There is a clear, defining message from the fashion industry for AW15.
Or at least, that’s how things seemed back at the end of January, when the menswear shows came to a close.
It had been led by Gucci, and was apparent at Saint Laurent, Loewe. The show by Raf Simons was one of many where it was often hard to tell if the models were male or female.
I found myself often being irascible about this gender play, and that worried me. Shouldn’t I be in favour of experimentation?
But this didn’t feel like experimentation responding to natural and individual curiosity.
It seemed more the inevitable result of more brands sending out female models in pre-collection during their menswear show.
Thus saving on production budgets – no need to have a separate women’s pre-collection presentation.
It was like this added oestrogen had its effect on the men’s designs.
Like those old scare stories about oestrogen in the water supply.
After the men’s shows, I wrote about real life “gender neutrality”.
How, if you look on the street in London right now, you’ll see men and women in versions pretty much the same clothes – jeans, sneakers, sweaters, a winter coat, maybe a brave attempt at a lighter layer instead.
Crucially, not the exact same garments, but a female or a male cut of jean etcetc.
It’s something separate to the catwalk dare of men being encouraged to wear women’s clothes.
But more of a utilitarian, unified response to the way we live our lives today, whether we’re male of female.
I presumed that, come womenswear, the gender questioning would continue.
And hey! Maybe there’d be some new menswear in the shows.
Because those women’s looks at menswear weren’t just a way of saving money and barging in on our time, were they?
Like, there’ll be some equality, right?
Aside from the novelty of Gucci, which was a better-made rerun of its he/she menswear show, the only gender issue at most of womenswear was how designers could make things as pedestal-feminine as they could possibly be.
As in, the only purpose of clothing being to beautify/objectify women.
So many dresses, so much decoration, so little clothing that seems to have anything to do with the way women dress today.
Or at least the women I know and admire.
During the shows, I kept an eye out for anything that could possibly be positive gender neutrality.
I thought the tailoring at Louis Vuitton looked so fresh.
!!!UPSIDE DOWN PHOTO ALERT!!!
***AS WITH ALL CATWALK IMAGERY, I TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN***
^^^SO YOU CAN LOOK THROUGH THE RECOGNISABLE IMAGE TO SEE THE CLOTHES THEMSELVES^^^
(pics nicked from vogue.it)
I’ve already written about the white shirt/black pants that underpinned the Junya Watanabe show.
They also fit with this idea of gender neutrality.
At Saint Laurent, the gender neutrality look was vampy.
On the rail, the garments will be super gender neutral – one of the reasons why so many women are right now buying its ready-to-wear.
But really, it was hardly anywhere.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Vetements show had such a hold over the season was its advanced gender neutrality.
Its pieces were often gender neutral, and yet were also resolutely female.
Coat, rollneck sweater, jeans.
A powerful combination of intent.
Padded coat, hoodie, trackpants.
People went crazy about this show.
Like it was completely different from anything else they were seeing.
A compliment to Vetements, and also a diss of everyone else.
Because really, it’s just how so many women dress today.
Corduroy pant suit, zip-up track-top.
Long black coat.
This is gender neutrality that feels like an advance.
While most of the rest of womenswear was stuck in the stagnant waters of the prettified dress, over-elaborate unnecessary decoration, or the banal and depressing world of fur, making fashion the bellwether of a contemporary society divided between wealth and poverty, haves and have-nots.
I was in Milan and Paris for a few days during the shows, and was often I was asked why I didn’t write about womenswear.
I haven’t done so seriously since 2004.
The reason is obvious: I have no understanding of what it means to wear these clothes.
Often, fashion makes me angry.
In menswear, I can use my own experiences of clothing to understand what’s going on.
And not just the nuts and bolts of what I wear, but male subconscious and psychology, desires and fears.
I can see how things have ended up that way, and what change is possible, or reasonable.
It’s not something I can do with womenswear.
It’s impossible for me to understand the female subconscious desire for decoration, or frivolity.
The psychological twists that Phoebe Philo taps with such deft skill to create those clothes of such weird desirability at Céline.
And so when I find women’s fashion frustrating – as I did with most of the month of shows that just passed – I don’t have a basis of emotional understanding to mount a calm, solid argument.
I end up sounding like I’m on a high horse.
Which is really unproductive.
And so I stay quiet.
This also tells me there’s a limit to “gender neutrality” – as much as I can try to understand what women wear, I can only really speak truly about men’s clothing.
These women’s shows have consolidated my fears about the emptiness of the gender questioning at menswear.
Because if fashion is truly interested in questioning gender, it needs to involve women as well as men.
And to reflect the moves towards equality in real life, rather than present men as demasculinised, and women as objects to be dressed.