WHAT THE GROWTH OF MEN'S FASHION WEEK SAYS ABOUT FASHION & GENDER
The luxury menswear market is expected to outpace womenswear by 2020, and so far, this is already looking to come true. This past week, designers Jonathon Anderson and Virgil Abloh were appointed to showcase their Spring 2018 collections at Pitti Immagine in Florence (the world's biggest menswear fair and the apex of men's fashion week), pointing to the way in which this emerging market has become a major source of opportunity for young designers; Anderson and Abloh may now run wildly successful lines with womenswear chapters, but it was their menswear designs that first put their brands on the map and launched their careers. The infamy of names like theirs, as well as rising stars like Grace Wales Bonner and Charles Jeffrey, or unofficial-king-of-minimalism Raf Simons, is an indication of the increasing influence and credibility that menswear is gaining in the fashion industry; that a designer like Simons could end up creating couture for Dior, and now helm Calvin Klein, is proof enough that the "powers that be" are paying attention to men's fashion. But the rise of menswear tells us about more than a simple shift in business and creative ideals - it can also be read as an indication of society's willingness to deviate from previously accepted norms of masculine style.
Despite the historic dynasty of men who have held the top positions in fashion since the industry's inception, the runways have always been considered to be in the domain of female interests. As a result, menswear has - for the most part - not received the same kind of creative attention or penchant for originality until the last decade or so. London was the first major fashion capital to give menswear it's own dedicated show schedule, allotting the collections a single weekend in 2012. This has now evolved into "LCM" (London Collections: Mens) and spans a week biannually, along with men's shows that happen in Paris, New York, and Milan. Within 5 years, men's fashion week has become not only an accepted event on the fashion calendar, but a highly anticipated one; its meteoric expansion indicates that more than ever, male-identifying shoppers are interested in new, creative clothing options, instead of 'just another grey suit.'
The growth of the menswear scene is a tremendous opportunity to continue to dissolve the lines of the gender binary in fashion; many brands have gone so far as to combine collections altogether and run fashion shows with both male and female models. While the collections are still sold separately and appear under gendered monikers, the progression is noteworthy. Likewise, consumers' desire for designer menswear that is avant-garde or unique disrupts the long-held belief that men's fashion - and by extension, masculinity - must adhere to uniformity and simplicity. The playfulness of designers like Charles Jeffrey and his buzzworthy brand Loverboy tells us that the menswear market is ready to challenge normative expressions of masculinity and gendered ideals. Some of the most inventive and iconic evolutions in women's fashion have come from designers' decisions to scrap feminine norms - Coco Chanel's popularization of trousers, Yves Saint Laurent's Le Smoking suits, and Rei Kawakubo's eschewal of body-hugging forms come to mind - and it is reasonable to predict that similar progressions are on the horizon for men's fashion. Here's hoping that in the next 5 years, the arbitrary divisions of menswear and womenswear will also be a thing of the past.
Image c/o J.W.Anderson