The term ‘androgyny’ is one that’s been thrown around the fashion industry for a while now. Whilst it has always existed, it is during the past few years that the androgynous style has really taken centre stage and the act of blurring lines between genders has been a major focus of fashion houses such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
By definition, androgyny promotes gender ambiguity and characterises a combination of feminine and masculine qualities. This combination can be seen in fashion throughout the twentieth century; from Coco Chanel and her love for the masculine silhouette of the suit, to the glitter and bold prints of Prince and Bowie, experimenting with the limits of gender is nothing new. Aesthetic androgyny gives us a chance to break the mould, promoting freedom in our appearance and actions, and the desire to rid ourselves of the constrains of gender often ties itself to sociopolitical movements such as the gay rights or feminist ones. In other words, androgyny is not just a fleeting fashion trend, it has important cultural prominence.
The 60s, 70s and 80s were home to some of the trailblazers of androgyny. Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix, along with the aforementioned Prince and Bowie, challenged traditional notions of masculinity, sporting frills, florals and high heels. Rock and roll had a new image, one of flamboyance and a certain femininity. So influential in their style, it is clear that fashion houses today are still using these glam rock icons as inspiration. One of the most obviously influenced is Creative Director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele. Taking over the role in January 2015, a distinct change in the way the brand approaches men’s fashion is already evident. Gucci’s Fall catwalk in 2015 was indicative of this radical shake up; gone was Frida Giannini’s vision of sophisticated and masculine menswear and in came a plethora of pussy bows and slinky silhouettes from Michele. His new vision for the famed fashion house was far from the one Giannini had created over her ten year reign- it was delicate, romantic, utilising flowing chiffon and crepe to emphasise the newfound femininity.
The importance of the trailblazers of androgyny is that they were asserting their individuality by breaking aesthetic gender boundaries, but their sexualities and genders were not being questioned. There wasn’t a need to defend their masculinities; they could dress in a stereotypically feminine way but still be considered male (if that’s what they considered themselves to be), thus doing away with the gender specificity of clothing and making it just that, clothing. However, modern day androgyny can be considered problematic and seems to be undoing the progress made by these icons. It would seem that, if we were to look at gender in the reductionist way of man and woman, ‘gender bending’ is just about looking like the opposite gender. For example, it is common to see female models in masculine attire, but only if they represent a typical masculine body type. Similarly, male models will only seem to dress effeminately if they themselves look effeminate (this is very much the case in the model choice for the previously mentioned Fall 2015 menswear show from Gucci). This sort of androgyny seems to say, you can break gender boundaries but only if you look a certain way, and that that certain way is gender specific.
This is why Louis Vuitton’s SS16 woman’s campaign, featuring Jaden Smith, was so important. Amongst the female models in their biker jackets and embroidered skirts stood Smith, donning the same attire. No fuss was made about the fact that the campaign featured a guy in a skirt; the ad didn’t draw attention to it or invite controversy. Smith was just simply there, being a guy in a skirt. He still held a certain masculinity, which wasn’t lost by him wearing an item of clothing stereotypically worn by women. His involvement meant that the woman’s clothes became just clothes, and thus the demarcation between gender once again began to dissolve. This seemed to be the intention of artistic director Nicolas Ghesquière, who said of Jaden Smith that he “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestoes and questions about gender”. In the same way Kurt Cobain did when he appeared on the cover of The Face in a floral tea dress and a scruffy beard, Jaden is embodying a new variation on the masculine heterosexual norm.
Modern fashion is certainly making an effort, but it would seem that it still has a way to go to achieve total gender neutrality. But in the meantime, androgyny is something that is encouraging style with no boundaries, its the first step into the abolishment of the demarcation between gender specific fashion. Not to mention, fashion brings androgyny into the mainstream and thus once again, gives itself a cultural prominence.