The Significance of Androgynous Clothing in Luxury Fashion

When the former creative director at Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane, titled his 2013 spring summer menswear campaign “The Saint Laurent Boy is a Girl”, he sparked controversy and debate that continues to burn in the fashion community to this day.  Slimane’s campaign was centered around Saskia de Brauw, a female model that Slimane dressed in his extremely slim cut menswear.  Due to the styling of the clothes and the exposure of the photos taken for the campaign, the gender of the model was relatively nondescript.  Whether Slimane was attempting to make a statement, or he simply wanted to generate buzz for his first collection at Saint Laurent, is debatable, however, it is undeniable that ever since that 2013 campaign, the line that divides men’s and women’s fashion norms has been shrinking substantially. Saint Laurent and Hedi Slimane were certainly not the first luxury fashion brand to dip their feet into androgynous fashion, but the prevalence of androgynous elements in fashion is undeniably larger since Slimane’s 2013 campaign.  From Balenciaga’s go-go style men’s heels to Lil Uzi Vert’s favorite Valentino blouse, it’s clear that gender neutrality in fashion is now mainstream, however the staying power of the trend is still to be determined.  Many critics of the trend believe that luxury fashion houses are appropriating the androgynous community, while those that praise the trend claim that it is a representation of a modern, more progressive culture.  There is validity in both perspectives, however the recent boom in interest for luxury men’s fashion has created a consumer market with a desire for larger variety in product availability, thus suggesting the trend will maintain if not grow its prominence in the fashion community.

Saskia de Brauw for Saint Laurent Menswear Spring Summer 2013 (Left).  Balenciaga Spring-Summer 2017 heeled boots. 

Androgynous fashion has been a mainstay in popular culture for decades, however in previous decades it was perceived as an outwardly expression of differentiating oneself. One of the earlier and most outward examples of a celebrity with a genderless aura surrounding them was the model and singer Grace Jones.  Jones’ strikingly sharp jaw line and iconic flat top hair cut allowed her to pioneer a unique style that effortlessly combined elements of male and female 1980’s fashion.  Jones would often pair a traditionally feminine pair of leggings with an oversized, impeding blazer to produce an aesthetic trapped in a unique limbo in between masculinity and femininity.  Around a decade before Jones reached her peak pop culture prominence, David Bowie brought a gender fluid look inspired the first true wave of androgynous fashion in the 1970’s.  David Bowie provided society with the quintessential definition of genderless fashion by dissociating himself from a specific sexuality, thus making his clothing decisions that much more impactful.  Bowie showed a generation that one could look aesthetically appealing without having to conform to the many gender norms that surround fashion, and by doing so he inspired the most influential designers to include androgynous looks on their runway shows.  Bowie’s fashion ventures were diverse and fruitful, however his most iconic looks included leotards, sequin studded jackets and platform boots.  Not as well known, but arguably just as influential as David Bowie in the realm of androgynous fashion was the grunge rock legend, Kurt Cobain.  Cobain and his band Nirvana dominated the charts in the 1990’s, thus allowing front man Kurt Cobain to become a cultural and fashion icon.  While he is most well known for popularizing distressed denim and oversized flannels, Cobain would often be seen sporting an embroidered blouse or a flowing dress.  Similar to Bowie, Cobain wasn’t making an overt statement with his wardrobe choices, rather he simply made an unconventional style look cool.  His style conflicted greatly with the conventional fashion of the late 80’s and early 90’s, but in doing so he opened the eyes of an extremely body conscious generation to other forms of beauty.

Grace Jones (Left) and Kurt Cobain (Right).

All the aforementioned androgynous fashion pioneers were incredibly important to the advancement of fashion and gender norms in fashion, and thanks to their contributions to fashion and culture, androgynous fashion is no longer seen as a statement, rather just an extension of the wardrobe that every gender can utilize.  The normalization and growth of unisex fashion is represented in both garments showed on major runway shows, as well as in the thoughts of the world’s most influential designers. In a 2015 interview, Loewe and J.W. Anderson creative director Jonathan Anderson said, “I never set out to work on the concept of androgyny. For me, it was more about trying to find a wardrobe that would fundamentally appeal to both men and women” (WWD).  Anderson’s perspective on androgynous fashion is shared with a number of designers, they don’t design unisex clothing to stand out, rather they design it because it’s desired and more practical.  Three time Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) award winning designer, Raf Simons has changed

a lot of his menswear designs to reflect the desire for unisex fashion.  In a 2014 interview the Belgian designer said that men who buy fashion are becoming increasingly interested in women’s fashion, thus it is clear that they are out for something a little more challenging (  Simons’ subsequent menswear collection was dominated by feminine cuts and oversized shirts and polos that slightly resembled a dress. The evolution of androgynous fashion in luxury fashion can be seen in many modern runway shows, the most notable of those being Gucci’s shows under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele.  Michele has completely overhauled Gucci since assuming the role in 2015, and one of his most notably changes has been the fusion of men and women’s runway shows into one combined show.  Gucci’s most recent spring 2018 show was no different, as Michele styled his models with seemingly interchangeable garments, thus creating a subtle unisex look for the collection.   The list of designers and fashion houses that have introduced and a gender fluid element in their clothing seems to be ever growing, other notable proprietors of the style include Rick Owens and his unconventional use of shapes and proportions. Louis Vuitton’s recruitment of Jaden Smith for multiple womenswear campaigns further emphasized the notion that clothing can look appealing even when worn outside of conventional gender norms.  The beautiful thing about the evolution of androgynous fashion from statement into normality is that the future is unknown yet limitless, the only certainty is that boundaries will be continuously tested.

Gucci Spring 2018 Ready-to-Wear (left) and Raf Simon’s 2014 Spring Summer Menswear collection (right). 

The increased presence of genderless fashion has not been received with entirely open arms, as many opponents of the style have expressed concern in regards to the motives of designers that create genderless clothing.  There is the argument that designers are just taking advantage of a trend, and by doing so they are appropriating those who have been a part of the androgynous community far before it was in mainstream fashion.  While, it is true that fashion is an incredibly cyclical industry, thus meaning it is entirely possible interest will shift to trends that fall within the traditional boundaries of gender norms. However, as the great Raf Simons mentioned, the consumers of fashion will always yearn for more, they want to challenge themselves, and one of the most accessible ways for the consumer to challenge themselves involves the utilization of the opposite genders garments.

Androgynous fashion is an incredibly interesting style, because truthfully it transcends style and clothes as it reflects aspects of life and society in a way normal trends do not.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s genderless fashion was something so intensely new and unique that it was perceived as an overt proclamation of identity.  However, the style has progressed to appoint in that it is not worn for a statement or attention, rather it’s worn as a reflection of modern society in which gender and sexuality are perceived as more fluid and less confining. It is becoming more acceptable to pursue unconventional passions and lifestyles, and our clothes simply just mirror this advancement in society.

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