February 23rd, 2017

Gender Blending: Fashion Revolution or Cultural Evolution?

Back in 1984, the legendary Jean Paul Gaultier was the first to dress a man in a skirt. And yet, more than 30 years fast forward, Jaden Smith wearing Louis Vuitton womenswear for a commercial is still a subject of opinion divide and criticism – it seems that genderless runway shows are still a revolution, neither a standard nor a regularity.

A mixed gender partner look from Parajumers' SS17 campaign.
A mixed gender partner look from Parajumers’ SS17 campaign.

Over recent seasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that the role of gender in fashion is radically changing, with transgender models now becoming a common feature of the runway to the extent where Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci personally hired transgendered model Lea T. in order to let her pay for her sex change surgery. Vivienne Westwood and J.W.Anderson have already defied conventional standards by merging their male and female lines at London Fashion Week setting the example for all major and aspiring brands. Burberry took it to the next level not only by going full on gender fluid back in September, but also Christopher Bailey (Burberry’s president and chief creative officer) was in fact inspired by Orlando, a gender fluid character created by Virginia Woolf herself. Mr. Bailey even went on to applaud Orlando’s character as “a love letter to the past and to English history, yet fiercely modern”.

Gucci’s Alessandro Michelle is considered a pioneer of this transformational wave of heavily blurring the defining line between what was once strictly male or strictly female fashion. According to a report by WWD, Mr. Michelle was quoted saying “It seems only natural to me to present my men’s and women’s collections together. It’s the way I see the world today”. Naturally, not everyone is eager to jump on the genderless trend, specifically Steven Kolb, president and chief executive of the The Council of Fashion Designers of America, responded to Business of Fashion regarding the idea of merged shows by suggesting that there still is reason for standalone men’s shows at New York Fashion Week. His take on the issue was quite intriguing; he did not oppose the idea of genderless shows on the grounds of gender-separation, but simply because he believes that mixed gender shows will lead to womenswear dominating the stage and “cannibalizing” their menswear counterparts significance. Mr. Kolb went on to support that only through standalone menswear shows can fresh young designers who specialize on menswear actually have a chance to shine and show their worth.

DRIFTER x The Alchemist introduce their gender-neutral VITAMIN D capsule collection.
DRIFTER x The Alchemist introduce their gender-neutral VITAMIN D capsule collection.

Gender fluidity is not just about such industry heavyweights but also, more low key brands have embraced the idea with the very hyped VETEMENTS and Public School also rallying to the call of mixed gender shows. Jian DeLeon, editor-in-chief of Highsnobiety, shrewdly reminded everyone that before the world of fashion embraced mixed gender shows, viral celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, Lady Gaga and Laverne Cox with their massive online influence spearheaded the gender blending movement. And before any of that it was the great and late David Bowie who managed to seamlessly and artfully blur the lines between the two genders. Today, gender blending is not just a retail/fashion development, it is an expressionist revolution. As Marc Bain of Quartz expertly put it: “Sex and gender aren’t perfectly binary. Why should clothes be?”