AGENT, the gender non-binary label from New York with subtlety as its loudhailer
Talk, don't shout
There are up-and-coming fashion labels, and then there's AGENT: a New York-based clothing and footwear brand so new it barely shows up on Google search. Yes, its elusiveness on the Word Wide Web is relative to its youth. But AGENT's FW18 debut this recent February touting a gender non-binary identity and a minimalistic approach to design piqued our interest nonetheless. Is it enough for worldwide domination? You guess as as good as ours, though AGENT has had an undeniably strong start, one convincing enough to warrant a chat with co-founders and designers, Williams and Fronda (pictured above).
It is then that we realise, despite AGENT's infancy, the duo are crystal clear on its raison d'être. Minimalism isn't bait for the Scandi-enamoured, but a core principle and framework for Williams and Fronda to challenge themselves in their craft. For one, their veto against labelling clothes based on traditional gender terms (male or female) is not a gimmick to court the LGBTQ+ community; it is a logical decision in response to the evolution of gender identity today and the prevalence of unisex clothing consumption.
Below, they delve into brand identity, fabrics, quality, all-time design heroes and, the state of fashion in New York City.
Tell us about your vision for the brand. What principles are AGENT founded upon and why?
AGENT represents a shift in the norm with an aim to find a medium between elegance and awkwardness, providing a fresh approach to apparel and footwear. We explore the evolution of society and develop our aesthetic as human needs and curiosities shift. We are inspired by everyday people who aren't afraid to go against the norm. We have worked hard to bring that feeling to life and our hope is for it to translate and inspire the same people that helped bring AGENT into existence.
How did you both get into fashion design? How did you meet?
Terrence Williams (TW): Growing up in Singapore from the age of ten really opened me up to a global perspective. Attending a school with over 50 different nationalities really affects your view on the world and how you interact with your surroundings. My father also lived in Tokyo so I spent most summers roaming the city alone from the age of 15 and was lucky enough to be exposed to subcultures of fashion that remained intact and very much alive within small communities. This was my first real interaction with fashion, individuality and what is meant to self-expression. I got my start in International Sales at, Creative Recreation. I spent seven years there, working my way up to Director of International Business Development which opened my understanding of design and manufacturing. My time in that position combined with the all the traveling I did in my youth allowed me to continue my exploration of culture — in fashion hubs such as Berlin, Paris, London, and Tokyo. It's given me a unique awareness of niche market gaps, fashion undercurrents, and global brand marketability. With all this experience under my belt, I wanted to create a brand to fill a gap in the market. That's when I reached out to Josh. I met him in 2016 working on a private label project where we seemed to click when everything else about the project didn't.
Joshua Fronda (JF): I was always interested in fashion and design. I guess early fashion inspiration came from my mother who was a farmer, but surprisingly had an extremely elegant wardrobe and sense of style. My creativity and hands-on approach came from my father who was a builder and engineer, but I didn't start my journey in fashion until my early 20's. Before then, I was born and bred into farming and grew up deep in the English countryside. All my clothes were hand-me-downs from my brother and my first pair of sneakers were a beat up pair of Reeboks which I cherished, so once I started making money, I found myself spending it on clothing and shoes — it was then that I decided that I wanted to design and create footwear. After studying for five years at London College of Fashion, I was approached by Clarks Shoes and they enrolled me in a two-year intensive training program, sending me to live in Italy, China, and Vietnam to learn the finer arts of footwear manufacturing, development and design. After Clarks, I went to work for Puma and Lacoste, which finally brought me to New York where I met Terrence.
Minimalism can mean different things to many people. What is it to you?
Minimalism is about achieving the greatest effect with the just the fundamentals. It's respecting the greats that came before you and the standards they have set while presenting your own personality. Adding flair to design with unique constructions is ingrained our identity. We feel finding ways to intrigue with subtlety and finesse is very challenging but greatly rewarding.
What are some of subcultures that inspire or influence AGENT?
Our approach involves working with multiple concepts and traditional designs, and a lot of our inspiration comes from Japanese culture, but mostly based on their selection of fabrics and attention to detail. Our first collection was very tailoring focused but with a sportswear flair. The fit was very relaxed and comfort fitted, incorporating slight nods to '90s sportswear with colour pops and trims. This has made its way into streetwear but our interpretation of it was to push the boundary of luxury and quality.
AGENT has been described as a "non-binary line". How is this translated in the designs?
We really prefer not to coin our brand with any type of gender label. We consider AGENT to be based in menswear because that's the styling and aesthetic we like to create, but that does not necessarily reflect the end customer. Our designs look great on guys but equally wonderful on women. The crossover of customers into both womenswear and menswear has become so commonplace and will continue to evolve and progress so it makes sense to open our brand sizing to both.
Tell us more about the fabrics and the make of AGENT's clothing and footwear.
We only source high quality materials from Italy, Portugal and Japan. Since we've been in the industry for such a long time, we know how the quality of a product can suffer when the fabrics aren't up to par. Our fabrics are simply out of this world, we are obsessed with tactility and quality, and we always swoon and are attracted to the same materials. We create a lot of clean beautiful silhouettes so the material we use has to speak for itself. This is something AGENT is extremely proud of and we always encourage people to touch and feel everything!
Were there challenges that surprised you in starting up a brand of your own?
Definitely. Establishing our manufacturing base in Europe was a major struggle in terms of getting samples and production done on time. The seasonality of fashion has always been a battle but the communication required and patience to work through issues and problem solve was a major learning curve. We've now established some amazing relationships with factories and vendors who understand our focus on quality and taste level. In that regard, we have been extremely lucky and are very grateful to everyone that has opened their doors to us and believed in our vision.
"Minimalism is about achieving the greatest effect with the just the fundamentals. It's respecting the greats that came before you and the standards they have set while presenting your own personality."
What do you think fashion needs that AGENT brings to the table?
We saw voids in creativity and opportunities to move into a space which most brands were too afraid to go. We have created a brand that brings a whimsical take on the fashion industry with a touch of humour on every item. AGENT is for the consumer looking for an understated twist to their wardrobe; this includes everything that is cheeky, confident, and commercial.
What are your thoughts on fashion in New York at the moment; where do you think it's headed, and what would you like to see more of?
New York in our opinion is the centre of the universe. There is a pulse in this city like no other but also a supportive community of creatives pushing one another to do great things. Specifically to fashion, New York and the USA in general does have a strong focus on celebrity and pop culture which has taken a lot of the focus over the last decade and possibly detracted from the importance of fashion and its values or substance. There is a great sense of individualism in this city and that's what sets it apart, so for it to grow and evolve we would like to see more support given to the design-focused brands, and also elevate their focus on the more traditionalist labels and quality. Streetwear definitely has a place in fashion — its proven over the last decade that it has validity time and time again. However, the designer level brands looking to elevate the industry presenting new refined creations should also be given the spotlight to shine.
Who are your design heroes?
We love Dries van Notens' approach to simplicity, cut and consistent use of print, military and regalia reference. Maison Margiela not only makes unusual, juxtaposed design look good, but we also appreciate the nod to a utilitarian approach that they bring. And of course Vivienne Westwood; she is the queen of punk and we love her anarchistic and boundless approach to tailoring and fashion in general.
Shop AGENT footwear on agentnewyork.com. The label's clothing will be made available for purchase soon.