“Your identity is so personal, who is anyone else to tell you what you should be.”
Photos by Julia Hovve
Berlin based designer Olive Brown's recently launched label Oil by Olive is a fresh and humble stand for gender neutrality. Self taught, her handmade bondage-esque choker tops and mesh compilations steer audiences away from boxed female, male, and even unisex categories. Rather, they ask the wearer to consider where design and labels are headed. i-D spoke to her on a snowy Berlin day and discussed her hopes to one day live free from gender prescriptions.
This label is quite young, but it seems like you've been mulling over the idea of subverting gender divisions for some time.
When I moved here from New York in 2014, I started interning for a clothing line UY—they dress the Berghain scene and make unisex clothes. Their designs are more fetish wear— all black with a lot of draping and latex. While working for them I realised I wanted to make clothes for party people that weren't limiting, a unisex line. But at some point along in the collection I decided I didn't even want to call it unisex because even that was too defining. I like this idea of the collection being entirely genderless; it can be for anyone and anyone can decide how they want to wear it.
Can you explain that a little more?
Minimalism (in the design) is important because the simplicity allows people to have pieces they can make their own. If you have garments that are too loud or too much, they demand the attention. I want people to be able to create and exude their own identity with these products.
Gender and identity are things you should be able to make your own by choosing exactly who you are, rather than being told. I want the clothes to do the same thing.
What does the "oil" in your name mean?
I love the dichotomy between fine essential oils that are seen as incredibly "feminine" and delicate, and crude, natural oils—petrol and gasoline—which is seen as dirty, "masculine", and aggressive. At the core, they are one thing and they all come from the earth—but you can create so many different personalities from them.
It's the same with male and female, feminine and masculine—it's about bringing them together because at the core they are one thing.
Gender neutrality has been discussed more widely this year than ever before, how do you feel about the current state of it in the mainstream?
I think we're making progress. Every change is going to take time, anytime things seem to be moving forward, there are people who try to pull them back. But I think as a whole we are definitely moving in the right direction. We are coming to a time where it's finally an enlightenment of identity, where people are ultimately allowed to be and say who they are, and be accepted for that. Your identity is so personal, who is anyone else to tell you what you should be.
And you think fashion is an important part of this shift?
Definitely. What initially drew me to fashion was my love for clothes as a point of expression. When you see someone for the first time, what they are wearing and how they present themselves forms your first judgement of them—regardless of whether this intentional or not.
Text Alexandra Manatakis
Photography Julia Hovve
Styling Gregori Homa