As the dust began to settle around LC:M, it became clear that one designer had succeeded more than most in burning his distinctive aesthetic onto the retinas of a mainstream audience. With his chunky patent platforms, lycra-tight knitwear and bucket-shaped handbags, JW Anderson had cemented his reputation as the King of Androgyny by subverting the 'slutty secretary' stereotype that we've all come to know as female. Hot on his heels, Italian provocateur Donatella Versace showed her horny Western collection, chock full of Italian studs in backless chaps and gold-studded codpieces. It was like the Village People had headed to the desert for a pimped-up shootout. If the 'androgynous' debate is one that is referenced too obviously in menswear, this latest round of shows looks set to drag up the age-old argument; can men REALLY look good in skirts?
|Image - Versace A/W '14, taken from Dazed Digital.|
As androgyny is one of the most-referenced words in fashion, I probably don't need to tell you that YSL kick-started the trend with his 'Le Smoking' tux jacket which saw women worldwide raid their boyfriends' wardrobes. Pioneers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler continued the trend for gender-bending, although Gaultier in particular added a transgender twist which helped the idea catch on in gay culture. The trend is still omnipresent in womenswear and has been diluted into countless fashion trends - 'from 'boyfriend jeans' to 'boyfriend cardigans' and 'boyfriend brogues', little room remains for further experimentation. It has been accepted - women can wear mens' clothing. And look good.
|Backstage at Versace A/W 2014 - DazedDigital|
It's only when we apply the term to menswear that things become tricky, especially as many believe that it is still intrinsically linked to gay culture. There is still a fetishistic undercurrent to the idea of cross-dressing, one which is pretty obvious given programmes such as 'The Secret Life of the Living Dolls' - a documentary about men that wear rubber bodysuits with specially-created rectums and 'mask' as women. Drag queens are the alternative to this; fabulous cross-dressers with great hair, great make-up and a great sense of humour. Thanks to icons such as Amanda Lepore and RuPaul, drag queens are fast infiltrating mainstream media and helping to dispel the rumours that men can only dress as women for sexual gratification. But - and this is a big but -, many think of drag queens and think, once again, of gay culture.
|Backstage at J.W Anderson, A/W 2014 [DazedDigital]|
This brings me to the two collections that celebrated gender-bending in all its glory, although both in different ways. Versace's ultra-camp collection was a veiled reference to the laws against homosexuality which are currently active in Russia - in classic Donatella style, her scantily-clad beefcakes were a huge symbolic 'Fuck You' to a country which has once again suppressed homosexuality. Anderson, on the other hand, went with a more literal statement and moved the concept away from its gay connotations by simply making men wear heels. The fact that the 'secretary' image was there meant there was still a vague undercurrent of sexuality, but the clothes were actually surprisingly wearable and will do nothing to tarnish Anderson's already-glowing reputation.
In a world where youth culture is dominated by 'twinks' and 'metrosexuals', is it really such a stretch to believe that the androgynous look will soon be accepted by #lads worldwide? 'Macho' men such as Kanye West and A$AP Rocky have already been papped in skirts (although Rocky said it was just an oversized T-Shirt.. honest..) and men in make-up is nothing new, but will we ever really embrace the concept to the extent that women have? I would argue that most straight men (or at least straight men over a certain age) are, in general terms, reluctant to embrace this sartorial flamboyancy due its gay connotations. Society has become more accepting by embracing this trend for metrosexuality, but in a world where Tom Daley's coming out still classes as 'front-page news', there is work to be done.
|'The heels' at J.W Anderson [DazedDigital]|
Donatella's collection was in some ways quite wonderful. It was an excessive, blinged-out middle finger to the Putins of the world that are trying to suppress freedom and it succeeded in grabbing headlines. However, it was unabashedly gay and, therefore, not likely to succeed in expanding its target audience. Anderson, however, has definite mainstream potential. It isn't coincidence that the designer recently collaborated with Versace for her 'Versus' collection - his clothes are beautifully made and stand apart from those of his contemporaries. A recent collaboration with fashion chain Topman also showed that he has the talent to actually drive the future of menswear into a new place of acceptance and individuality. Reactions were mixed with regards to his A/W '14 show - some thought it was genius, some thought it was pointless. I still firmly believe that the heels moved the collection into 'niche' territory and diluted its accessibility by making an aesthetic statement that felt literal and a little clunky. The provocatively-tight clothing and peplum trousers could have carried the 'androgynous' theme on their own and felt stylistically subtle, avoiding the inevitable accusations of pushing things too far to garner controversy. Then again, maybe it's a good thing - his all-guns-blazing attitude to his aesthetic has sparked debate. Debate means conversation, debate means change - and if there is anyone with the power to change the sartorial habits of a nation, it's Anderson.