By Aidan Macnab
Blanc de Noir — a gender-neutral clothing brand that refuses to be “typecast” — has been picked as an innovator at The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation.
“I think it’s got a great aesthetic,” said Robert Ott, chair of Ryerson’s school of fashion and executive chair of the Fashion Zone.
Gonzalo de Cardenas and Miah Mills are the designers behind the brand and are among six to join The Joe Fresh Centre for Fashion Innovation. Blanc de Noir is a collection reflecting on the “hustle and bustle” in different cities, including Toronto, while incorporating progressive politics into its brand.
Gender neutrality largely influences Blanc de Noir’s collection of boots, scarves, totes, hats and more. Calling gender an aspect of clothing that serves no purpose, Mills and de Cardenas said it was easy to exclude because of the clothes’ minimalist look.
“As we were stripping pieces away to make it minimal, excessive ornamentation and gender were just some of the things that got edited out,” Mills said.
Tetyana Krysa is business development and events manager at the Fashion Zone. She said Blanc de Noir’s gender neutrality was “probably one of the primary reasons” they were selected for the project.
“Their dedication to innovate in gender neutral space is really inspiring,” Krysa said.
Blanc de Noir’s gender-neutral influence serves an untapped but substantial market. Mills and de Cardenas think it will be a few years until gender-neutral clothing hits runways in Paris and Milan.
“Fashion is really two businesses,” said Ott. “The centre, the core of where the money is being made, but fashion also happens at the margins. It is at the margins where experimentation happens.
The brand takes its gender-neutral approach towards both the brand’s aesthetic and functionality, as their leather bags have lots of space and carry heavy loads.
“Men and women have to carry their groceries home,” Mills said. “So it doesn’t matter if the bag is meant for a man or a woman because it has the same function.”
Both Mills and de Cardenas have backgrounds in industrial design. They said their experience in the field motivated them to be environmentally sustainable as well. Blanc de Noir achieves this goal by sticking to slow fashion.
The minimalist approach helps in this, Mills said. Like jeans, minimalism goes with everything. Their argument is that if less new clothing is being purchased en masse and what is being purchased lasts longer, less needs to be produced and less will be thrown out.
“You don’t need to buy every season,” de Cardenas said. The project’s clothing is made in Cardenas’ native Peru by small-scale manufacturers.
“Those craftspeople bring an incredible amount of knowledge to the work they do,” he said.
Mills’ and de Cardenas’ Toronto collection is the first in the series. The next stop is Lima, Peru and possibly Seoul, South Korea.
This article is one piece of a six-profile series on the Joe Fresh innovators.