Gender fluid Fashion

Changing the lens

Mumbai-based Nitin Baranwal has been in fashion for three years. The non-binary interior designer turned model, who prefers the pronouns she/her and he/him, has worked with brands such as Ekaya Banaras, Kay Beauty, Budweiser and Levi’s. But it was Rahul Mishra’s haute couture spring/summer 2021 collection back in January that got him truly noticed by the fashion industry - the film, shot at a marble dump site in Rajasthan, saw Baranwal cocooned in the most detailed mushroom-inspired dresses. Represented by the modelling agency, A Little Fly, Baranwal, 25, says he is open to casting opportunities from clients who are looking for male, female and non-binary models. “I change my body language and my screen presence differs based on the project. Having said that, if I were allowed to choose, I'd definitely choose to be portrayed as a non-binary person as that’s something that showcases my true style and my identity,” he explains.

Globally, international models and celebrities such as Indya Moore, Ruby Rose, Nico Tortorella and more, who identify as non-binary, have influenced lifestyle and culture vastly, and started many conversations around alternative identities. GLAAD, an American non-governmental media monitoring organisation, defines non-binary or genderqueer as terms used by individuals who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. On the other hand, ‘androgynous’ refers to an outward appearance or expression of indeterminate gender.

Nitin Baranwal in Rahul Mishra’s Couture Spring 2021 campaign

Nitin Baranwal in Rahul Mishra’s Couture Spring 2021 campaign   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Closer home, not only are new gender-fluid labels emerging, but brands which usually subscribe to gender binary identities, have adopted a more inclusive approach. From Sabyasachi to Gaurav Gupta and Rahul Mishra, we see more fashion designers in India challenging gender roles through their collections. That said, non-binary models are largely underrepresented in the industry and terms such as queer, androgynous, non-binary and gender-fluid are used loosely. We spoke to a few models about their concerns:

Sushiru

Sushiru   | Photo Credit: Bhaskar Sancheti

Casting calls

If these models sometimes struggle on the job, it could be due to the brand’s lack of awareness or sensitivity, resulting in confusion during casting. Resham Karmchandani, co-founder of the gender-fluid label, The Pot Plant, has been working with non-binary and queer models. But even for her it has been a learning curve. “We realised creating a safe environment for non-binary models was important. So moving forward we will not just educate our immediate colleagues on how to behave sensitively, but also the entire cast and crew, including runners and gaffers on the set, so they do not misgender anyone and [that they] treat everyone with respect.”

One size doesn’t fit all

The fashion industry has been widely criticised for idealising a sample size - usually an extra small or small - and this deters models who do not fit into conventional body types. Furthermore, when it comes to sizing, non-binary models face unique concerns as most designer labels and brands work according to either male or female measurement charts.

Joan Dominic Rai for a Sabyasachi campaign

Joan Dominic Rai for a Sabyasachi campaign  

Multi-hyphenate Sushiru, a model, designer and drag artist, has starred in campaigns and fashion shows by Manish Arora, Gundi Studios, House of Clone, OkCupid and Budweiser. “I identify as a trans non-binary person. I’m open to being considered for both menswear and womenswear shoots. But when it comes to the sizing of clothes, my measurements don’t fall under a standardized size chart in the existing binary system,” says the 25-year-old. “The sample sizes are made taking into consideration conventional cisgender models, either male or female. So, when it comes to men’s clothing, often the sample pieces are oversized for me.” Fortunately, there are some designers who are conscious enough to customise these pieces.

Khup Hangsing, a 26-year-old knitwear designer and model, adds that designers need to be mindful of such situations. “Even though I’m gender fluid, my biological sex is male. So for instance, when I wear clothes designed for women, the crotch isn't roomy enough and hence, it isn't flattering on my body,” they say.

Breaking binary
  • If you scroll through Kolkata-based, gender-fluid fashion influencer, Joan Dominic Rai's Instagram feed, you will notice how effortlessly they embody gender-less style, be it through their make-up or the choice of clothing. Rai, who doesn’t subscribe to the gender binary, recently modelled in designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s latest fine jewellery campaign, donning a magalsutra. It appears for him clothing, jewellery and make-up are free of gender conventions.

Representation beyond tokenism

Let’s not forget that with gender-fluidity becoming a global buzzword, opportunities for non-binary folks could be part of the capitalist and tokenist agenda. Nikhil Dudani, co-founder of Feat. Artist, a model and creative agency that spotlights talents from diverse backgrounds explains, “For a country with a population of 1.3 billion people, I believe the representation we come across is very limited. This will only change when the approach towards casting moves away from tokenism. Most brands feature diverse and non-binary models just to portray themselves as inclusive. I’m hopeful in future it changes from ticking off a diversity checkbox to actually embracing talents from all backgrounds.” He says they get more enquiries for non-binary and queer models during the pride months. “I hope that can change and stakeholders consider these talents all through the year, just like binary models.”

Meanwhile, Gina Narang, founder of a niche talent management agency A Little Fly, admits she leverages the tokenist agenda of casting agents to further talents’ work opportunities. “It’s unfortunate that non-binary models are cast sometimes to tick off an inclusivity or diversity box, but even then, the model gets an opportunity to showcase their talent, occupy space in front of the camera along with other cis-gendered models. In my experience, this leads to more work for the talents, as it normalises and sets a precedent for other potential clients,” she adds.

Unlearn and learn

Baranwal and Sushiru, both encourage their clients to ask questions as opposed to making wrong assumptions. The latter, who identifies with the pronouns he/she/they/them was forced to choose one single pronoun on a shoot. “While I was on a set they were insistent that I pick one single pronoun which came as a shock to me. After this incident, to avoid being misrepresented again, I make sure to check with the client for the final version of the script or the copy they would carry when they feature me.”


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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:15:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/changing-the-lens-nitin-baranwal-non-binary-model-gender-fluid-sushiru-khup-hansing-joan-dominic-rai/article37242550.ece

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