i and me, the new london label making clothes for him, her, and you
Meet the designer who traded fast fashion for tiny, environmentally friendly runs of gender-neutral denim.
Standing between the racks of clothes in her pop-up shop on Redchurch street, I and Me designer Jessica Gebhart and her husband David (on hand to help run the tills for the day) are the perfect mannequins for the label's unisex clothes. Their matching padded gilets actually look cool. This is I and Me's party trick. On paper, the clothes are simple, utilitarian shapes. In person, jersey feels like silk and their denim is cut so perfectly that it doesn't really matter what body - boy or girl or in-between - fills them. And on Jess and her husband, you get it.
"I don't think I ever planned it to be a unisex brand but when I started designing the first collection it was all very casual and full of wardrobe basics," says Jess. "I get very inspired by what my guy friends are wearing, more than girls. So naturally I wanted to see them in the clothes." Sticking to simple, baggy shapes makes I and Me's clothes swap possible. "All my collections start with picking fabrics, my background is in denim so that's the backbone. Then I work closely with sample studios to get it right," says Jess.
The gender neutral movement in fashion, from Gucci's pussy bow blouses to forerunner collections from Rick Owens, has roots in glam rock, grunge and Japan, where designers in the 80s also cared little for gender rules. In 1983 Yohji Yamamoto told The New York Times; "When I started designing, I wanted to make men's clothes for women. But there were no buyers. Now there are. I always wonder who decided that there should be a difference in the clothes of men and women. Perhaps men have decided this." In a nice piece of serendipity it was a trip to Japan that shaped I and Me's work.
But it wasn't the fashion there that struck Jess (although her silhouettes looks distinctly Japanese). On honeymoon last autumn Jess became obsessed with the work of self-taught architect Tadao Ando, known for his masterful minimalist spaces. "This," she points to the grey pinstripe set she's wearing, "was inspired by his concrete and the indigo dyes we use in the denim represents the shadows his work creates."
Two years ago, Jess was a denim buyer at Topshop. She'd graduated in a graphics degree, went to Miss Sixty's marketing department, tried styling and landed at the high street behemoth. She spent six years there before launching her label. Jess wanted to make clothes slowly, using the best fabrics she could find. She wanted to release collections when the time felt right, rather than rush to meet sales targets. She shopped cautiously, buying less but better quality. And she wanted a label that reflected that.
"Maybe at the back of my mind I And Me is a rejection of fast fashion. Though I still consult for a manufacturer that produces a big chunk of Topshop's denim. I and Me is more premium, with much smaller collections that are more concise," Jess explains. "There are lots of little brands coming through doing this and even bigger brands choosing to de-option what they put out in their stores. I think we all need to start thinking in that way."
A rural Surrey childhood where Saturday afternoons were spent reading The Face first drew Jess to fashion. But her mother, without realizing it until Jess had focused on denim, inspired I and Me. "My mum is a print and textile designer and she specializes in natural indigo dyes, her work is hung all over the house. And she's now brought one of every piece I've made," says Jess.
Just knowing what makes a good pair of jeans wasn't enough for I and Me. Jess wanted to differentiate herself from the crowded market. So I and Me don't just sell clothes. Listen Studio have created resin vases inspired by Ando and Jess worked with the Hackney Potter to design a range of ceramics. There are pin badges and plates, cropped trousers and turtlenecks; Jess is selling a version of her own life.
"The biggest lesson for me in doing this is don't compare yourself too much to other people. This is how I shop. It's what I look for. I wanted to create a lifestyle. It's good to take inspiration and listen but i think it has to come from you."
For I and Me, it's personal.
Text Naomi Bikis