Gender Free is the New (And Only) Gender

Until recently, Alejandro Gómez Palomo's label, Palomo Spain, was mostly unknown in the US market. The brand had already garnered some attention in Europe, especially after making it to the shortlist for 2017's LVMH Prize, and Palomo was being championed as the up and coming 'it designer' in his native country, but at that point few had heard of him in America, even in New York. That quickly changed once the designer was invited to NYFW for the first time to showcase his Objeto Sexual collection, and the brand has been picking up some serious steam since.


Alejandro Gómez Palomo. Photo Courtesy of PR.

Some stars also unexpectedly aligned for Palomo, which further amplified the brand’s exposure. The iconic Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, for instance, became a fan and a supporter of the label after attending the "Hotel Palomo" show in Madrid, and it certainly didn’t hurt that Beyoncé announced the birth of her twins on Instagram wearing one of the Palomo's pieces. Now several collections in, it's clear, however, that it’s his unique vision as a designer – in part defined by his storytelling capabilities, a singular and timeless elegance, and his ability to create clothing in styles more traditionally associated with cisgender women but designed for men – that makes Palomo Spain stand out as much as it does. After all, only a few years after the launch of his brand, Palomo has become a designer that many are closely watching.


Palomo returned to NYFW this week to present his Fall collection. Simply titled '1916,' the collection was inspired by Ballets Russes, a Russian ballet company that came to Spain during the First World War. Like in previous shows, the designer anchored his inspiration in Spain’s past while offering a contemporary take on it, creating a collection that this time around featured more classical and masculine tailoring, with its traditional codes, but still combined with softer touches. This resulted in a rich and varied show which on one hand featured pieces such as sheer slip dresses, a velvet parka finished with a massive bow, and silk printed fabrics, often in poignant colors; and on the other hand featured sleek tailored suits in shades of gray and black.


Palomo, who, luckily for us, speaks perfect English, kindly took the time to chat with us about why it’s important to keep an eye on the past, what movies and music inform his work, and why he is more keen to redefine aesthetics than he is to spark debates about gender fluidity.

Palomo Spain Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos by Elizabeth Pantaleo for NOWFASHION.

Are there any designers who have greatly influenced your work, or who inspired you to become a designer?


I really admire every designer who contributes to the history and progression of fashion. I believe every designer is relevant for a certain time, say for a decade. YSL, who was someone who marked the 60s and 70s, is an important reference for me. As a child I clearly remember feeling what he was doing was amazing. Of course, I’m also a huge admirer of Cristóbal Balenciaga. I am very proud to be Spanish, as he was; to bring back Spanish fashion and make it relevant again, as he did in his time. Not that I am comparing myself to him, no way (laughs)...he’s the great master of fashion!

John Galliano was at Dior when I was growing up and he has always been one of my main inspirations. He made me realize that you can really create a world and a fantasy that is unique. Through him, I understood fashion could be so much more than simply pieces of clothing. Clothes can be grand, beautiful, exaggerated, and extravagant. He was at Dior when I was growing up and I recall being completely fascinated by his work as a kid.


Christian Lacroix is another one of my major references. Very much obsessed with this uber-glamorous approach to fashion. His attention to detail for example was so rich. Of course there are many other designers that I admire and study, like Nicolas Ghesquière, especially when he was at Balenciaga, but also Pierre Cardin and Gianfranco Ferré


Your design often seems to reference cinema, even if indirectly, or to include cinematic references. Was ‘1916’ inspired by any specific composers or directors?


As far as what music and movies inspire me, it really depends on what we are creating at the moment. For this specific collection, I had been watching movies by Luis Buñuel and Luis García Berlanga, two important movie directors from Spain, who generally portrayed rural Spain during the first half of the 20th century. There’s a movie by Berlanga, for instance, called Bienvenido Mister Marshall! that sort of mirrors what we’re doing here in new York. We’re like these people coming from the village to visit the big city (laughs), even if it was the other way around in the movie. For this show, we wanted to create the feeling of being in the square of the village where the performers of the Ballets Russes came and mixed in with deep rural Spain.

Palomo Spain Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photo by Elizabeth Pantaleo for NOWFASHION.

Music also seems to be an important element in how you stage your shows. Does music also play a role in your creative process?


Of course, yes. I find myself listening to a lot of classical and neoclassical music. For this show, we chose to use Michael Nyman because some of his pieces were just perfect to showcase some the collection. Specifically, it was a piece called Musique à Grande Vitesse. There were also compositions by Max Bruch, which really inspired me during the creative process while I was designing this collection.


There’s much talk about how progressive and norm defying your collections are when, in fact, you’re going back to some of the origins of menswear, almost as a reverence to what fashion was rather than what it has become. Is the past an important source of inspiration for you?


We always look back to look ahead. I have all these references that go back to the 16th century and much before, like the Greeks and the Romans. I try to observe the progression of clothing throughout history, to bring it into the present and then push it forward to make it sort of futuristic.


What I noticed while looking back is that men were able to wear much more fabulous clothes as well. Say, during the period of Louis XIV. Men could wear high heels, exquisite fabrics, and pearls. And then all that stopped and for some reason men became limited to wearing suits, navy blue and black and grey. In looking back, I learned that men could be masculine and look fabulous as well. It's about bringing that back and showing that it can be possible, but in a much more contemporary way.


Despite all the talk about gender fluidity, you don’t necessarily think of your design as masculine femininity or feminine masculinity. Is blurring gender lines something you think about when creating your collections?


I create naturally, inspired by men and my friends. I never really tried to create a debate about gender, masculinity, femininity... It was something that I had assumed from an early age, and it’s something that feels natural to me. I’ve never questioned it too much. The only intended message is one of freedom, to give options and possibilities for men to be able to wear glamorous and detailed fashion.


Of course, clothing has gender because bodies are different between men and women, but it's really the aesthetic that relates to one and the other that I wanted to get rid of. It's about removing the assumptions of what is defined as a masculine or feminine design. I want to use the elements of fashion and clothing with complete normality for men, and do so in total freedom.

Palomo Spain Fall/Winter 2019 show in New York. Photos by Elizabeth Pantaleo for NOWFASHION.

What do you think can result from getting rid of those gender based aesthetics? Let’s say Palomo Spain becomes a mainstream brand, what would be something you’d hope for?

We're excited to see men, actors or public figures, wearing something other than a black tuxedo on the red carpet. We're eager to see a man wearing a beautiful green silk robe with, I don’t know, some large bright colored silk pants and a velvet cape! A man can be masculine, elegant, and sophisticated without having to wear a suit. It's time for us to see much wider options. It seems old fashioned to think men are limited to so few options while women wear long gorgeous evening gowns... Little by little, our goal is to change that, and it's already happening.