people in transition need beautiful undergarments, too
Artist Peregrine Honig makes “middlewear,” fashion-forward genderless lingerie.
Peregrine Honig is reluctant to call the garments she makes "lingerie" or "underwear."
"Lingerie" is female by definition. "Underwear" implies a kind of secrecy. Instead Honig, the co-founder of newly launched agender apparel brand All Is Fair in Love and Wear, prefers the word "middlewear." It communicates the core principle of gender fluidity on which the line is founded and it also suggests, in Honig's words, that these pieces are bridging "the space between what is private and what is public."
You only need to look at Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover to understand how much what we wear, especially the pieces closest to our bodies, informs how we communicate our identities.
Honig is an acclaimed multimedia artist. At 22, she became the youngest living person to have work acquired by the Whitney. Her deceptively delicate watercolors and sculptures tend to explore moments of sexual awakening and social anxiety. She also runs the independent lingerie boutique Birdies in Kansas City, Missouri (she describes it as looking like "a Turkish boudoir from the 1920s"). A few months before Caitlyn's cover, Honig had also been thinking about the relationship between gender and undergarments. Her friend was in the process of transitioning, from female to male, and showed Honig what he was wearing. She was not impressed by the construction or look of his binder. "Finding something that fits you properly anywhere is hard," she says. "So imagine if you're transitioning." Talking with her store's transgender clients and other friends, she realized that most of the other existing modification garments on the market were just as uncomfortable as they were unattractive.
And so she teamed up with designers Laura and Miranda Treas (Laura's niece, whose pieces Honig already stocked in her store) to create a new line of fashion-forward, gender-fluid basics that they hoped would fill that gap. Laura and Miranda have eight years of experience working in the post-plastic surgery garment industry and understand how to manipulate high-compression fabrics and construction techniques; Honig, as an artist, has always been interested in themes of transition. Together, they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $23,000 they needed to launch All Is Fair in Love and Wear. "People all over the world cross the gender divide and they deserve to reframe and reform without limitation," reads the statement on their campaign page.
Last month, Honig and the Treases reached (and exceeded) their funding goal and they aim to go into production with their first model of binder (called the "Boy Friday") by December. It looks like a pleasingly minimalist mesh camisole but has reinforced seams and panels for contouring. They hope to follow up with tuckers (MTF underwear that creates a more feminine silhouette), packers (FTM underwear for a masculine silhouette), and waist cinchers. They also want to introduce more fabrics: Honig has a thing for lace, and she'd like to take the palette away from the traditional black and beige. The process is still a learning curve, though, says Honig - both logistically and linguistically.
"There's no Rosetta Stone for this dialog yet," Honig tells me over the phone from Kansas City, where she's in the process of installing a new solo show. But "this is not my story," she insists. "Because I'm cis I think I've had to be very careful and aware. It's a very simple product that's very complicated to make. Even saying that I want the garments to be beautiful can be interpreted as edging on the side of feminine (though equally I would say, 'that man is wearing a beautiful shirt'). So It's very much about language and how to start a dialog."
All Is Fair is not the first line of intimates designed specifically for transitioning people. But Honig and her team do hope to cater to a broader range of bodies than existing brands do, offering something truly inclusive. Since launching the Kickstarter, Honig has heard from many parents of young trans people in particular who don't feel that there is a brand that suits their teens. One woman wrote to say her 13-year-old son is in the process of transitioning and they couldn't find a site or store that felt accessible for someone his age.
Honig has also been approached by the Kansas City Care Clinic, and together they are discussing ways to open the brand out towards the trans community."We're working to develop kits targeted towards assisting teenagers leaving the foster care system, specifically the younger transgender community," says Honig. The kits will include items designed by local artists and should be available next spring. "I would also love to get to a point where we're doing 'buy one, give one' with All Is Fair," says Honig. The trans community, she says, tends to be private in Kansas City, and "there's also a lot of violence. There were two murders in our city this summer." She's considering the idea of creating a new, dedicated store space for All Is Fair, separate from Birdies, that would host meetings, workshops, talks, and residencies for genderqueer artists.
"I'm still learning what the needs are," she says. But when it comes to clothes, she believes our needs are universal: "It doesn't matter what your gender is, if you're uncomfortable - if your bra is loose or your underwear is too tight - you're going to have a crappy day."
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Mark Allen