‘ How you dress is how you live’

Boys in ‘ gen­der­less’ fash­ion is a big thing in Ja­pan now.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - STYLE -

NO stranger to bar­rettes, bows and beauty prod­ucts, Ja­panese In­sta­gram icon and model Genk­ing is a proud flag bearer for “gen­der­less” fash­ion in which young men adopt un­equiv­o­cally fem­i­nine styles and chal­lenge tra­di­tional norms.

Al­though women around the world have taken to menswear in droves – sport­ing trousers since the 1930s when French fash­ion leg­end Coco Chanel put her eques­trian clients in pants – the sight of a man in a skirt still raises eye­brows in the West.

In much of Asia, how­ever, uni­sex cloth­ing – whether in the form of a tra­di­tional shal­war kameez, sarong or ki­mono – boasts a long his­tory, while pop­u­lar the­atri­cal tra­di­tions reg­u­larly fea­ture gen­der bend­ing per­for­mances.

Genk­ing’s long bleached blond locks, curled eye­lashes and fond­ness for both wom­enswear and menswear tes­tify to a self- pro­fessed iden­tity as a “gen­der­less” per­son.

Born Genki Tanaka, Genk­ing fell in love with fash­ion at an early age, dream­ing of Chanel purses and pas­tel pink ac­ces­sories.

“My mother was pretty tol­er­ant.... But in those days, I still didn’t want to ad­mit my fem­i­nine side and I was kind of try­ing to hide it,” Genk­ing says. “When I turned 20, I quit pre­tend­ing.” Genk­ing set up an In­sta­gram ac­count where self­ies show­case a style that has at­tracted nearly 850,000 fol­low­ers, kick­ing off a tele­vi­sion ca­reer and cul­mi­nat­ing in a cat­walk ap­pear­ance at the packed Tokyo Girls Col­lec­tion show last year.

In Ja­pan, men play ev­ery role dur­ing tra­di­tional kabuki – all- male theatre – per­for­mances, while the cen­tury- old Takarazuka Re­vue – an all- fe­male mu­si­cal theatre troupe – sees women slick back their hair and don tuxe­dos to the de­light of ador­ing fe­male fans.

“Gen­der role play through fash­ion and per­for­mance has al­ways been a big part of Ja­panese cul­ture,” says Tokyo- based style blog­ger and TV host, Misha Janette.

Lo­cal re­tail­ers have long catered to a fash­ion- hun­gry menswear mar­ket with slick tai­lor­ing, leather clutches and lux­ury skin­care prod­ucts.

Few young men, how­ever, would have made the leap from watch­ing male ac­tors play women on stage to adopt­ing “girly” ac­ces­sories and wear­ing makeup them­selves, were it not for the over­whelm­ing in­flu­ence of Korean pop mu­sic and Ja­panese anime movies.

“When K- pop be­came big in Ja­pan, many young men adopted that style, try­ing to copy the ef­fem­i­nate fa­cial fea­tures of male band mem­bers,” Janette says. Mean­while, as anime’s pop­u­lar­ity rose, young boys turned to makeup in a bid to re­sem­ble their favourite car­toon char­ac­ters.

“Gen­der­less” trail­blaz­ers like singer Yo­hdi Kondo and style star Ryucheru reg­u­larly don school­girl braids, swipe on blush and dress in pink fluffy sweaters, adopt­ing kawaii, or cute, styles usu­ally re­served for young women. But while Ja­panese fash­ion seeks to over­turn con­ven­tion, com­men­ta­tors say it will take more than men dressed in skirts to trans­form tra­di­tional gen­der dy­nam­ics in the con­ser­va­tive coun­try.

“The gen­der­less trend is re­ally a fash­ion mo­ment, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily about sex­u­al­ity or any so­cial agenda.... I don't think a trend like this changes any­thing for women, it’s not em­pow­er­ing ( for them),” says TV host Janette.

Ja­panese ac­tivists have staged a long bat­tle to scrap sex­ist, dis­crim­i­na­tory laws while fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion rates in the work­force and political sphere are among the low­est in de­vel­oped na­tions. Nev­er­the­less, pro­po­nents of “gen­der­less” fash­ion are op­ti­mistic, point­ing to the ris­ing vis­i­bil­ity of LGBT icons like Cait­lyn Jen­ner, the trans­gen­der Olympic cham­pion for­merly known as Bruce.

De­signer Tsukasa Mikami opened Tokyo fash­ion week on Mon­day with a show fea­tur­ing male and fe­male mod­els in flo­ral silkscreen- printed gar­ments and com­bat boots.

Mikami, whose pre­vi­ous col­lec­tions have show­cased men and women wear­ing the same gar­ments, says cre­at­ing uni­sex cloth­ing came nat­u­rally.

“I don't make any dis­tinc­tion be­tween the sexes,” he says.

Hot new uni­sex la­bel “ilk” of­fers a se­lec­tion of dresses and belted tunics aimed at “cus­tomers of all ages, gen­ders and sex­u­al­i­ties”, ac­cord­ing to de­signer Koji Ota. Mean­while, in a nod to the trend’s grow­ing reach, retail gi­ant Zara last week launched a uni­sex line of sweat­shirts, tank tops and sneak­ers called “Un­gen­dered”.

“( The LGBT move­ment) is a global move­ment that we can­not sep­a­rate from fash­ion.... I think this free way of think­ing is suited to mod­ern so­ci­ety and fash­ion,” says Ota.

For “gen­der­less” fash­ion­ista Genk­ing, the play­ful style her­alds the dawn of a new age.

“The gen­der bound­ary is dis­ap­pear­ing.... Ja­pan is still con­ser­va­tive, but I think we will see more men open up to gen­der­less cul­ture,” Genk­ing says.

“How you dress is how you live.”

A male model in one of Mikami’s cre­ations.

Mikami’s show on Mon­day un­der­lined his phi­los­o­phy: ‘ I don’t make any dis­tinc­tion be­tween the sexes.’

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