A little while ago we had the pleasure of attending the launch of a gender neutral clothing label, crbn in Sydney. Designed by Whitney Duan, the first crbn (pronounced carbon) collection featured striking minimalist pieces able to be transformed by the personality of the wearer, no matter their gender. I was so drawn to the collection that I ordered a piece the very next day.
When my slightly subversive bandage skirt arrived, it was just as perfect for my hourglass figure as it had appeared on the man who wore it on the runway. I wanted to find out more about about the designer who could create such a garment so reached out to Whitney for a chat.
Emma: Where did you study fashion? Please tell us a little about your experience studying.
Whitney: I actually never studied fashion before. The closest thing I’ve done is probably a unit on textiles in the 7th grade where we made a pillow case. I am completing my studies of a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in Art History and Philosophy. It puzzles a lot of people that what I study has no directly practical application to design but I do consider my non-traditional educational background the bedrock of crbn’s vision. Studying Philosophy and Art History allowed me to take time to deeply explore the political, aesthetic and ethical ideas that I align myself and my label with.
E: What spurred you to create gender-neutral clothing?
W: When my partner and I were floating the idea last year, we were trying to pin-point our exact target market and when we got to considering gender we asked why shouldn’t our clothing be worn by all genders? There was no good reason why what I was designing should strictly be worn by women. I think a lot of people think that the gender neutral element drove our entire vision but really, the decision was quite organic. We couldn’t give a good reason why clothing should be gendered so we didn’t impose a gender on our label.
E: What is your design process?
W: I never research with the intention to be inspired. For me, if I go out meaning to design a piece, the piece doesn’t feel like it’s my own creation, just a pastiche of elements I stole from other designers. Instead I’m always making mental notes of things I feel inspired by – textures, colours, forms – so that I have a library of materials to work with. More often than not, ideas just come to me like an epiphany (I’ve even had vivid dreams of future designs), but when I break down the designs, different elements are drawn from the mental library of inspirations – a clasp, a fit, a style. I guess I’ve sub-consciously been constructing a puzzle and only when it’s complete do I realise it.
E: Is there anything in particular you need to take into consideration in terms of design when creating a genderless piece?
W: This is perhaps the most difficult part of the process. Creating a genderless piece means we try to make one design suitable for several very different body shapes. A shirt won’t look the same on a person with breasts to a person without, and a pair of trousers will sit differently on a person with wide hips to someone with less in the seat but still the same waist measurement. In every piece I’ve designed, a lot of consideration was put into ensuring the style would fit both masculine and feminine bodies well, which resulted in much of the collection being quite structured, oversized and open to interpretation.
E: From what do you draw inspiration when designing a collection?
W: I draw inspiration from the personalities of people I meet. It’s not exactly a visual or even tangible inspiration but I think many of the pieces I’ve designed are portraits of some of the interesting people I was meeting and hanging out with at the time. An individuals character, their background, personal concerns and style can inspire my choice in colours, shapes and fabrics.
E: Are there any other designers whose work you particularly admire?
W: Gosha Rubchinskiy, Alexander Wang, Kanye West, Demna Gvasalia, Raf Simons to name just a few. I admire designers who can be authentic and original even in an industry increasingly dominated by fast fashion.
E: Where does the name crbn come from?
W: When we started out we wanted our name to reflect our minimalistic first collection and our thoughts turned immediately “carbon” as the most basic and common element. In line with our minimalist philosophy, we culled from the word what we thought was excessive or could do without – the vowels. And thus sprung “crbn”!
E: How do you see your label growing from here?
W: We’re currently designing a Resort 2018 collection to get us on track with the buyers’ timelines. We’re hoping with this we’ll be able to be stocked more widely and internationally. In the more distant future, we hope to be expanding into bags, jewellery and footwear.