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Brand to Know: a Gender-Neutral Line Challenging Norms

By Merrell Hambleton

 
 

Highlights from No Sesso’s FW 18 and NS 2018-1 collections. Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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Credit: Dicko Chan

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People often ask the artist and designer Pierre Davis how to wear the intricate, largely handmade clothing she creates for her Los Angeles-based line, No Sesso. “There’s this joke I have that maybe I’ll start putting directions in the garments on how to put them on,” she says. In fact, there’s no right answer. “A lot of the pieces can be worn different ways. It’s all good. Who’s to say there’s one way to wear something?”

Challenging traditional ideas of dress — who wears a thing, and how it’s worn — is central to both the design and politics of No Sesso (“no sex/gender” in Italian), which has developed something of a cult following in L.A. and attracted the attention of boundary-pushing musicians like Kelela, Erykah Badu and Kelsey Lu since its launch in 2014.

Tied, stitched, knotted or delicately embroidered, No Sesso’s unisex pieces seem to be constantly shifting and evolving. Seams undulate like lines of music and burst open, colours clash and loose, irregular knits transition into sleek, sharply tailored lamé or billowing nylon. Even geometric patterns, constructed from pieces of vintage fabric, vibrate with life. Denim waistbands are layered into a fitted sheath dress, and white painter’s coveralls become a delicate silk jumpsuit.

“Some of the pieces are almost like Transformers, or convertible cars,” says Davis. “Everyone has different shaped bodies, so it makes the garments a bit more accessible.”

Accessibility — especially for black, brown and transgender bodies that have historically been underrepresented in the fashion industry — is at the heart of Davis’s global vision for the brand, which she calls “a platform for other like-minded artists who just want to be seen or represented.” But when she first started making clothes, it was in answer to a personal need. “I was designing for myself,” she says. “I wanted garments that I connected to. Sometimes it’s really hard to find things you actually want to spend your money on.”

The 28-year-old designer was born in South Carolina and influenced early on by ‘90s pop culture: R&B music videos, the Jean Paul Gaultier-costumed “The Fifth Element” and her mother’s copies of the magazines Black Hair and Hype Hair. In high school, she taught herself to sew and “started tapping into wanting to be a designer.” Following a brief stint at the Art Institute of Seattle, Davis presented her first collection of deconstructed denim. “That was the birth of No Sesso.”

A move to L.A. in 2014 gave Davis the space and resources to expand. “I spent a lot of time in the fashion district,” she says. “There’s blocks and blocks of fabric, zippers — everything you need to construct a garment.”

Today, Davis still makes most things by hand, working with a community of friends and collaborators. “We do a lot of patchwork pieces using recycled denim,” she says. “This fall we recycled a bunch of sweaters and turned them into dresses.” New materials are sourced in the fashion district and Davis thrifts the rest. “I go through everything — all the pants, all the tops, all the sweaters,” she says. “I like to go by myself, and I have to have patience. And a good playlist.”

Like the thrifting process, hand-assembly takes time. “We spend hours making these garments,” Davis says. “Most of them are one of a kind.” Embroidery, which Davis taught herself in 2016, has become a signature of the brand. Last spring, she embroidered a jacket with images “inspired by black women’s hair and how beautiful the black woman is when getting ready.” It took six months.

Davis’s process is out of step with the pace of high fashion — and that’s partially the point. “It’s a work of art more than it is fashion for me,” she says. “I really don’t care about the fashion cycle.” In fact, No Sesso recently abandoned the traditional categories of spring/summer and fall/winter. The current collection, No Sesso’s first of the year, is referred to simply as NS 2018-1. “I’m just going to release things when I feel like releasing them,” she says.

For Davis, No Sesso is a form of resistance (what she calls a “peaceful protest”) that’s subverting the fashion industry by “bringing joy.” Plenty of designers — Rick Owens, Thom Browne and Faye and Erica Toogood among them — have explored genderless fashion, though they’ve tended toward the muted and minimal, uniforms for a “Matrix”-like dystopia. Davis’s radical vision of a post-gender world is, by contrast, full of optimism.

For the upcoming collection, which launches on May 12, Davis imagines “what someone would want to wear in 2022.” “Last season, I was watching a lot of ‘Star Trek’,” she says. “You don’t see a lot of black identity in sci-fi, so that’s something I’m pushing — showing more identities, giving people a reason to connect to the future.”

Available at Planet X in New York City and nosesso.net.