Gallery: Fashion without gender

Published May 8, 2015


Johannesburg - Gender lines in fashion are increasingly getting blurred.

In March, British retailer Selfridges launched a genderless fashion pop-up in some of its biggest branches. Here, men and women can shop for clothing on the same floor, turning on its head the department store model where men and women’s clothing are merchandised separately. The retail giant named the pop-up and related campaign Agender.

And earlier this year, Gucci showcased a gender-bending collection, with male and female models dressed in the same kind of gender-neutral tailoring an.

Menswear specifically is becoming increasingly less concerned with gender norms as it becomes less of an anomaly for designers to put men in skirts or crop tops.

At the inaugural Menswear Fashion Week in Cape Town in February, designer Chu Suwannapha, who introduced his label, Chulaap, said he had designed his collection with men and women in mind.

Genderless fashion – and the loose silhouettes and voluminous proportions it employs – is definitely having a moment, and it could be argued that young South African designers are ahead of this curve.

“I think that, as a society, we’re evolving, and the acceptance of diversity is growing,” says Alexandra Blanc, the emerging designer who was arguably the first South African to showcase a unisex collection.

During her Mercedes Fashion Week Cape Town showcase last year, Blanc’s models – male and female – swopped garments on the runway, leaving in no doubt the intended gender fluidity of the garments.

Gender is not, however, something the designer believes should be “neutralised”.

“My clothing is not exclusively genderless,” Blanc says. “I prefer to call it gender-fluid.

“My menswear flows seamlessly into women’s wear, with no rigid distinctions. My aim is to create clothing that would look great on any body.

“The core of my work is the freedom of one’s self-expression. I believe a binary approach to anything – clothing included – has more to do with limitation than freedom.”

Armand Dicker, another emerging designer who explores an androgynous design aesthetic, agrees that times are changing.

He says that sexual orientation and dress sense shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

“I think (genderless fashion) can help to neutralise or balance society.

“If everyone wore the same kind of clothing I think there’d be less sexism and discrimination.”

While the work of Rich Mnisi is classified as menswear, men and women have received collections, under the OATH label, with much enthusiasm.

On the front rows at fashion week and on event red carpets, men and women have been spotted wearing his creations, though creating a unisex brand was not the intention, says the designer.

“It’s not intentional, but my aesthetic and manner of decoding trends lend themselves to gender neutrality.”

Gender neutrality has become definitive of young designer For Jenevieve Lyons’s brand.

“I can say it was an organic design process at first, but it has been and will increasingly be intentional,” she says.

“Through observing my customers, I soon learnt that menswear was being adopted by women and vice versa. This has allowed me as a designer and a brand to target a ‘multiwear’ aesthetic.”

How will the average consumer respond? Is genderless fashion simply a passing fad?

“It will be interesting to see how far designers and the consumer will take their interpretation of the concept, but it may also get to be a bit mediocre after a while, and we’ll go back to separating the two,” Mnisi says.

Lyons, on the other hand, believes the trend may trickle down sooner than most expect.

“It’s an exciting movement in fashion. As we move into simpler, well-cut apparel that stands on a high quality level, it will become more about purchasing items that will last longer than a season.”

This, the designer believes, will provide scope for retailers to stock seasonal lines that appeal to both sexes. “We as a brand certainly look forward to that.”

Dicker thinks genderless fashion has the potential to appeal to a wide audience. “If men are dressing up for comfort, for example, they’d be surprised to learn just how comfy leggings are. I think there are a lot of men who are comfortable with their bodies and I don’t think the word ‘unisex’ will determine what they won’t wear.”

While only time can tell where this trend will go, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think this could be the decade in which the direction of fashion is permanently changed.

If the 1960s – the decade of emancipation – brought about sweeping changes in women’s fashion, capturing the mood of resistance, could this decade, informed by the increasing demand for marriage equality and the recognition of sexual minorities, be the decade of the dismantling of gender lines in fashion?

Sandiso Ngubane, Sunday Independent

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