Exclusive: Ellen DeGeneres On Designing Clothes In A Post-Gender World

Photo: Jim Smeal/BEImages.
Is there anyone on television more beloved than Ellen DeGeneres? Every day, nearly 4 million people watch her host The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Last year, she orchestrated the most retweeted selfie while emceeing the 2014 Academy Awards. In 1997, she was one of pop culture’s first celebrities to come out of the closet (in a sit-down with Oprah, no less), and in 2007 she married Lindsay Bluth (a.k.a. Portia de Rossi). Plus, she can get anyone and their mother, literally, to dance.

We all want to hang with Ellen. If we’re honest, most of us want to be Ellen. Some of us even want to dress like her. Nobody can rock a menswear-inspired look like the comedian, actress, and convivial host — she makes it look effortless. And, now, thankfully, we can, too. Because Ellen is adding another role to her resume: clothing designer.

Her new lifestyle brand, ED, features all things Ellen, including a clothing collection — slouchy sweaters, soft T-shirts, sleek bomber jackets, casual blazers — made for the rest of us. And, by “the rest of us,” we mean women who don’t want to deal with the bullshit of fast-fashion trends and hard-to-wear silhouettes, women who want to look good without sacrificing comfort. It’s what Ellen does best.

In addition to the style staples, ED is introducing housewares, and each piece bears the Ellen touch. From pillows and throws to serving ware, table settings, and bar accessories, classic simplicity — plus her love of animals! — runs throughout. And, if we had to guess, this is just the beginning. We had the exclusive opportunity to talk with everybody’s imaginary BFF last week about the line, plus Portia’s pet name for her, gender fluidity, and the crucial role of style in her life. 

You strike me as a woman with a lot of different passions. How do you decide which ones to pursue?
"Luckily, I love to multitask. But, I would never overload my plate in a way that I’m not able to give 100 percent of my attention to something. The show was my focus for a long time, and it’s pretty much a well-oiled machine. I now have the desire to have another creative outlet. I think anyone who is creative needs to be stimulated, and the bar needs to be raised constantly or else you get stagnant."

Where did the name of your lifestyle brand come from?
"Obviously, it’s my initials, but it’s also my nickname that Portia has called me for a long time. It’s also kind of a non-gendered name, because I didn’t want it to be my name on everything. I want it to be a name that anyone could wear."

How did it start?

"I was having a hard time finding clothes that I felt comfortable in. I think dressing every day is a way of expressing yourself. You can almost see someone’s personality with what they wear. I don’t wear a lot of bright colors, because even though I’m in the public eye and on television, I’m not an extrovert. I’m a very quiet, shy person if you know me. I dress in more earth tones and more neutral colors because, it’s weird, but I don’t like to stand out. I also like to be really comfortable. And, I’ve never found women’s clothes that I felt completely comfortable in, the way they were cut. I didn’t want to wear men’s clothes, and if I did like something, Comme des Garçons or Paul Smith or Dries Van Noten, I would always have to alter it to fit me.

We started making my own clothes on the show and noticing that a lot of people who were coming to the show were trying to dress like me, but those clothes weren’t out there. I mean, I have a very distinct way of dressing, and clearly other people are responding to it, so that was the impetus to launch the brand. So, there’s a line that’s out there that’s not extremely feminine, it’s not masculine, it’s just comfortable."

Photo: Courtesy of ED by Ellen.
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Was your style something you honed, or did you always have a natural inclination to dress the way that you do?

"You know, just being a human being, you evolve into who you are. You find out what you like and what you don’t like, and if we’re brave enough, we actually follow a path that no one has created. We find our own way instead of just going along with what society presents us. It’s the same with clothing. I was just wearing what I could find that was comfortable for me. I mean, if you look back at some of my styles — unfortunately, they’re all documented because I’ve been on television since the ’80s — there’s some bad style there. I think maybe Sinbad was an influence for me? That’s a joke. Also, for a time, I was closeted, so I was also highly aware of, How can I be myself and be comfortable and yet not give away the fact that I’m gay? Stella McCartney, Jil Sander, rag & bone — I loved a lot of clothes, but they weren’t exactly me. It took time for me to recognize what exactly made me comfortable."

You mentioned Sinbad, but do you have an actual style icon?
"I love Mia Farrow, I loved Katharine Hepburn, and then I have to throw in Paul Newman. But, see, that’s the thing, I’m kind of falling in between because I don’t like extreme, feminine things. And, I don’t like masculine things, and yet I’m more drawn to men’s sweaters or the way Ryan Gosling or Brad Pitt dresses. So, I think it’s blending both of those things to be sort of non-gender-specific, just cool and classic. ’Cause I don’t think blue is for boys and pink is for girls. I don’t think that exists anymore. We’re living in a world where, you know, Bruce Jenner is a woman. We’re learning so much about gender and sexuality and fluidity, and I think that should blend and bleed into the fashion world."

Some of the pieces in the line are re-creations of things you already own and wear. Is there one that’s extra-special?

"It’s hard, it’s like picking your favorite child...The bomber would have to be my first answer."

With your show, and now with ED, how do you make sure to strike a balance between work and play?
"I like to keep busy, and as long as the show is still fun…I get to come here and laugh and get inspired every single day, because we’re meeting amazing people who are going through adversities with a positive attitude. All I need to do to balance that out is spend time at home relaxing and being around my animals and going out to dinner with friends or playing tennis. My life is amazing. I’m so grateful. I never thought in a million years I’d have all this going on right now, so I’m just lucky to be doing what I’m doing."

ED will be available mid-June on EdbyEllen.com. The clothing collection ranges from $45 (T-shirts) to $595 (jackets and outerwear); housewares range from $25 (bar accessories) to $495 (throws). Head over to EdbyEllen.com to register for insider information and get a sneak peek at the collection now.

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