Are Mixed Gender Shows the End of Men’s Fashion Weeks?

As more brands combine their men’s and women’s shows, what is the future of standalone men’s fashion weeks?

LONDON, United Kingdom — Of the many changes brands are making to the fashion week formula, one approach seems to be sticking: mixed-gender catwalk shows.

Starting in September, Burberry and Bottega Veneta will combine their men’s and women’s collections into one show, held on the women’s show schedule. In 2017, Gucci will follow suit and Tommy Hilfiger has announced plans to “eventually” do the same.

Meanwhile, Zegna, Calvin Klein, Brioni, Cavalli, Costume National, and Ermanno Scervino have all opted not to host shows at Milan menswear week in June, leaving the men’s schedule noticeably empty. Zegna and Calvin Klein will skip this season as they change designers, while Brioni will show at women’s couture week in Paris instead. In Paris, Balenciaga’s first menswear show will bolster the schedule, though both Berluti and Saint Laurent will be absent this season.

For brands, mixed-gender shows have some advantages. First, there are the costs saved by hosting one show rather than two. Some designers also conceive their men’s and women’s collections from the same ideas and inspirations, so showing them together makes sense from a creative standpoint (although some major houses employ different creative leaders for their men’s and women’s businesses). And in some stores, menswear and womenswear are merchandised together, so it is helpful for buyers to view them together on the runway.

So how will mixed-gender shows impact men’s fashion weeks, especially fledgling weeks like London Collections: Men, which launched in 2012, and New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which launched last year? Without blockbuster shows by brands like Burberry, will these events still pull in international buyers and editors? BoF spoke to a handful of industry insiders to find out.

Steven Kolb, president & chief executive officer, CFDA

“The validity of New York Fashion Week: Men’s is still strong. It might not be the giant animal that other men’s fashion weeks have been or are — or might not be much longer. But it has a valid purpose and I don’t see that going away. There are so many brands that are singularly men’s, which feed off the trade show schedule and see the value of being in the market. There is still a validity for NYFW: Men’s in terms of feeding talent that is new and young.

What I see happening, though, is this blur between collections. I see a shift to ‘seasonless’ ideas. What I think is going to happen is you’ll see men’s shows now having women’s collections, you’ll see men’s and women’s together, you’ll see men’s going into women’s, you’ll see brands going off Spring and Fall and into Pre-Collections. I think we’ll find ourselves not even saying Pre-Fall, Fall, Resort anymore, but going with what some brands are already doing: Collection 1, Collection 2, Collection 3.”

Caroline Rush, chief executive officer, British Fashion Council

“Having designers question pre-conceived notions of gender or simply recognising that menswear collections are appealing to a female consumer is a trend that continues. Craig Green, for example, has started using female models to show his collections in order to appeal to his pre-existing female clients. Showing menswear and womenswear alongside each other on the runway when you have one creative director helps to build a cohesive brand. The prevalence of womenswear in the summer men’s shows also works in terms of timings [due to the] menswear shows’ crossover with Pre-Collections sales times.

Having said that, we are keen that this doesn’t eclipse the fact that we have significant menswear-only businesses and leading menswear talent in London, and that this is being promoted accordingly to reach a growing market segment. We also recognise that blending shows does cause challenges for audiences that may not traditionally travel to menswear shows. We take this point seriously and are exploring new ways in which we can work with audiences to make this work or deliver exclusive content around the shows.”

Vanessa Friedman, fashion director & chief fashion critic, The New York Times

“Mixed-gender shows may be the end of men’s fashion weeks as we have known them for the last two years — i.e. as a week each in London, New York, Milan and Paris. What I would expect is that more brands that sell both men’s and womenswear will begin to buy into the economic and creative logic of showing both lines together. This will probably pump up the women’s schedule, which is already longer and more populated than men’s, and thus has a certain magnetic pull, though it could also have beneficial fall-out for Pre-Collections (Public School will have its unified show during Resort in New York this month).

What it may do, however, is put an end to the men’s weeks in London and New York, which are the youngest of the bunch (despite the fact Sibling has just announced it is showing its unified lines during London Collections: Men, which complicates things further). However, brands that sell only menswear will still need an outlet and a fashion week of their own, and it may not make sense for them to show during womenswear. My guess is the unexpected beneficiary of all this will be Pitti Uomo in Florence.”

Josh Peskowitz, co-founder, Magasin

“Mixed gender shows aren’t the end of men’s fashion shows, but they will redefine fashion weeks. Most of the big houses don’t only do men’s, so if they all combine it will change the scheduling of the weeks. The amount of shows left over wouldn’t be enough to merit the investment in travel. If the schedule does shift to the dates of men’s (which would be better for women’s buyers as well) then we will have to consider the economic and logistical repercussions of the move. New York, Milan and Paris hotels are already packed, not to mention the show venues. Having both sides of the industry in the same cities at the same time would be very hard to navigate. Will there be enough cars to hire? Enough hotel rooms? Enough seats? Who gets precedence?

Since fashion shows are just as much marketing as a tool for editorial and retail, it makes sense to get a bigger impact for the investment. So from the brands’ perspective it seems to me like a win. I don’t think it would necessarily lessen editorial coverage of the men’s shows, but readers and consumers would not necessarily have the bandwidth to sift through all the info.”

Suzy Menkes, international editor, Vogue

“For 22 years, I did the men’s shows as well as the women’s shows when virtually nobody else was doing that. And then, suddenly, the men’s collections flowered and became immensely important. I think they’re now going to be reduced back to a natural state of things. I certainly think that Zegna, which is a real example of men’s clothing, is completely different from a brand that does men’s and women’s like Gucci. So I don’t know how you divide those up, but I’d say leave more room, more space for the genuine menswear companies and combine the others.”

Justin O’Shea, creative director, Brioni

“I think having men and women together is more positive than negative. The women’s industry moves at a far faster rate than the men’s industry. I think that the more youthful, enthusiastic excitement and more fun in the women’s industry is something that men’s doesn’t have as much.

I think the best part about LC:M is that it’s the new generation of men’s fashion week. It’s all young designers, it’s ultimately creative — the commerciality of it is probably something that will develop over time, but it’s still something that is very exciting. Just look at the difference: LC:M is exciting; Milan men’s fashion week is boring. That’s not any detriment to the brands, but maybe some people need a kick in the ass — can you survive during the same thing or do you need to move along a little?

Whether LC:M should be on the same schedule as London women’s fashion week, I think that is a really interesting idea — whether the show schedule can hold men and women together. Maybe then fashion weeks should be like, ‘Should all shows be on schedule?’”

Tim Blanks, editor-at-large, The Business of Fashion

“What will be very interesting is how you combine the media. That’s probably the challenge — does that mean more work for less journalists?

I think combining men’s and women’s shows makes sense when you see collections like Gucci, because the compatibility of the two collections is so great. The same with Helmut Lang, back in the olden days — you can never imagine those collections being split. It will create interesting synchronicities that don’t exist right now.

But then you’re into all that stuff about deliveries. We’re looking at rationalisation on so many levels right now, and [everyone showing on the men’s timings in January and June] would seem to be quite a sensible one.”

Angelo Flaccavento, fashion journalist

“To me it makes perfect sense in terms of creative vision and timing, too. It can be a bit tricky in terms of press, because there are two separate outlets — menswear and womenswear magazines. But there are also less and less differences between men and women. Most collections just carry on the same inspiration, so it makes perfect sense.”

Kevin Harter, vice president & men’s fashion director, Bloomingdale’s

“Selfishly, I love having a fashion week where men’s is the focus. I’ve seen it so many times where men’s has had to take the back seat. But I understand what’s going on in the market. The reality is we’re going to see more people combining their shows — and even more importantly, showing their clothing in more unique ways. I think that’s what we’re all preparing for. There’s a real element of the unknown out there right now.”

Bosse Myhr, Director of Menswear, Selfridges

“The key point of interest for me is a new sense of fluidity and freedom in the industry. All formats are relevant now — and increasingly designers can find their own way and on their own terms. There was a point when people thought fashion shows would be a thing of the past in the digital age — when this format is now more dynamic, accessible and engaging than ever before. Men’s fashion weeks are a valuable platform — flexibility and new ideas can only bring new and expanded opportunities.”