Written by Jonathan Mahon-Heap
Gender has been perhaps the longest hoax perpetrated against us; one whose febrile rules bend and morph into every realm of public life.
“It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple: one must be a woman manly, or a man womanly.” Virginia Woolf’s aphorism in Orlando, on the boundary-crossing possibilities of gender, still rings true. Gender has been perhaps the longest hoax perpetrated against us; one whose febrile rules bend and morph into every realm of public life. By 2020, our wardrobes should allow us to embody our possibilities. This year, it was reported that collections and catwalks would be going digital and gender-neutral — accompanied with a few adroit phrases of support and the usual press release bonanza. But what changed?
As fashion weeks teetered towards an existential brink, the British Fashion Council (BFC) announced men’s fashion week would be a ‘gender-neutral’ platform, no longer obliging them to show menswear collections and womenswear collections separately. This crested into reality just as brands announced their own need for change; like Alessandro Michele reducing Gucci’s shows from five to two “seasonless” co-ed collections a year. Chloé’s Natacha Ramsay-Levi similarly insisted the wheel needed reinventing: “The way the business model of the fashion show has been done has to stop. It has to be rewired totally.” Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Russia went gender-neutral in 2018, and parent blogs have long been proliferating to help dress toddlers in a gender-neutral fashion. It begs whether this shift is a profound one, and whether it takes into account the transgender, genderqueer, and non-binary talent on whom many luxury brands stake their good name.
Indeed, while Pantone might have a colour that lasts a year (for 2020 it’s classic blue, conjuring a calm precisely none of us have felt so far), fashion has but buzzwords. While the BFC’s announcement won praise, according to The Fashion Spot, on the runway at New York Fashion Week for Fall 2020, there were only 10 transgender/non-binary castings or just 0.52 per cent across eight shows in New York. Press releases flitter with androgyny, unisex, genderless and genderqueer, for visuals and casts that are synonymous with anything but. The premier houses clamour towards inclusion, blind, like so many of us, to their own bias; Marni, the eccentric Italian menswear brand, just this month made a tone-deaf campaign infused with racist imagery. All this, in a climate where Trump’s coronavirus scrutiny is as haphazard as his spray tan (but for punitive legislation for the LGBTQIA+ community, he knows exactly where to sign). An Atlantic piece on the history of ‘unisex’ clothing, sums it up aptly: “Increasingly, however, men and women are wearing the same garments, bought from the same stores, in a retail landscape as rich, varied, and occasionally baffling as gender itself.” Break the paradigms, merge the clothing racks, allow for authentic representation — allow us to navigate this baffling landscape with choice.
Gucci Fall/Winter 2020 Campaign by Angelo Pennetta.