Menswear or womenswear — who cares? Genderless fashion is the buzzword for many of today’s top designers, highlighted at London Fashion Week by a string of androgynous touches on the catwalks.
From Christopher Kane’s heavy, dark, asymmetric tailoring to Burberry’s parade of male and female models in military overcoats and aviator jackets, masculine styling repeatedly stood out in the women’s autumn/winter collections.
It’s not just in London where designers are experimenting with preconceptions about gender and identity.
Gucci has sent men down the catwalks in pussybows and hot pink suits under new creative director Alessandro Michele while Jaden Smith, son of US actor Will Smith, was unveiled as the face of Louis Vuitton womenswear last month.
Transgender models such as Andreja Pejic and Lea T are among the most sought after in the industry.
One of its rising stars is US model Rain Dove, who, standing at six foot two inches with chiselled features, models in both male and female fashion shows.
She attributes the change to the rise of social media, which mean that “brands are having to be more diverse whether they like it or not”.
“People are realising that they can’t dupe people into thinking there’s only one way to be, that a size zero is the most common thing in the world, that the only (person) that could ever afford a Chanel purse is white,” she said.
‘Not just skinny white girls’
Dove, who calls herself a “gender capitalist” and came to modelling via firefighting and construction, says she got her big break when she was cast for a Calvin Klein underwear show by a director who thought she was a man.
She walked in two women’s shows in London this season and last year featured in both male and female shows in New York.
“All my life I’ve joked that I was an ugly woman,” she said. “But as a male, they were like, this is top notch, he’s male, he’s over six feet tall, he’s young, let’s put him in.”
With an activist’s attitude, last year she posed for lingerie shots copying a Victoria’s Secret campaign before photoshopping the models’ heads on to her body to highlight that women should not be ashamed of how they look.
“I don’t have time to get in line and I don’t have time to be hindered by inequalities,” she said.
“If someone calls me sir or if someone calls me ma’am, I don’t care as long as they have positive intentions.”
Younger, up and coming designers in London seem to share her views, even if some at the top of the industry are still wedded to a more conservative viewpoint.
‘Drop that label’
Claire Barrow, seen as among the most promising of London’s new generation of designers for her punkish, artistic style, insists that her clothes are “always genderless”.
“If somebody looks really good in something, I’ll put them in it,” she explained. “I want to make sure that things change and it’s not just skinny white girls walking down the catwalk.”
While the rise of social media may be a large factor, some experts believe there is also wider change at play as people in Britain and in other countries become more accepting of different gender identities.
“We’re trying to be more inclusive of difference, accepting diversity, accepting LGBT people and clothing to not just say whether you’re male or female but about how you want to be as an individual,” said Carolyn Mair, a reader in psychology at the London College of Fashion.
Dove is hopeful that there could be even more fundamental changes in the industry soon.
“The next big step is to just drop that label of men’s and women’s,” she said. – By Katherine Haddon
Image – Transgender model Rain Dove poses for a portrait in the London Fashion Week venue in Soho in central London on February 23, 2016. (Justin Tallis / AFP)