Gender is the talk of fashion right now. Through history, high heels were first the exclusivity of men, while dresses, tunics, and other similar garments were, for centuries, strictly non-female clothing, as it is still the case in certain cultures.
If women embracing androgyny is nothing new, men engaging with feminine sartorial dressing feels more noteworthy. Fluidity has been on the forefront as we have seen new initiatives emerge such as Selfridge’s Agender, a concept store foregoing gender distinction, or Zara’s gender neutral collection. Jayden Smith, the teenage celebrity brilliantly bending gender norms, was chosen by Louis Vuitton as the new face of their womenswear collection while rising designers such as Hood by Hair and Rad Hourani have claimed a unisex identity since their inception. On the catwalk, several collections have exampled a new representation of masculinity in the last seasons. Think of Grace Wales Bonner, the new London-based design sensation and her heavily ornamented menswear collections, or Gucci’s last breakthrough seasons using mixed models, as well as Dries Van Noten, Burberry, and St Laurent displaying floral patterns, sheer fabrics, silk, lace, and embroidery in a menswear aesthetic Mick Jagger, Prince, or David Bowie would have embraced.
Pedram Karimi, an internationally acclaimed designer based in Montreal, has been leading his name-sake brand for 4 years without gendering his clothes. “I call it gender-free,” explains the designer, who trained at the London College of Fashion (LCF) and the International LaSalle College. “When I started it, I didn’t really think of a man or a woman. My interest was on the more sentimental, feminine side. I didn’t put women in menswear, I did the opposite,” he states. Unlike the aforementioned designers, Karimi is a minimalist. “My design has no gender. It is free of attachment, you can wear it the way you want […]. The client has to be a daring to understand it because I don’t want to give them any instruction. They have to do it their own way,” he explains. “Usually, the people who wear my clothes have a stronger personality. They know what they want and they want to be more in charge in terms of the way they see the clothes. They are not waiting for someone to tell them if a tunic should be worn as a dress or with pants, belted or not, etc.”
In terms of the constraint for design, since the range is wider, there will always be different bodies. “Whether you cut mens or womenswear, guys have problems with certain fits, so do women. You need to meet in the middle,” says Karimi, who uses rather athletic mannequins for his sample size. According to him, minds are changing constantly about femininity. “A few years ago, people were claiming that they would never wear something, but now that they have seen it around, they do,” Karimi recalls. “I was showing it to stores such as Holt Renfrew and they would say, ‘this is womenswear and way too future for us. We can’t sell this yet.’ Now, it’s catching on and you see a lot of menswear that is very soft, more delicate.”
The new talk is men’s fashion week to be integrated into women’s. Fashion houses like Saint Laurent and Burberry dropped out of the men’s fashion week. Instead, Gucci, Vêtements, and Burberry are now producing a unique show for both collections. Where does this trend originate from? There is now more important exposure to gender fluidity through the rise of the queer movement and trans visibility, especially with youth culture. “Everything starts with the young people. They are the ones who dare to wear,” declares Karimi. By doing so, these young fashion consumers are proving that wearability is a construct. According to the designer, there is also another explanation. “Fashion is a cycle. Certain trends and styles come back in the next generation, or about every 20 years there is a turn. Teenage girls want to dress like when their mom was a teen and so do teenage boys. Let’s take the 70s. The 90s happened 20 years later and now this spirit is currently ultra-present in men’s collections, along with softer and more romantic shapes,” says the designer. Fashion is a matter of re-invention that manifests itself through the times, technology, and innovation.
Does the mixed-gender ideal has a future? “There are not many designers who do this gender neutrality fully even though they say they do,” says Karimi. Even though it is a rising trend, it is still not popular in the mainstream. “Men are becoming more fashion conscious and experiment more than before. Also, our world is becoming more aware, more conscious, and more sensitive, which all can result in a softer, feminine approach towards menswear. Fashion is so strong socially. It is a result of what happens in the world socially and politically and I feel good to be a messenger of this ongoing dialogue.” As change comes with exposure, and the more exposure, the more accepted a matter becomes. At the end of the day, it is all up to the individual to want to pull down the barriers and have the need to do what feels genuine and honest.