Stylist Josef Forselius is a guest tutor at Beckmans and a leading figure in queer male fashion in Sweden. When he started his career, about 2013, it was important to distinguish between women’s and men’s garments and he sometimes met with negative reactions when he failed to keep to the rules. Since that time the situation has radically changed both in the world of fashion and in society at large. Josef himself works on the principle that there is room for all of us: “Most labels talk about fluidity but not all of them may actually have queer intentions or understand what it means to be queer. I think that different fashion scenes can inspire each other.” Josef often relates to gender-fluidity in his work while, personally, he belongs to a queerer fashion scene. Alongside his work as a stylist, he also runs Faggotry, a club which caters to a queer and gay audience. “Everything goes hand in hand. This is the only way that I know how to work. And I have to be true to myself.”
As my contribution to this project I have chosen a fashion story in which my styling was given a lot of space. This is a remake of a feature that I did for a magazine with photographer Hedvig Jenning. We wanted to base our work on a particular character and mood: credible, not overly styled and somewhat romantic. The casting of the model Connor Miller went really quickly and came naturally, as we had seen Connor previously at an agency and concluded that he was the right person for the task. In the styling I mixed menswear and womenswear in order to create a softer impression. I also chose lighter garments and fabrics, while the labels and seasons were less important. We wanted to keep things as clean and simple as possible. The only props were a foam-rubber mattress, a clothes hanger and a chair.
Many of the poses were Connor’s own ideas. It was important that they should not seem forced, so we tried out poses together in order to achieve a certain corporality or form, for example. While we were working I did not think so much about what is feminine and what is masculine, whether the garments were menswear or womenswear. There are many rules attaching to men’s fashion but I was mostly interested in convincing forms. For me personally there has never been any difference between women’s and men’s, but in my profession I have realized that it is important to maintain the distinction – at least that’s how things were in Stockholm about 2013 when I started out as a stylist. I was told by various showrooms that one should not mix the two, though no specific reasons were given. Today things are totally different. Mixing womenswear and menswear is no longer controversial.
Personally, I have always based my work on what I have lacked in styling and I have tried to find this in my collaborations with photographers. I haven’t wanted to compromise, although I have done so on occasions. For me it has been important to play with the classical dress codes, perhaps subconsciously, but also intentionally. I have tried to force my way through the rulebook for what menswear should look like. This applies to my own wardrobe as well, how I dress privately. In a sense I have always regarded garments as garments and chosen what I think looks good. If the garments have been intended for women this is not something that I have considered. It was only when other people questioned my choice of clothes that I started to think critically about gender coding within fashion. Initially it was in no sense a political statement.
Even though the fashion world is beginning to give up traditional gender coding, it feels as though there is some confusion when it comes to terminology. I perceive that gender-fluidity is somewhat more commercially viable than queer fashion, for example. Queer fashion belongs together with brands like Art School, Telfar or Hood by Air, which originated in a gay or queer club scene and community. In my case I have to relate to the concept of gender-fluidity in my work while belonging, myself, to a queerer fashion scene. I think that this division is a good one, that there are different rooms even within non-traditional gender coding. Most labels talk about fluidity but not all of them may actually have queer intentions or understand what it means to be queer. I think that the different fashion scenes can inspire each other. And I hope, in the future, that all these tags will disappear. Then we will really be free.