Why fash­ion is get­ting its in­spi­ra­tion from the clois­ters.

Clara Young ex­plores the new wave of gen­der-bend­ing style.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Clara Young

last spring, Lon­don depart­ment store Sel­fridges con­ducted an ex­per­i­ment: They launched an al­ter­na­tive to the old­fash­ioned con­ven­tion of men’s and ladies’ cloth­ing de­part­ments and opened up a tem­po­rary space called Agen­der. Agen­der, as you would ex­pect, was a gen­der-neu­tral shop­ping space. It pro­posed uni­sex “kits” that served as foun­da­tional wardrobes for those who want to es­cape the tired old gen­der cat­e­gories of he and she. Among the la­bels Agen­der show­cased were Comme des Garçons, Ann De­meule­meester, VFiles and Rad Hourani.

Hourani, es­pe­cially, is a pioneer in gen­der­less cloth­ing and calls him­self the “first uni­sex de­signer in his­tory.” He started out mak­ing clothes for him­self nine years ago, and it led to his de­vel­op­ing a name­sake line that neatly side­steps his-and-hers dis­tinc­tions. In 2013, his spring/ sum­mer Paris cou­ture pre­sen­ta­tion was the first-ever of­fi­cial uni­sex run­way show. “I took a full year to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent shapes of bod­ies and how I could as­sem­ble all gen­ders in one to cre­ate a uni­sex can­vas that can make them longer, slicker, new and com­fort­able at the same time,” he ex­plains. “I don’t un­der­stand who as­signed th­ese codes of dress­ing by gen­der. It doesn’t make sense to me that a woman should dress in a dif­fer­ent way from a man or vice versa.” While Hourani has stayed true to his phi­los­o­phy for the past decade, other de­sign­ers have only just be­gun swing­ing around h

to his uni­sex way of think­ing. The fall/win­ter run­ways were dom­i­nated by a monas­tic sil­hou­ette that ref­er­ences Pope Fran­cis and that other reli­gious show­stop­per, the Dalai Lama. The shaman-like out­fit­ting marked the ad­vent of a new kind of wardrobe—one that is not only gen­der-free but also sex­u­al­ity-free. While uni­sex is by no means syn­ony­mous with non-sex­ual, this sea­son’s non-de­nom­i­na­tional high-pri­est look is. It’s an as­cetic aes­thetic that has been the main­stay of de­sign­ers like Hourani, Rick Owens, Damir Doma, The Row and Haider Ack­er­mann. But now it has spread to more main­stream (for lack of a bet­ter word) or, at least, less sex­u­ally am­bigu­ous la­bels.

At Ann De­meule­meester, Nar­ciso Ro­driguez, Vion­net and Valentino reigned a robed, tu­nicky, Oracle of Del­phi vibe that strikes the same tone as cer­e­mo­nial vest­ments. The all-white monas­tic dress at Valentino ready-to-wear, the griffine-mbroi­dered caf­tan robe and gold medal­lion at Valentino haute cou­ture, the draped, cowl­necked priest­esses at Vion­net and the long tu­nic vests at Nar­ciso Ro­driguez all pos­sessed a serene, rit­u­al­is­tic, above-the-fray qual­ity. Mod­ern, min­i­mal­ist, mys­ti­cal and mod­est, the vo­cab­u­lary of sashes, cas­socks, hoods and an­kle-length robes is not so much gen­der-span­ning as asex­ual. “It’s ev­i­dent how much Rick Owens has in­deed in­flu­enced this trend,” ad­mits Mar­cell Rocha, a Paris-based stylist. “I’ve def­i­nitely no­ticed for a few sea­sons now that it’s be­com­ing prom­i­nent among other de­sign­ers.”

The pre­am­ble to men and women dress­ing the same is men dress­ing like women and women dress­ing like men. There has been a slow leak be­tween his and hers over the past decade and a half, since Madonna and Ni­cole Kid­man wore Chris­tian Dior men’s suits in the early 2000s. Dur­ing Hedi Sli­mane’s ten­ure in menswear there at that time, women in the know headed straight for his as­phyx­i­at­ingly skinny suits. Mean­while, Jean Paul Gaultier has been try­ing to get men to wear skirts for as long as he has been in busi­ness. Iron­i­cally, it was just about when he an­nounced his de­par­ture from ready-to-wear that fem­i­nine menswear started to take off. Gucci’s first col­lec­tion last fall by new cre­ative di­rec­tor Alessan­dro Michele pro­posed pussy-bow blouses and red-lace tops for men, while J.W. An­der­son has made a menswear sta­ple out of bustiers and drapey T-shirts.

Gen­der­less cloth­ing is the nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of all of this his-and-hers min­gling, but it also cre­ates a third, neu­tral cat­e­gory all its own. “It’s a very in­ter­est­ing time we’re liv­ing in,” says Ni­cholas Mel­lam­phy, buyer for The Room at Hud­son’s Bay. “Five years ago, it was the ‘boyfriend jeans’ and ‘boyfriend jacket.’ Now it’s just ‘your jacket.’ It’s just over­sized. We’re not talk­ing the same way.”

The re­sult of boyfriends and girl­friends hav­ing been sub­tracted from the equa­tion is the un­de­ni­able asex­u­al­ity that un­der­lies the grav­i­tas of this sea­son’s monas­tic gar­ments. What hap­pens when the ab­sence of sex­ual de­sire en­coun­ters an industry that is sat­u­rated with it? Mel­lam­phy thinks it el­e­vates fash­ion to a “higher plane.” “A lot of older women love this look be­cause it al­lows the fash­ion to show­case you rather than you show­case the fash­ion,” he says. “It’s so stripped down and free of em­bel­lish­ment that I think of the women who wear that type of col­lec­tion as al­most an­tifash­ion. It’s in­tel­lec­tual chic.”

The mood, how­ever, is not min­i­mal­ist, de­spite the monochromatic colour pal­ettes and gen­der-ef­fac­ing sil­hou­ettes. Every­thing from the long asym­met­ri­cal sheaths at Damir Doma to the Mayan ge­om­e­try and “doors of per­cep­tion” seam­ing on Rick Owens’ pe­plum tu­nics has the enigmatic grav­ity and el­e­gance of rit­ual. They make the com­pelling case in fash­ion that less— less gen­der, less sex­u­al­ity, less em­bel­lish­ment— is, sim­ply, more. n


The wardrobe for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awak­ens (out in De­cem­ber) may be based in fan­tasy, but de­sign­ers have brought it to life on the run­way (far left and cen­tre); Yeezy’s s/s ’16 col­lec­tion con­tin­ues to cham­pion gen­der-neu­tral styling (near left).

Who wo re it best? Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars or Tilda Swin­ton in Valentino?

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