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Edmund Ooi Gets His Milan Debut at Armani’s Teatro

In case you haven’t noticed, genderless is the new thing, in fashion and otherwise. It is not about men dressing like women and women like men, though: That is androgyny, or maybe unisex, and it had its heyday in the progressive ’70s, at the peak of counterculture. It is the less-ness that makes genderless a thing of the moment—not caring how gender is represented through clothing and experienced in life. It is, in a way, a purist, minimalistic approach: a refusal of everything too specific and detailed. Relief or curse? You decide. One way or another, options today are infinite.

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Edmund Ooi, the Malaysian designer chosen by Giorgio Armani to show in the Teatro venue this season, is in the vanguard of the new genderless tribe. You can barely tell man from woman in his work. While other designers multiply layers, however, Ooi amplifies the drama with considered precision. He completed his studies in Antwerp, and it shows: The big volumes and twisted historical details were quintessentially Belgian. The collection he presented opened and closed with patterned short tunics and skirts that stopped at the knee (you’ll be forgiven for thinking you already saw them not long ago in a show by another Belgian, Raf Simons), and featured lots of elements taken from 19th-century gear (high necks, ribbons tied at the wrists) sliced and assembled in a series of graphic compositions on sturdy jackets with a fey, decadent allure.

Variations on the theme were endless, and maybe a tad scholastic, but Ooi proved a fresh, energetic vision, and quite a certain potential. One only wonders if it would have been better to wait a little longer before hitting the runway, and try editing and perfecting the collection a little more. Even the most promising talent, after all, needs proper training far away from everybody’s eyes before confronting the hard, unforgiving fashion world. Give Ooi another year or less, however, and he’ll make waves, hopefully not only in his own genderless niche.

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