STAMINA STRENGTH: Battle of the Sexes

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Battle of the Sexes

Fashion & Style | Critic's Notebook


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In Milan, Bottega Veneta combined the men’s and women’s collection show. Credit Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

As more and more labels add men’s wear to their women’s wear shows, who benefits? Two critics debate the question.
DEAR GUY:
I’ve been thinking about you a lot over the last month of ready-to-wear shows, because even though only a few brands “officially” combined their men’s and women’s collections this season — Burberry, Bottega Veneta — in fact, in Milan at least, it seemed as if the majority of brands were testing out the idea.
Antonio Marras, Giorgio Armani and Gucci (to name a few) all had men on the runway, and in Paris, Anthony Vaccarello sneaked a guy into his Saint Laurent debut. Given that Gucci is going to go full-on integration next season, and all this suggests they might not be the only ones, I was wondering what you thought about the development?
I understand the rationale — it is the same designer, telling the same story, whether for men or women; it is cheaper for brands and those who have to see them — and though I thought when I first heard about it that it was a logical idea. But after experiencing it, much to my surprise, I am not so sure.
     
Yours with a big question mark, Vanessa
DEAR VANESSA:
Fashion, as usual, follows culture. Designers are doing on runways what consumers have been doing for years: ignoring the creakier traditional restraints of sexual identity (Alice hair bands, anyone? Boyfriend jeans?) to shop across the aisle.
And it’s certainly a welcome corrective to the mentality of “locker room talk” and other remnants of an unlamented dinosaur cultural past.
Fabrice Gili, creative director of the high-end hairdressing salon Frédéric Fekkai, recently pointed out to me that the fastest growing and most profitable segment of his business is men. And Fekkai, let’s remember, was where Upper East Side ladies went for their highlights. Now it’s guys getting a $125 trim.
I think of the blend as conceptually good for everyone, a natural way of underscoring the pleasures and advantages of migrating at will along the Kinsey scale. Still, let’s not forget that a bellwether like Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent showed men’s and women’s together almost from the start and that when the business blew up, almost the first thing he did was build a glossy new guys-only store on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif.
My best, Guy
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The Antonio Marras show in Paris was mix of gender and color. Credit Matteo Bazzi/ANSA, via Associated Press

DEAR G:
But this isn’t necessarily about gender-neutral clothes, or men’s clothes worn by women and women’s clothes by men, although that is what was going on at Saint Laurent.
At Bottega and Armani, certainly, it was classic men’s wear mixed in with classic women’s wear — two shows in one, if you will. At Marras, it was men’s wear done in the same fabrics as women’s wear, but not the same cuts or silhouettes.
Ditto at Fenty x Puma, where the guys were not the slim, haunted figures Hedi Slimane and Alessandro Michele favor, but big, hunky dudes. They couldn’t fit into a woman’s sample size, à la Jaden Smith in his Louis Vuitton ads, where the clothes apparently came straight from the runway.
What we had, rather, was the traditional men’s looks mixed in with the traditional, or not so traditional, women’s looks. And therein lay the problem, at least for me. Because men’s wear moves along so incrementally, it’s hard to pick up on the evolution when you are being boggled by, say, the abundance of bubble dresses and bubble bloomers at Charmani (his title, by the way, not mine).
Biting my nails, V.
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The Giorgio Armani show also had men on the runway with women in Milan. Credit Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

DEAR V:
For me, it’s not so much about pussy bows for guys or so-called gender-neutral styles as it is about gender-agnostic consumption. The designers are just reflecting back to us their version of an Amazon search.
People don’t color within the lines on the web, and fashion is bound to reflect that. I’ve said before that I’m not so worried about men’s wear being swallowed up amid the leg o’ mutton sleeves and froufrou.
Though you’re right that men’s wear is glacial in pace, it’s still experiencing faster growth across the board than ever. And what global brands like Armani, in particular, are addressing is this shift in shopping habits.
Historically, women bought for men, with the exception of suits. The suit, for the moment, is effectively kaput. So it’s perfectly sensible to mix up the elevated sportswear Tomas Maier designs without regard for gender and to expect consumers of either (or neither) sex to tune in. (Anyway, Mr. Maier and Giorgio Armani have been softening — feminizing, if you like — men’s wear all along.)
As for men’s wear getting lost, I’d say check out a big trade fair like Pitti Uomo in Florence, which continues to break records for attendance and exhibitor numbers every season. It’s like attending a car or a boat show. Guys geek out on fashion the way they traditionally have obsessed about hot rods or fantasy baseball. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic, but I don’t foresee that trend slackening anytime soon.
All my best, G.
GUY:
Take off those rose-colored glasses! Pitti is a men’s wear event, which kind of proves my point: It’s huge in part because it’s a pure play; as you say, it allows guys to geek out. It highlights what is special or desirable about men’s wear, as opposed to hiding it under a much showier women’s wear bushel.
But maybe, as you say, that’s critic’s myopia, and consumers are fully capable of taking what they want from where they want, categories be damned, and we should just all be happy about the more efficient use of our time.
Though when I went through a lot of the coverage of Burberry, Bottega, et al., to test my theory, it seemed as if readers could be forgiven for not realizing there was men’s wear on those runways at all, so little mention did it get (and yes, mea culpa).
But maybe that’s what designers want? Just to make the clothes and have content for a marketing platform and forget the reviews? Could it be?
Hmmm, V.
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A mixed parade of models for Burberry during London Fashion Week. Credit Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

VANESSA:
Who knows what designers want? I doubt whether they do. That’s why critics remain useful, not as the Pauline Kael-style dictators of yesteryear but as explainers. And I’ve said it a million times: Fashion is a storytelling business.
Beyond that, my own sense is that both the blended shows and separate-show seasons can coexist, the scale and mechanics of the two spheres being too unalike for one mode to prevail. It’s odd, though, that a number of designers toss women’s wear into the mix during their men’s shows (Dsquared comes to mind), and when they do, the eye just edits out the stuff for women.
Maybe it’s practicality and maybe it’s laziness. It’s strenuous even for those of us who are up on our Judith Butler to have to remind ourselves constantly that gender is performance.
Cheers, G.
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At Saint Laurent, there were some examples of men’s clothes worn by women and women’s clothes worn by men. Credit Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

G:
So your crystal-ball prediction is some sort of hybrid thing, where some brands combine and others stick to the schedule as is? And we all see the story we want to see on the runway? In that situation, you and I could go to the same show and come away with two entirely different conclusions.
Is that your last word?
V
V:
Well, I’m not about to saw off the branch I’m sitting on, so … that’s a yes.
All best
G:
I admire your perspicacity. This treetop feels awfully fragile to me.

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