Monday, September 5, 2016

Womenswear Invading the Menswear Collections

It’s difficult to comprehend that London Collections: Men was almost three months ago! The four-day long weekend came and went in a flash and the fashion pack traversed to Italy and then to Paris. Despite the systematic changes in fashion presently, there was a plethora of things to be excited by. Whether it was Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga debut, the upcoming labels blossoming in New York, the collective of bright sparks in London—Wales Bonner, Charles Jeffrey, Rottingdean Bazaar—or Miuccia Prada’s tour-de-force in Milan. Those are just but a few of the great things to happen during men’s fashion month. London this season was particularly strong. I’m never averse to London, the city is packed with beguiling, thrilling young talents and old-timers who never fail to create a special moment.

This season there were plenty of special moments. Craig Green’s conceptual genius thrived on Friday evening, Grace Wales Bonner’s poetic brilliance triumphed on the Saturday afternoon, Jonathan Anderson’s wacky world was in full bloom on Sunday morning, Stuart Vevers presented a pleasant Coach collection on Monday, bracketed by impressive performances from newcomer Kiko Kostadinov and regular fixture Liam Hodges. As with the highlights of the entire month, those are small selection of greats throughout the weekend. 

An underlying trend that emerged during the weekend was the arrival of womenswear in the menswear sphere. Designers from Agi & Sam to Wales Bonner experimented with a womenswear lineup on their runways, broadening customer reach. The first example of this was at Astrid Andersen on the Friday night. Andersen announced prior to the show that she would be presented her first womenswear looks at the menswear show. African influences coupled with basketball motifs resulted in a pleasant display. Plaid shirts and trousers, black bandeaus and lace shirts, logo printed shirts and shirt-dresses, baggy joggers and windbreakers. It wasn’t difficult to predict what would hit the runway at Astrid Andersen; her menswear language lends itself perfectly to womenswear and the inclusion of lace added a sexy, feminine flair to the otherwise hard sportswear.

The following morning at Agi & Sam, the duo blended menswear and womenswear. On a quick scroll through imagery the genders were indistinguishable. Similar graphic printed trenches and blush-hued overcoats, mohair jackets and geometrically printed trousers were worn by different genders. Gender ambiguity was noted but closely inspecting the collection you see the emphasis placed on who’s ‘supposed’ to wear the clothes. Similarly at Casely-Hayford, the clothes were pointedly prescribed genders. Shirts, shorts and dresses were fitted to female bodies; although certain jackets could lean every which way.  

Menswear favourite Grace Wales Bonner is regularly purchased by womenswear buyers for their clients. The small fit of her clothing is suited to a female buyer. Grace explores sexuality, black masculinity in her collections through different historical references that present a well-rounded viewing experience for the awe-struck audience. When she toys with gender it isn’t putting a woman in “men’s clothing”, it’s the other way around. Her willowy men wear dresses, skirts and they’re bedecked in lavish jewels. This is what makes her so special; the way she plays with gender in unique ways, ways rarely explored in menswear. For Spring 2017 she too offered a deliberate womenswear outing—it’s not dissimilar to the men’s, meaning it’s beautiful and expertly-tailored. 
Why are menswear brands branching out into womenswear? It comes down to a few things: “designer men’s clothes are cheaper, fabrics are thicker and sturdier.” This was proclaimed by Lou Stoppard in an article for the Financial Times, post-London Collections: Men in January. The SHOWstudio editor continues interviewed Natalie Kingham, buying director of Matches, who says “women have always bought men’s sweaters, shirts and even casual coats. They are attracted to the proportions of menswear.” There’s also the underlying fact that the hype and fame surrounding a brand attracts the buyer. Jonathan Anderson launched womenswear at the request of his ardent female supporters—now his womenswear offering nearly dwarves the menswear, though both are equally as profound. The crop of London designers—Agi & Sam, Casely-Hayford, Astrid Andersen and more—exploring menswear all have the same thing in common: they understand the customer, they needs and wants and hope to translate the success of menswear to womenswear. 

Menswear sales continue to surge, despite the luxury market slow-down. The conversations surrounding menswear are far more complex, compared to the insular womenswear debate. Men are paying more attention to style blogs, men’s magazines and are more interested in fashion than ever before. Women, too, are paying attention the menswear sphere. They don’t want a slouchy boyfriend fit that emerged at the end of the 00s, they want well-made menswear. Can you blame them? The menswear moment is still booming and bloody brilliant. 

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