Blending tailored suiting with leather harnesses, Ella Boucht’s approach to design is driven by their mission to fill the void of nonbinary representation in the fashion industry, and the world at large. Through experimentation with structure and cuts to produce silhouettes that refuse to adhere to a rigid gender binary, the London-based Finnish designer delivers a refreshing fluidity free from the censorship of queer bodies that have dominated the artistic sphere until now. Their most recent collection, Fist, fuses influences from both the martial arts and S&M communities to construct pieces that blend power with the erotic, crafting a unique domain for self-expression in which queer masculinity can be creatively explored.
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Could you talk me through the beginnings of what led you to design? I understand you initially had a background in acting. What led you to transition from the world of theatre to fashion? 
I used to go to theatre school because at the time I planned to become an actor. At one point, we had this big play where I ended up backstage where the wardrobe was, to see the garments and select something for my character. After seeing the wardrobe and the people making the clothes, I realised this was something that could be done for a living.
After I graduated from high school, I decided to move to Sweden, where I took a design course. This was the beginning of the path that led me to where I am now – I began by looking into the world of costume design, but ended up leaning towards art and fashion. I studied pattern cutting and tailoring, and found the Swedish School of Textiles, and started a Bachelor of Arts there. The school was more focused on the philosophy behind fashion, in the sense that it centred on the methodologies of creating a collection. It was a great way to learn about the process before reaching the end goal. After graduating, I moved to Stockholm and later Paris, before beginning a Master of Arts at Central Saint Martins. My prior experience involved multiple cultural perspectives on the fashion industry and how different people work. I worked not only with those who worked in fashion, but also artists and performers, which meant that in a sense, I came full circle from my roots in theatre.   
Your MA graduate collection was entitled Butch, and featured multiple references to queer presentation and history. How were you able to conceptualise this notion of female masculinity on the runway? What does the term ‘butch’ mean for you? 
I started the MA with a pre-collection during Spring, which developed into the final collection. On Instagram, I posted a photo by Harley Weir, depicting a woman crossing her legs, revealing some pubic hair in the process. At the time, Instagram was really hot on censorship, and my account ended up getting completely deleted. I had to fight really hard to get it back. This incident became the starting point for exploring how censored women’s bodies, and especially queer bodies, are in art. I wanted to create something that truly represented the lesbian community because when looking for something like this myself I was shocked at how few designers were specifically serving this audience. Even when I was studying at Central Saint Martins, one of the biggest and most progressive art schools in the world, you mostly have to choose between designing womenswear or menswear, which I found to adhere to a very old-school, binary way of looking at how we create clothes.
In between travelling, experiencing such rich, creative environments, meeting people from all walks of life and also exploring my own sexuality and gender, the butch aesthetic began to form. For the collection, I also worked with models who had a more masculine approach to their expression from the beginning in order to have the input of multiple perspectives; ultimately, I wanted to work from a nonbinary lens to produce something that included a group of people who are often underrepresented in the fashion industry.   
What led you to pivot from sportswear – including the oversized puffer jacket you designed, once worn by Rihanna – to suiting? 
I was actually more drawn towards suiting and classic silhouettes before my BA collection, but the sportswear came about through experimentation with pattern-cutting. After the success of the jacket worn by Rihanna, I created two projects with adidas and worked with queer rappers and musicians, which led to a stronger focus on sportswear at the time. Moving to London offered me a fresh canvas and the opportunity for more creative freedom, which led me back to my roots through working with suiting. I realised at this point how much power can be held in creating something that relates to yourself and your story; the personal is political, after all. I found that putting my own experiences into the work produced the best results. 
You’ve stated before that you’ve come to see gender as a performance. How does this notion of gender fluidity translate to the design and construction of your work? 
Personally, I have strong masculine and feminine energy within myself and express the fluidity of my gender through both the way I dress and live. Because my work is my vessel, I want to create through a nonbinary lens by playing with colours and cuts. Someone came to my studio and put on a suit I made, and noted how masculine it looked on the hanger compared to how feminine it felt on the body. Sometimes this happens through the creative process without me even realising it. I can plan a suit with a strong form and dark colours, but it will still end up having a certain fluidity in its construction. I’m trying to create pieces for people who don’t have a binary body – for instance, trans people who may have a smaller chest due to top surgery but larger hips; I incorporate this into the garments themselves. This particularly came through in my new collection, such as with this one bomber jacket which was crafted to make the wearer look more hench, but made with black satin to integrate both soft and strong aspects.  
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Certain aspects of your work, some as the underwear that features a photographed eye on the crotch, experiment with the concepts of censorship and what is considered taboo. What role did the censorship of queer history and women’s bodies play in influencing the design of these garments? 
I really delved into research on censorship for my MA collection. I used a technique in which I sliced up garments and twisted them, finding a language in draping to create a space in which you still looked dressed, but with the suggestion of skin underneath. It was all about creating a discussion around expression when faced with the societal pressure to censor oneself. My new collection expanded on this by moving away from the idea of actually showing skin towards empowering the body underneath the clothes. It still explores the notion of rebelling against censorship by enhancing a nonbinary silhouette – one that is still often shunned by society. The collection also plays with censorship by integrating representations of the kink community but steers away from much of the rigid binary divisions found in fetish wear to empower nonbinary wearers.  
Much of your work plays with structure, providing this transformative aspect to pieces which function to fit various bodies along with the identity of the wearer. How do you use structure to your advantage when designing? 
It’s something I’m still in the process of figuring out fully because there really is so little research out there – even pattern cutting books are all about the binary body. For the things I’m creating it’s often hard to find resources; it’s mostly a case of working from a blank canvas, trialling various techniques to find the best method of designing for nonbinary individuals. When I’m creating my pieces, so many people end up trying them on in the process, and I’ve found that in a way, everyone fits them. Perhaps this is because my methodology doesn’t adhere to certain fashion industry traditions, such as using a sample size model as the base for a design – therefore the designs are made for everyone from the very start of the process, rather than for a strictly standardised body.  
Let’s discuss your Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Fist. What was the vision behind the name? 
The collection draws from two sources of inspiration – queer and female people in sports, namely martial arts, fused with references drawn from S&M culture and parties. The name Fist has a dual meaning in this sense, serving as a key element in both communities, tying the collection together.  
What sparked your recent inclusion of more leather pieces, including harnesses and whip holders? To what extent did this aspect of the erotic influence your design decisions?  
It began as a reference to the amount of leather found in boxing gyms, and later, when it came to combining the world of martial arts with that of the kink community, I came to realise how little nonbinary leather wear actually exists. I longed for pieces like this for myself, and when I saw that nobody seemed to be making them, I sought to create them, integrating them into my tailoring work.  
There’s an undeniable element of power that runs throughout your work. What draws you to this approach to tailoring, in which one is empowered through wearing such clothing?  
In order to develop from my MA collection, I wanted to investigate this idea of masculine energy further and create things from my own perspective while integrating elements deriving from discussions I’ve had with people recently. In between attending martial arts classes and going to parties, I was able to source inspiration from what I saw people wearing, so I incorporated all of these influences into this collection to create pieces tailored to a variety of different subtypes of the queer community.
What do you think the fashion world, and the creative sphere more generally, can do to embolden representations of trans and nonbinary individuals, who even now are still underrepresented in political discourse? 
The fashion industry still adheres to rules that were established years ago that fit into strict ideals, such as the complete division between womenswear and menswear. There has been confusion when I’ve been in contact with buyers, as they can’t understand which category my work should be labelled as. The industry as a whole needs to be completely restructured, from buying and sales, to how we collectively create. We can begin by including more trans and queer people behind the scenes in order to curate an accurate perspective on the experience of being in the community – that way the outcome will automatically be more inclusive.   
Finally, what do you have planned for the future? 
I’m working on a project called Hän right now, so I’m working on building two platforms at once – I’m hoping that both will serve as a vessel for queer representation. Currently, I’m focusing on building my brand and seeing where it takes me. There’s lots more on the way!
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