With women joining the menswear runways and men’s trends taking a feminine turn, the fashion world is flouting boundaries like never before.
By Natalie Trevis
Long blonde locks, a pussybow necktie under a peter pan collar and sleeves cropped just above the wrist. If these details sound like the trappings of a romantic couture collection then we need to re-calibrate, for we are looking at Gucci menswear AW15. In his first collection for the line since taking over from Frida Giannini, creative director Alessandro Michele gave us a gender blurring collection in which anything goes (as long as it’s androgynous). These are clothes for a more bohemian jetsetter than Gucci has targeted in the past and its traditionally masculine codes have been beautifully upended. Indeed, when you’re a languid rock god unused to daylight it’s perfectly feasible that you might end up pulling on your girlfriend’s skinny jeans one morning. And frankly what’s the difference?
The stark distinction between menswear and womenswear has been fading for many seasons now and not just at Gucci. Hedi Slimane’s version of Parisian grunge for Saint Laurent was a seamless mix of spray-on trousers, leather and heels for both sexes. The men’s AW15 collection paired seamlessly with a selection of the women’s pre-fall designs, slinking down the runway in an indistinguishable aura of beret-topped cool. It feels natural. Yet gender-neutral fashion is nothing new. Iconic images of women working masculine trends with aplomb are myriad. Annie Hall’s neurotic brand geek-chic tailoring has been imitated ever since (and not just by Diane Keaton, who continues to revisit the eponymous look). Modern day style mavens like Alexa Chung, Emily Watson and Lily Collins have all embraced masculine styling for the red carpet. Likewise, you need only picture Helmut Newton’s image of Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo to see that menswear reimagined for women has been an empowering movement for decades. Indeed as the AW15 shows begin in earnest we’ve seen a strengthening of the masculine movement in womenswear – Jason Wu, Narciso Rodriguez and Delpozo have all turned to tailoring to make a statement. From military detailing to form concealing silhouettes, the runways are awash with an unabashed rejection of skin-baring allure. Alexander Wang turns it up a notch further with an almost all-black collection featuring Frankenstein boots and oversized hunter jackets – feminine touches are entirely absent from this darkly gothic collection.
Of course the reverse is equally accepted too. Seventies David Bowie was a champion of every maverick dresser out there in his Ziggy Stardust era, continuing a trend that can be traced back as far as eighteenth century dandyism. Jean Paul Gaultier is known for his continued reinvention of the men’s skirt ever since his first foray into the controversial design in 1985. A style that now barely raises an eyebrow and which has been worn by everyone from Kanye West (Givenchy leather, naturally – he’s also sported a Phoebe Philo-designed Céline blouse on stage at Coachella) to Marc Jacobs in a Comme des Garçons skort in 2008. If you’re struggling to conjure an image of someone who lives and breathes this style of unisex dressing in 2015, we need only say the words Jared Leto.
Miuccia Prada has declared that she designs for people, not in terms of gender, and her SS15 menswear collection was presented alongside women’s Resort, in a ‘his and hers’ display of oversized leather trenches and identically top-stitched tailoring. Suited up like the boys, the Prada woman means business. The next generation of designers seem to agree. Jonathan Anderson has always believed the strict boundaries between genders in fashion to be ‘really stale’; his SS15 menswear collection featuring knitted crop tops and asymmetric tunics knotted at the shoulder.
Borrowing from the boys (or the girls) is a pervading theme that feels right in a world where women are breaking glass ceilings, men are outspending women on shoe purchases (according to a market researcher Mintel in 2013) and virility is no longer mutually exclusive with metrosexual style. Nothing could sum up this levelling of the fashion platform better than the forthcoming HBO documentary Three Suits, produced by Lena Dunham, which follows tailors Bindle & Keep as they create suiting that caters to every type of body and gender identity. Well known clients include gender-splicing fashion blogger Rachel Tutera, who sports only the most dapper of menswear: handsome is the new pretty.
Explicitly unisex fashion isn’t a new idea, but it is only now being executed with increasingly mainstream appeal. Richard Nicoll launched S/He in 2013 with artist Linder Sterling, featuring prints of her collages employed for both menswear and womenswear, while CK One has in the past dabbled in unisex clothing as an expansion of its eponymous fragrance. The beauty industry has experienced a levelling also, with men’s products experiencing a massive growth in recent years and micro-trends devolving straight from the runway – the ‘his and hers’ bowl cut (springing up in SS14) is truly an option should anyone be brave enough to try.
Couture designer Rad Hourani has always distorted traditional gender distinctions in his work. ‘My objective is to create garments that can be worn by anyone at any time,’ the designer told MOJEH Men in 2014. He is the first unisex designer to be accepted by La Chambre Syndicale and as the rest of the fashion world catches up with his long held ethos Hourani’s achingly cool collections start to feel anything but subversive. ‘I fuse both genders to create a unisex canvas that can make bodies look taller and slicker, new and comfortable all at the same time. It doesn’t make sense to me that a woman should dress differently than a man or vice versa. I am creating a new way of dressing that makes people look modern without any limits,’ he told us. He’s not the only one: Complex Geometries and Agyness Dean’s Title A take up the cause in the contemporary market. This limitless approach is not only a move away from gender distinctions but also a rejection of the never ending roster of trend and meaningless change in fashion – seasonless and genderless clothes feel like a more worthy investment in the future.
The mood has changed. This isn’t really about gender or sexuality or cultural norms: the fashion industry can’t change those things. After all, it is still struggling with the culturally insensitive miasma of body shape and the representation of all ethnicities. But what it can do (and will do if the initial AW15 shows are any barometer) is push the aesthetic boundaries just a little bit further. Ultimately it’s about great fashion that doesn’t conform to anybody’s rules. And we’re all invited.