it ain’t working, bro.” I don’t stick out because I’m an asshole; I stick out because sometimes people kind of suck. Last spring I attended the GLAAD Media Awards after-party in a drapey Helmut Lang situation and a pair of Rodarte heels that Anne Hathaway once wore to the airport. (Mama does her research.) I have since decided that drapey Helmut Lang situations are not The Look, or at least mine, and learned that I can handle strange women tapping me on the shoulder to tell me I look fabulous while the men around me remain conspicuously silent. I’ve also learned that, no matter the occasion, hushed whispers are a sign you’re doing something right, not wrong—being yourself, for yourself. Mazel tov.

Photograph: Artificial Photography This article originally appeared on VogueAustralia.com

I get scared of them, because dealing with people’s parents and relatives as a transfemme can be really awful,” activist Jacob Tobia tells me in an email. “I feel like people might think I’m being selfish by wearing a dress and ‘making a scene’ or ‘calling attention to myself’ at someone else’s wedding. No one has actually said those things to me, but I hear them in my head nonetheless.” And here I am, doing the same thing. It’s a lot to contend with, as one follower put it on Instagram, “people’s ideas of normalcy being deflected onto everyone else around them” in any given situation. At a wedding, those feelings are amplified, creating a pressure cooker of potential disappointments at best and a legitimately unsafe space for queer bodies at worst. “My family forced me to wear a dress to participate in my aunt’s wedding,” my friend Ash writes me. “I didn’t own any women’s clothing, so they sent me to Target, where I bought the only thing shapeless enough to make me feel okay . . . I was completely bald at the time and I owned no jewelry, but when I came out of the house in my new dress, my aunts tripped over themselves to say how pretty I was. As soon as I could, I ran inside and tore everything off so fast that the dress ripped.”


Photograph: Ethan Haddox


Photograph: Pixabay


Photograph: Godisable Jacob


Photograph: Clem Onojeghuo

Seven Emerging Designers Leading Gender-Neutral Fashion The strict divide between so-called “women’s wear” and “men’s wear” is beginning to soften. Over the last handful of fashion seasons, progressive labels — including big names like Alexander Wang, Rachel Comey, and Hood by Air, as well as countless indie brands — have begun reforming their collections from the stringent separation of women's and men's that has long defined apparel categorization. Many big names have abandoned separate fashion week presentations, opting to show an entire season at once on a cadre of models (professional and not-so-much) whose gender identities and personal style push binary conventions. But it's the younger, emerging designers who are really driving the conversation. As such, we'd like to introduce you to seven of our favorite up-and-coming designers doing gender-neutral fashion right now. From design ethos to end product, these labels are taking charge of a future where clothing goes beyond "his" and "hers." Scroll on to get acquainted, and be ready to say you knew them when. THE DESIGNER - Chelsea Bravo Brooklyn-born, London-based designer Chelsea Bravo started off in menswear and has since relaxed into genderneutral fashion. Her designs are based around fluidity and

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open shapes with a focus on how the body moves and feels within each garment. Bravo pushes design through thoughtful construction, bold shapes and moldable silhouettes ultimately creating beautifully-crafted garments that bridge the gap between form and function. Loose fabrics, contrast details and subtle layers are formed to create a soft, minimalist look. Consciously designing with the future of the planet in mind, Bravo focuses on natural and sustainable materials such as hemp and organic cotton. Her garments are intended to not only mean something today but to go on and mean something forever. WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “Because clothes have no gender.”—Chelsea Bravo THE DESIGNER - One DNA After a successful crowdfunding campaign with Kickstarter, New York-based designer Travis Weaver launched One DNA. The collection offers a simple proposition with sophisticated deftness: Basic clothing designed without the limitations of gender, size, or race in mind. Weaver doesn’t see the collection as erasing gender, but rather ignores the dividing line between women’s and men’s clothing. With non-binary standards, the label’s collections offers a range of wardrobe


staples such as oversized woven tees, cropped hoodies, and freeform tunic shapes constructed using soft cotton and cotton blends. Gender-neutral in both silhouette and fabrication, One DNA’s design makes everyone feel included. WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “Whether an item is labelled women’s or men’s it’s not that relevant to me. In the past, when I would go shopping I’d be browsing the women’s section and inevitably a sales associate would shout out, “The men’s is downstairs!” As if I was somehow mistaken. So I started designing clothes for myself that were not men’s or women’s but were just the clothes that I wanted to wear. Now, with One DNA, I’ve carried that idea forward. Our ongoing, core collection is entirely genderneutral. But it’s important to note that we put a lot of time and thought into the designs so they have character and a point of view. People can decide for themselves how feminine they will go, or masculine, or whatever, depending on how they style the clothes. Furthermore, we make a lot of oversized pieces to allow for various body types — our oversized hoodie is based on a 4XL, for example. That’s basically the philosophy behind One DNA: Blurring boundaries around gender, body size, age, and so on, and being more open-minded.”—Travis Weaver THE DESIGNER - ZED Seattle-based line Zed began as a menswear label but it appeals, and sells, to both men and women. Designer Ty Ziskis produces thoughtfully functional pieces that focus on simplicity, rooted in the theory that good design is as little design as possible. With gender-neutral silhouettes, his collection is suitable for anything from travel to work to weekending. WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “In my world, gender is not something for clothing to be defined by. The clothing I create, or any clothing for that matter, won’t feel right on for everyone. Everyone is trying to feel something different through the way we express ourselves through dressing. This process of personal style is not driven by the pronoun we use to identity ourselves.”—Ty Ziskis

THE DESIGNER - 69 Outsized by nature and by design, 69 is an avant garde clothing label established and produced in Los Angeles. The line launched in 2011, inspired by the works of Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, and by the longstanding history and universal appeal of denim. This trailblazing brand shatters conventions with its non-gender,non-demographic approach to design. Its

Photograph: Rawpixel

THE DESIGNER - I AND ME After spending 10 years working in the fast fashion industry — including a gig as head buyer at Topshop — Jessica Gebhart broke away from this scene to start her own, environmentallyfriendly collection of premium denim. Founded in 2015, I AND ME focuses on clothes that are simple and well constructed, with fabric and fit driving each collection. Get ready for utilitarian shapes, soft jersey fabrics and denim cut to perfection. WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “We design garments to love forever; the ones you can always rely on to complete your outfit. This responsible way of shopping compliments our genderless mentality. We focus on the longevity in the design and quality of our clothes rather than gender.”—Jessica Gebhart


garments – cocoon dresses, tall tees, next-level jumpsuits, and more – are designed with neutrality in mind, so that everyone can relate in one way or another to the shapes. Fun fact: the designer remains completely anonymous! WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “It’s inclusive; no one likes to feel left out.” -–69 designer

Photograph: Dom Hill

THE DESIGNER - s.k. Manor hill Born and raised in San Francisco, Dominic Sondag first studied fashion design in Florence. Sondag was inspired by Italians’ appreciation of fashion, art, history, and craft. After beginning his design career in Europe, he moved to New York City to work with Engineered Garments’ production and design teams. It was his interaction with designer Daiki Suzuki that pushed him to launch his own collection in spring 2016. Although often labeled as menswear, s.k. Manor hill is designed for all. Sondag is inspired by vintage garments and classic silhouettes and concentrate on craftsmanship, timeless design, and long lasting quality. From Moroccan-style overshirts to richlypatterned baggy pants, house coats, and scarves, s.k. Manor hill dismisses gender and invites anyone to be a wearer. WHY GENDER-NEUTRAL? “Why not? I really like women wearing ‘men’s’ clothes. I draw inspiration from all types and forms of clothes. I don’t want any restrictions and I am opposed to labels. I wish it could just be called ‘clothing,’ but it seems that we have to categorize and label things for the consumer.”—Dominic Sondag


Photograph: Dom Hill


Photograph: Tiko Giorgadze


Photograph: Ian Dooley

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