Will Every Runway Show Be Unisex in the Future?
For the last few years, brands have increasingly put on runway shows featuring both men and women, a trend that really ramped up in early 2015, amid a larger societal reckoning with both the transgender and agender communities. Now, with the S/S 17 menswear shows rolling out in full force, the phenomenon seems more common than ever, begging the question of whether or not it’s here to stay.
Part of this trend stems from the mainstream market’s growing interest in unisex dressing, which had early pioneers in designers like Rick Owens, Hedi Slimane, Rei Kawakubo, and Ann Demeulemeester. Now, newer designers like Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air and Rio Uribe of Gypsy Sport are following in their footsteps, sending out collections that don’t bow to strict gender ideals. “A show is about a mood and an archetype,” Oliver has explained to WWD. “It’s about something that doesn’t necessarily have to sit on a rack in general for men or women.”
But genders are coming together on the runways of more established luxury brands, too, including Gucci, Givenchy, Prada, and Giorgio Armani (to name a few). In the first case, it’s designer Alessandro Michele who has been a major proponent of blurring gender lines, often putting male and female models in similar pieces, like delicate pussy-bow blouses and colorful suiting.
To get an expert perspective on the trend—and its potential staying power—I spoke to Eric Wilson, renowned fashion critic and the current fashion news director at InStyle.
“I think the changes you are seeing are the result of two factors, one which is specific to the industry and fashion’s constant need for reinvention, and the other, which I think is more meaningful, relating to the fight for equality and acceptance of historically marginalized groups throughout the broader culture,” he told me. “[These are] two gender-related developments that are happening at the same time but are not really related. One is the rather trivial trend of designers combining men’s and women’s collections in one show—frankly a phenomenon related to the overall sense of there being too many shows with not enough return on investment.”
Indeed, there’s a monetary incentive at play here, too. “The merging of gender lines is … cost-effective for apparel brands,” Euromonitor retail analyst Bernadette Kissane has explained to WWD. “Fashion shows, for instance, are extremely expensive, so to merge women’s wear and men’s wear ranges in one show is actually a good move. Also, today we are bombarded with a crazy number of designers, versus 20 years ago. This means that brands need to find ways to stand out and be seen. Androgyny helps create a more cohesive brand message and brand image.”
It’s a fair point—I often find shows that merge both men’s wear and women’s wear more memorable, painting a much clearer, denser picture of the designer’s vision. And, in all honesty, the trend makes it much easier, as an editor and general fashion enthusiast, to keep abreast of what every brand is doing. As for whether or not the trend is here to stay, Wilson isn’t convinced: “Fashion shows are changing all the time and will continue to do so for the simple reason that people get bored.” He’s also not sure it’s of great import. Instead, it’s the “gender fluidity” of the clothes themselves (and their corresponding advertisements) that is “a more significant development because it is a case where major designers … are taking a stand as advocates for positive social change.” And when fashion does that, what more can you ask?
Opening Image: John Phillips/Getty Images for GUCCI