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?
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, Racked: I 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?
Jill Wenger, Totokaelo: The real design talents will figure out how to make it work.
Eliza Brooke, Racked: I’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?
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, Racked: I’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?
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, Racked: With 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 T magazine’s in-depth interview with Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele.