Is Mixing Men’s and Women’s Fashion Shows a Good Idea?

The fashion industry is in crisis at the moment. Designers far and wide are talking of a broken system, while many labels – including Burberry, Gucci, Vetements and Public School – have recently announced that they’ll be merging their men’s and women’s collections together, in spite of the traditional calendar that keeps them separate.

On the outset, it makes perfect sense – fashion shows are expensive, and the lines between men’s and women’s clothing are getting blurrier by the day. However, any shift to the fashion schedule is bound to have huge ramifications on the people working in the industry – mainly for the buyers who keep stores stocked with clothes and the editors who keep publications filled with eye candy and reading material.

I hit up a few friends and associates to find out what their thoughts are on this latest development to the fashion industry’s current growing pains. Jian DeLeon is Highsnobiety‘s editor-at-large and trend forecasting agency WGSN’s resident #menswear expert, Eliza Brooke is a Senior Reporter for women’s publication Racked, and Jill Wenger is the founder and CEO of unisex concept boutique Totokaelo.

How do you feel about the merging of men’s and women’s shows? Is it a good thing?

Glen Luchford’s Gucci Spring/Summer 2016 Campaign

Jill Wenger, Founder & CEO, Totokaelo: It seems to be becoming necessary in order to keep up with various collections and deliveries. As a buyer, the efficiency of combined markets is nice. I imagine there will be more overlap in concept and fabrics between mens and women’s collections, so that the runway presentation is cohesive. It aligns with the gender bending that’s happening in retail stores, too.

Eliza Brooke, Senior Reporter, RackedI think for a brand like Gucci, merging men’s and women’s shows makes a ton of sense aesthetically. Alessandro Michele has both men and women wearing things like pussy bows, transparent lace shirts, and colorful floral suits, so a joint show is only going to emphasize his take on androgynous dressing. (And, as a side note, I think it’s dope that Michele’s version of androgyny skews toward more traditionally “feminine” styles, since in so many cases androgynous dressing means women dressing more “masculine.” I think overturning the assumption that male is always the default is great.) For other brands, a merged show might not be quite as visually (or philosophically) impactful, but could be useful in saving money, since runway shows can be incredibly expensive — which is a particular challenge for younger brands.

Jian DeLeon, Editor-at-Large, Highsnobiety & WGSN:  It was bound to happen eventually. Fashion, at its best, is reflective of a society’s values, and pushes culture toward an aspirational place. It’s why a lot of the designers deemed influential or “good” have created provocative work that evokes emotions on either end of the spectrum. It’s why I love when people who aren’t into fashion are like “What the hell am I looking at?” – because that means it’s working. The last thing that envelope-pushing designers should want to be is safe.

And when you look at the progress society has made in the past few years in regards to overall awareness of trans and LGBQT culture, it’s really kind of amazing. The Internet has helped that. Celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner, Lady Gaga, and Laverne Cox have really put it in a new spotlight. I mean, ten years ago, most guys thought fashion was a “gay” thing. And now that’s a very dated point-of-view. I think by now most men realize what you wear or being into designers has no correlation to who you love. It’s more like we pick our favorite designers like we pick our favorite sports clubs. It’s a non-factor.

And the more guys get into clothes, the more we’re willing to experiment with different cuts and silhouettes. Especially for the hobbyists and enthusiasts who always want to find the newest thing. Brands have become like bands in that sense, and we all know what musicians like David Bowie did in terms of blurring lines and smashing social norms.

What potential downsides can you see, if any?

Mario Testino’s Burberry Spring/Summer 2016 Campaign

Jill Wenger, Totokaelo: The real design talents will figure out how to make it work.

Eliza Brooke, RackedI’m curious whether merging men’s and women’s shows would mess with the buying cycle. If Gucci shows men’s and women’s during the womenswear shows in September and February, how does that affect menswear buyers?

Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety & WGSN: Menswear has always been womenswear’s second banana. I mean, it’s the D-Leagues and the women’s shows are the majors. The menswear industry will never go away, but I can imagine it might be hard to implement on a larger scale, at companies where you have specialized buying and design teams that cater to a specific demographic. But at the end of the day, that’s all logistics. What’s happening to fashion is what’s happened to media and music. You have to learn to adapt or you risk falling by the wayside. It probably happened to this industry late because the truth is, a lot of our manufacturing processes and the means by which we buy, ship, and access our clothes hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries. There have been no technological revolutions in how we make product, only in how we can buy it at the digital level.

Are you noticing men becoming more interested in womenswear? How about the opposite?

Glen Luchford’s Gucci Spring/Summer 2016 Campaign

Jill Wenger, Totokaelo:  Clothes are clothes are clothes are clothes. I’m not seeing clients acknowledge gender either way. If they like it, they like it.

Eliza Brooke, RackedI’m not sure that men are becoming more interested in womenswear, but I’d definitely say that women are becoming more interested in menswear — or at least more aware of it. Reporters for more general interest publications can see that the menswear market is growing, so they’re going to write toward that. As a womenswear writer based out of New York, the publications I work at are not necessarily going to fly me out to Europe for the men’s shows, but they will cover NYFW:M in some capacity.

Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety & WGSN: If you’re a fan of men’s fashion, you probably have some understanding of womenswear. The directional men’s stuff often follows what influential womenswear designers are doing. A lot of guys know who Phoebe Philo is, but probably won’t wear Céline – aside from maybe a pair of sneakers. On the flip side, women have loved men’s clothes from the start. Look at Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, or any woman that’s grown up with sneakers or streetwear culture. These are both predominantly male cultures, but women have always been an intrinsic part of them.

Sweden is one of the world’s most egalitarian countries. And there, designers like Our Legacy and Acne Studios specialize in these androgynous, minimalist silhouettes. But overall, there’s less stigma for a woman to wear a man’s clothes than for a man to wear a woman’s. And when you think about that, it’s kind of silly for there to be a stigma for a guy to wear an androgynous-looking overcoat just because it was made for women.

What do you think of the future of fashion weeks in general?

burberry.com

Jill Wenger, Totokaelo: Fashion weeks mean different things to different people. As a buyer, I end up missing half the shows because I’m in appointments and trying to squeeze in visits to 150+ vendors over the span of 20 days. Having to submit large orders that will impact six months of selling within 24 hours of a three-hour appointment isn’t ideal. In my dream scenario, we would view all the shows one month and submit all our orders the next month!

Eliza Brooke, RackedWith all these change-ups to the fashion calendar, it’s clear that designers are unhappy with the way things are currently working. Future fashion weeks are for sure going to look different, but what exactly it’s going to look like is hard to say. I think brands are just trying out a lot of different formats right now, and some are going to work and some won’t. Everyone’s on one big learning curve together.

Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety & WGSN: That’s a tough one. Maybe the calendars will merge? That would be a logistical nightmare, though. The point of having separate men’s and women’s shows originally reflected the different retail calendar both markets have. Not to mention, should the weeks merge, travel and hospitality would be a nightmare. As I said before, a lot of larger retailers have specialized teams focusing on a specific market, and I can imagine how insane it would be for a company to have to send say, 20 buyers abroad in one go. I’m interested to see what will happen though.

For more thoughts on the broken fashion system, check out magazine’s in-depth interview with Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele.

Met Gala 2016: is 3D printing the future of fashion?

Every year all the biggest celebrities from the fashion, music, and film worlds come together dressed to the nines for the Met Gala, a high-profile fundraising event that raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City. The event is no ordinary fundraiser, however, as it draws attention from media outlets and people everywhere who are eager to see how celebs and fashion designers have interpreted the annual Met Gala theme. Last year’s theme “China: Through the Looking Glass”, was inspired by the Met’s exhibition by the same name and celebrities came adorned in the finest Chinese fabrics, and Chinese inspired designs. This year, in line with the Met’s recently launched exhibition Manus x Machina, the theme revolved around Fashion in the Age of Technology, and what became apparent during the evening, both through what celebs were adorned in and through the exhibit itself, was that technologies such as 3D printing are really the future of fashion.

On the red carpet—which was painted with a double-helix motif—as celebrity after celebrity posed in their stunning gowns and suits, it was interesting to see what interpretations of fashion and technology were brought forth. While many people chose to dress in metallic, or robotic styles, some celebrities went above and beyond in their embodiments of fashion in an age of technology by highlighting the recent advances in smart wearables. Model Karolina Kurkova, for instance, wore a stunning gown embedded with LED lights which flashed on when people tweeted #MetGala or #CognitiveDress. Claire Danes wore an equally dreamy number, a Cinderella inspired organza gown designed by Zac Posen that had ultrathin fiber-optics woven into it, which lit up in an eerie and stunning way.

Forward thinking fashion icon Emma Watson also impressed in a subtle black and white outfit which was made entirely from recycled plastics, showing the potential of sustainable fashion.  Lady Gaga, of course, wowed everyone with a Versace ensemble that included a micro-chip esque jacket which was made with laser cutting technology. Girls actress Allison Williams was one of our personal favorites, as she came down the runway in an ethereal one-shouldered gown designed by Peter Pilotto, which was embellished with a number of 3D printed flowers.

Other guests opted for more traditional gowns and suits, which nonetheless played into the theme of Manus x Machina, as they demonstrated the continued relevance of couture and handmade clothing into the age of technology. As we will elaborate on later, the two are practically inextricable. On an anecdotal level, 3D printing made another fun appearance at the Met Gala, as young internet personality Cameron Dallas was gifted with a personalized cupcake which featured his face 3D printed on it. The cupcake was a gift from TopShop, who dressed the young celebrity.

Of course, the entire Met Gala soirée was based around the Costume Institute’s exhibition, Manus x Machina, which itself should be mentioned for its innovative approach to fashion. The exhibition, which was organized in association with Apple—whose own wearable tech is beginning to catch on—officially opened on May 5th, and is showcasing “how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.”

The topic, which is admittedly very broad, as even sewing machines could be considered technology, explores how technologies and machines have been utilized by fashion designers not necessarily as a way to streamline the designing process, but as a creative tool, as a sort of hand in itself. For those familiar with Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s work, this philosophy may sounds familiar, as she is known for essentially understanding 3D printing technologies as an extension of her own creative hand.

Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute explains, “Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other. Manus x Machina challenges the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy and proposes a new paradigm germane to our age of technology.”

The exhibition itself showcases more than 170 pieces dating from the early 1900s up until the present. With an equal focus on traditional handcrafting techniques like embroidery, featherwork, lacework, and leatherwork, and on more technological techniques like 3D printing the exhibition effectively explores the relationship between the two. Among the designers featured in the exhibit are icons such as Coco Chanel, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Viktor & Rolf, Comme des Garçons, Karl Lagerfeld, Hussein Chalayan, and two of our favorites, 3D printed fashion pioneers threeASFOUR and Iris van Herpen.

What the exhibit demonstrates is how technologies like 3D printing are effectively reinvigorating and revolutionizing the fashion industry, offering new and novel ways of creating both new materials and previously unthinkable designs. Of course, one of the arguments against the technology is that it takes away some of the personal touches and handcrafted care that go into the making of haute couture clothing, but as we can see from our current fast-fashion system, in which poorly paid laborers are essentially slaving away to make our clothing, the idea of the hand being pure is somewhat complicated.

So, is 3D printing the future of fashion? Considering how the technology is continually opening the doors for designers to explore new materials, new structures, and new designs, it is possible to imagine that additive manufacturing could actually be as revolutionary as even the sewing machine once was for the fashion industry. Perhaps one day, the technology will even go beyond its current haute-couture fashions and 3D printed fashions will be worn by everyone.

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology will be running at the Robert Lehman Wing of the Costume Institute until August 14th, 2016.

Gucci Calls for End to Separation of the Sexes on the Runway

The move toward mixed gender fashion shows is getting a big-name boost — from Gucci. On Tuesday at The New York Times International Luxury conference in Versailles, France, Marco Bizzarri, chief executive of the brand, called for an end to separation of the sexes, or at least to their collections. From 2017, he said, the anchor brand of the Kering group will no longer hold different shows for men’s and women’s wear, but will rather combine the two into a single show, to be held each season.

“Moving to one show each season will significantly help to simplify many aspects of our business,” Mr. Bizzarri said. “Maintaining two separate, disconnected calendars has been a result of tradition rather than practicality.” Men’s wear shows and sales to wholesalers are now held in January and July, and the women’s in September/October and February/March.

The move follows similar announcements from Burberry (which will combine its men’s and women’s shows starting in September), Tom Ford (ditto) and the French brand Vetements (which will have a joint show in January 2017), all geared to close what brands say is a growing, and costly, gap between modern consumer expectations and the traditional fashion system. However, unlike those brands, which have said that they will also immediately sell the clothes they show — or, in Vetements’s case, close to immediately — Gucci does not plan to change its production calendar: It will show clothes that will be available six months later.

Call it show-everything-now/sell-later. It’s more radical than it sounds, because of Gucci’s size (it reported revenue of 3.9 billion euros, or $4.4 billion, in 2015, and has 525 wholly owned stores around the world) and its current position as a trend leader.

“It is really being looked to as a trailblazer in the industry,” said Julie Gilhart, a consultant and the former fashion director of Barneys New York. “That makes this move potentially the most disruptive change yet.”

On its face, unifying men’s and women’s wear makes sense, and not just because most consumers think of men’s and women’s wear as one category (“clothes”). Combining the collections creates obvious efficiencies, most clearly in the cost of a show, which can reach €1 million.

In addition, at a time when men’s and women’s wear are getting ever closer together — with Louis Vuitton putting Jaden Smith in its women’s wear ad campaign in women’s wear, unisex clothing on the rise, and the creative director of Gucci, Alessandro Michele, often including men in his women’s show and vice versa — combining the two underscores the message of a single brand aesthetic across genders.

“It will give me the chance to move towards a different kind of approach to my storytelling,” Mr. Michele said in a statement.

However, there is an institutional and municipal argument against combining the men’s and women’s weeks. Every fashion week city profits, literally and significantly, from playing host to the collections. Each season brings floods of buyers, critics and support staff into each city, providing a financial boon for related industries. According to a 2012 analysis by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, women’s wear weeks there alone have a “total economic impact per year of $887 million.”

No wonder why, in July 2015, New York Fashion Week: Men’s was introduced, following London Collections Men, which made its debut in 2012. (Previously, men’s wear had its own official weeks only in Milan and Paris, along with the Pitti Uomo trade show in Florence.) The first New York men’s week brought 3,000 people to the city.

It is not yet confirmed exactly when the joint Gucci show would take place, but given that men’s wear now accounts for 35 percent of Gucci sales while women’s represents 65 percent, odds are the combined show would take place during the women’s season.

If so, the absence of a brand like Gucci from Milan men’s week could leave a gaping hole in the schedule for many buyers, and, along with the Internet’s ease of access to shows, may create a convincing argument for some buyers and critics not to attend — or at least it may reduce the number who do.

Mr. Bizzarri said Gucci was working closely with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, the governing body of Milan Fashion Week, but nothing had been decided yet.

According to Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera della Moda, “Given that the calendar situation is always evolving, it is hard to predict if there will be any negative effects.’’ The important thing, he said, is that the Italians “show powerful vitality as a whole” — perhaps (it is possible to imagine) by being the first to shift to a new system.

One striking thing about Gucci’s announcement is how many unresolved questions there are about the logistics.

Would the house, for example, invite men’s and women’s critics to the same show in September? Queried directly, Mr. Bizzarri said he did not know yet.

What would it mean for multibrand boutiques and department stores sending men’s wear buyers to shows in July? Would they send them again in September? “I don’t know,” Mr. Bizzarri said with a laugh, though given that 82 percent of Gucci’s 2015 sales were in their own stores — and that ready-to-wear accounts for only 11 percent of its sales — perhaps it does not matter.

Still, despite all the uncertainty, he said the decision was easy to make. “It just seemed obvious,” he said. “It’s clear something needs to change. Why not start with this?”

It remains to be seen whether other Kering brands like Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, all of which show on both the men’s and women’s wear schedules, will follow suit. Right now, the group is treating Gucci as a test case, which may only add to the general confusion.

“It would be one thing if it all changed at once,” Ms. Gilhart said. “But everyone’s going off in different directions. It’s like the wild, wild West.”