reframing gender, identity, and sexuality in fashion with sophia hattingh
By putting pubic hair in glasses, New Zealand designer Sophia Hattingh is sparking conversations about identity and sexuality in fashion.
Photography Frances Carter
Like Petra Collins and Judy Chicago before her, Sophia Hattingh is embracing a style of critical design that challenges conservative stereotypes in fashion and art. As part of her honours degree in product design at Auckland's AUT University, the passionate feminist made glasses loaded with hair and social
constructs. With her Reframing collection, 21-year-old Sophia set out to provoke discussion, not only about the gender conventions attached to eyewear, but also their monopolised production processes. In doing so she gives a highly articulate and educated voice to a rising tide of dissent against traditional ideals of beauty.
After completing her fashion degree in 2013, for which she produced a collection of "highly sexualised" slips made from laser-cut silk and leather, Sophia initially sought more gender-neutral territory. But she soon realised glasses are also gender-focused, and found an opportunity to create conversation by way of controversy. While the short-sighted reaction of the university faculty nearly cut off that conversation, Sophia's designs were able to see the light. Which is good, because they're not just provocative symbols of empowerment.
With their strong, sculpted frames, painterly textures formed from hair and whimsical braids for arms, these glasses are the most surprising and exciting we've seen for some time.
How did Reframing come about? What made you shift focus from clothing to product?
At the end of my fashion degree I knew I wasn't done, but I didn't want to continue on with clothing. I just knew I wanted to work with machines and hard materials, and glasses were the first idea. I also applied to do product design with sex toys, which is still something I would love to do, but that got shut down very quickly by the university.
I think it's because the product department is so young, they're quite sceptical. It's also very male-dominated, which is the same with the whole product industry. I felt like there was a lack of understanding or a want to understand from the males.
Did that encourage your idea to use pubic hair?
Oh, totally! It was, in a sense, a reaction. A lot of my project was a reaction to mass production, but then there were other parts that came to be involved.
Your glasses raise a lot of issues around gender stereotypes. How did you settle upon this idea?
I followed a design movement called Critical Design, which is about designing for the purpose of debate. The products I designed are meant to sit alongside other designs that have been mass-produced, to provoke thought and spark ideas around gender, identity, the industry and sexuality. So that's really great that they have!
Do you think glasses are an untapped medium for provoking that kind of discussion?
Yeah, totally. There's one company, Luxottica, that has dominance over basically the entire eyewear industry. They own all of the eyewear stores, insurance policies... So I wanted to look at how a designer could create glasses without fitting into that model.
How did you make them?
I set hair in resin and formed a block that was put into a CNC machine, which is like a 3D drill that you program to cut out what you've designed.
How did you get the hair?
I just put out Facebook and Instagram messages asking for it. I started without mentioning pubic hair, and managed to get most of the hair I used from friends or girls around New Zealand that got wind of it. I tried to keep it very individual for each pair of glasses, until it came to the pubic hair. Then I put as much as I could find from guys and girls of all ages. My family even gave me pubic hair! One pair of glasses took over 20 people's pubic hair.
What were the reactions like?
Initially quite shocked, and I enjoyed that, I enjoy causing a bit of controversy. A lot of people didn't realise it was hair, and so it was fun to see the different reactions. I had actually had a formal complaint laid against me, due to not having ethical consent for using hair. There was talk about whether or not I was going to be able to graduate.
Do you think people felt threatened?
The complaint came from inside the department, from a man. I think people just didn't understand what I was doing. But it made me stand up more for what I was doing, and the importance of it. It almost spoke to what I was talking about in my work; this backward nature. It was very ironic.
You're sparking some important conversations.
It's so strange, it's like when it's part of your body it's fine, but the second hair is removed it becomes this whole other thing. Initially my reason for doing this was because I wanted, in as literal terms as possible, to put the human into the product. I think it's important that these conversations get sparked.
Text Sarah Gooding
Photography Olivia Jensen