I breezed my way through the entrance of Laboratorio Marte with a press pass, wearing black jeans and a black silk shirt, hoping that “subtle chic” would be the dress code. By the time the night was over, I would’ve been face to face with 17 pairs of nipples and countless glittered private parts. But before I had even gotten through the corridor, I had suddenly transcended into an exciting, fresh, enthralling space of exuberance and acceptance, where jeans should be left at home and swapped for a silver miniskirt and red platforms.
This was a loud, colorful celebration of the queer community, where beautiful, carefully crafted outfits cropped up left, right and center, upstaging my sad-looking black outfit in a matter of seconds. Wigs, hairspray, latex, skin, and nudity are a few things that I immediately noticed; pounding music, flashing camera lights, and excited chatter were secondary observations. We were at a genderless fashion show, where to be shocked and shaken was both guaranteed and encouraged.
This show was the work of Horacio Rubianes and Pako Neimann, a multi-talented couple who five months ago decided to solidify one of their many innovative project ideas with the genderless fashion brand TEBAS. All the products are incredibly inclusive: every item is suitable for anyone and everyone. The brand is built on love, more than anything else – love for not only each other and for fashion, but also love for the community that has played such a strong role in their lives.
Being “genderless” is commonplace in the queer community, so it only made sense that the first big project the couple decided to create together would reflect this, and act as a non-judgmental space where anything goes. They later told me: “We like to think that at an age when straight couples usually have kids, we launched TEBAS. It really is our baby.”
Their dedication to the project is reflected in the reception to the brand: this small pre-show drinks room was crammed full of people excited to have a space where prejudice is left at the door, and it felt as intimate as a family gathering.
In that small space, despite the fact that the show hadn’t yet started, I felt as if I was already experiencing a sort-of performance. Enigmatic elfish figures in black latex, primary colored skirts, and bright makeup were parading around, semi-nude and with a crazed look in their eyes, and an almost Christ-like figure ambled from side to side wearing nothing but a sheet.
I was enlightened by Pako later, who told me that these figures were in fact personifications of the TEBAS logo, “The Fool” from tarot card readings. For those not up to date with all things tarot, the Fool represents a person who is about to approach a free future, symbolizing hope and recklessness. The Fool likes to be naked and to be connected to his body, which Horacio and Pako tell me is central to their brand.
Just as I was starting to adapt to my environment, grab a glass of Malbec, and take pictures of what I was seeing around me, we were lead into a smaller space where the show would actually take place. The dark blue space was dissected by white strobe lighting, exposing the nude bodies of performers and models parading the stage.
Every sensory experience was stimulated; you could taste and smell the earthy incense, hear the twirling, moody sounds of music performers The Positive Force Team; the entire show was a feast for all senses.
Mariela, (The Positive Force Team) and the models’ stark nudity was certainly striking, and I had not mentally prepared myself to come up close and personal with the amount of flesh with which we were presented. However, the bodies were exposed with a sense of nonchalance. There really wasn’t anything hugely sexualized about the nakedness; it felt like the norm in this almost-family-like community that designers Pako and Horacio created.
In this intimate space, anything goes. Gender and any other societal constraints have no place here: everyone is equal, everyone is accepted, and everyone is powerful in their individual right.
A week later I was welcomed into Pako and Horacio’s heavenly sanctuary of paintings, candles, and clothes in their home/studio. What should have been a quick 20-minute interview ended up lasting a couple of hours, as we discussed everything from the ever-growing Gordofobia in Buenos Aires to Jung’s theorem on tarot cards.
I soon realized that this project really is a lot more than a fashion brand. They are not just designers, in fact, neither of them even have a background in fashion. Pako studied Philosophy at university and is also a musician; Horacio studied Fine Art and continues to paint as the forefront of his career, and his paintings cover their home. So, for them, fashion is not at the central core of the brand: the brand’s emphasis is on shifting cultural concepts.
TEBAS aims to shift these very distilled societal norms of body-image by differing from mainstream brands. Argentina is particularly famous for being image-obsessed and is the second most affected country regarding eating disorders in the world. According to the Association against Bulimia and Anorexia (ALUBA), one in ten Argentine teens suffers from an eating disorder, and one in 30 undergo cosmetic surgery, which ultimately are all reaching for an unrealistic, damaging goal of perfection.
“It doesn’t make sense suffering for an ideal homogenous body, because it doesn’t exist,” Horacio explains. “A lot of mainstream brands are selling their clothes based on a reality that does not exist.”
One of the ways they push back against this “ideal body” is by avoiding the norms of the casting process. They did not pick the models specifically influenced by how they look, or by their sexuality, race, or size but rather according to their energy, how they express themselves with their body, and how their story might be relevant for the brand.
“We are all humans,” Horacio continued, and it made me wonder. This “human” aspect is so often cut out in fashion shows, and in the industry itself. Often, when watching a fashion show we see the models as nothing more than beautiful hangers, yet TEBAS’s runway was a very human experience. It was less about the clothes they were wearing, and more about the humans wearing their own story and how it marries up with the brand. You could visualize the personal stories of each model as they walked out, with every tattoo, every stretch mark, every piercing. Horacio and Pako did not craft these models to look a certain way; most of their makeup and hair reflected their own style and look.
To enhance this human experience, the runway was not in the traditional conventional Fashion Week set-up of being perpendicular to the audience, rather it was circular and allowed the models and performers to really interact within the crowd. One of the times they walked out either naked or almost naked, and you could see the very intimate process of the models choosing their dresses from the rack. This was an invitation for the audience to consider the choice that the model was making, it almost transported you into the dressing room or even the person’s home.
What first felt shocking and perhaps even a little scandalous later became much more understandable. This choque is a way of challenging society and the norms to which we are so used accustomed. It was very refreshing to be in a space where beauty standards are put under the microscope, and all human bodies regardless of gender and size, are appreciated.
Although I may have been foreign to this world, Pako and Horacio acted as my sherpas, guiding me into a community that constantly has to deconstruct societal norms, to kickstart the rest of the country. This was not just a fun way to spend my Friday night in an artsy fashion show, but it was a glimpse at an outlet that pushes against boundaries and recognizes the disservice these limits are doing to our society.