The Cult of Selkie
Stepping into Selkie’s spring/summer 2023 show venue was akin to joining an unapologetic celebration of all shapes, sizes, and forms of femininity. Not just because of the casting, but the audience itself was a true testament to the cult-like following of the brand that founder Kimberley Gordon has created. At any other fashion event, you might see a few celebrities in the front row dressed in the label. But at Selkie’s second-ever appearance during New York Fashion Week, almost everyone was wearing something from the line, and the styling was incredibly varied: there were witchy gothic looks, full-blown Lolita-style get-ups, and formal gowns galore.
“It’s like girl code,” Gordon tells us of the Selkie community, a day before the show, which took place at the tail-end of last week at the industrial venue 99 Scott in Brooklyn. For the occasion, sheer pink fabric was hung from every window and sunlight streamed onto the concrete floors in shady rays, making the space appear like a secret hideaway from a trippy movie. Since the start of Selkie, Gordon has made it her mission to stock every piece up to a size 5X. “I’ve always been surrounded by and attracted to women,” she says. “And I think that it’s a real reflection of the inside of the brand.”
The Selkie spring/summer 2023 show was not only definitively the most size diverse runway show of all of NYFW, but it was also probably the most embracing of girlishness—with ruffles, bows, frills, oversized collars, and bags that resembled pillows. Not a single model wore pants! Gordon was inspired by the movie The Last Unicorn and paid tribute to it with a collection that extracted the whimsical vibes and transformed them into the sugarspun clothing that went down the runway. “My idea of The Last Unicorn is this girl living in the city who doesn’t know she’s a unicorn,” she says. “Or maybe she’s the daughter of the last unicorn. She’s sort of an outsider, someone that doesn’t ever feel like they fit in, but dresses wildly and free.”
Gordon launched Selkie into the world in 2018, after previously creating the casual girly brand Wildfox, a favorite of Tumblr-era cool girls well-known for its tissue-thin sweats and T-shirts covered in whimsical prints and drawings. She studied film, and takes the majority of her inspiration from that kind of storytelling, resulting in collections inspired by everything from vampires to ’60s-era icons. “I’m always looking for a way to tell a story, because fashion to me is more than just clothing—it’s like you suddenly get to put on characters.”
Selkie was born with the puff dress, and a few other staples that feel fully feminine and intrinsically designed with the female gaze in mind. The puff dress, in all of its glory, is a hyper-short, slightly floaty, and incredibly voluminous frock with a strong empire waist, which Selkie has reinterpreted since the start, in everything from rainbow hues to cloud prints and patterns that riff on Marie Antoinette.
“When I started the company, I was making everything in Los Angeles, and I had this dream of making very princess-y dresses,” says Gordon. “There’s still something really romantic about that silhouette, and the history of it is really interesting. The history of the babydoll in general is sort of a feminist one.” Since the rise of the label’s puff dress, it has gone viral on TikTok and racked up numerous fast-fashion knock-offs, but the silhouette is still inherently key to the brand’s defining aesthetic, even despite the ubiquity of the dress. “This empire waist silhouette will always be the traditional look for Selkie,” says Gordon.
It’s been one of the least size diverse seasons of fashion week in years, and in many ways, feels like we’re going backwards when the labels with the biggest names and therefore, impacts, don’t make any effort in casting at least one model that doesn’t fit the traditional fashion size category. That’s one of the reasons why Selkie attracted such a crowd this season and last: “When I started the company, I knew that I wanted to have size inclusivity,” Gordon says. “But that to me means having silhouettes that actually can be worn universally. I realized, I have to look at my own self. Like, what’s my fatphobia? What’s my story? Why didn’t I do it before with my first brand? I think a lot of us have such severe fatphobia, so driven into us from such a young age, that we actually can’t even see that it’s there.”
It’s not about being looked at, it’s about looking at yourself [and] taking up space in your own life.”
Beyond the inclusivity aspect, Selkie’s brand drives home the deep feeling of nostalgia that so many of us are craving right now. We’re living in an era where our culture is currently obsessed with dolls, of all different forms, and Selkie plays into that as well: “Having this big puffy dress on creates a sort of a figure that’s really interesting, and it’s very doll-like,” says Gordon of the puff dress’ appeal. “A lot of the women that want to dress this way, I think are interested in dolls, or were when they were little. There is something so lovely about touching on this childhood memory or nostalgia.”
The other thing about Selkie’s covetable dresses? They take up space, and lots of it, which is a powerful move in the age of being a woman in 2022. It’s not uncommon that you’ll knock something over in a crowded space while wearing one, and it’s also likely that you’ll take up more than one seat in a puff dress. “When you put it on, you are literally taking up more space,” says Gordon. “But it’s not about being looked at, it’s about looking at yourself [and] taking up space in your own life. A lot of us, I think, feel we have to hide, and there have been times in my life where I wanted to just disappear, and I just really hope to change that feeling for women in general.”
It’s clear that Selkie is bringing something to fashion week that is very much needed. Perhaps the only thing missing from the Selkie universe is age diversity on the runway. Certainly, there were many older women wearing the gloriously big dresses in the front row. Perhaps the brand’s cool-girl status is also rooted in the celebratory vibes of it all too. The pandemic only really feels like it recently ended, and dressing up in a shockingly feminine dress is a powerful statement in an everyday setting.
“When they put on that dress, they feel like crying or celebrating,” Gordon says. “I have one girl in the show who I don’t think is ever dressed this way; she is very shy. And she looked in the mirror and she had to look away and look back.” Maybe the most exciting thing of it all is leaning into dressing that feels totally, unabashedly, in celebration of girlhood.
Kristen Bateman is a contributing editor at Harper’s Bazaar. Her first fashion article was published in Vogue Italia during her junior year of high school. Since then, she has interned and contributed to WWD, Glamour, Lucky, i-D, Marie Claire and more. She created and writes the #ChicEats column and covers fashion and culture for Bazaar. When not writing, she follows the latest runway collections, dyes her hair to match her mood, and practices her Italian in hopes of scoring 90% off Prada at the Tuscan outlets. She loves vintage shopping, dessert and cats.