The fashion industry has always been divided in two. To my left, collections and other Fashion Weeks say for women; on my right, those designed for these gentlemen. But for some time now, a revival has been blowing on the industry, tearing it away from its ancestral binary character. Welcome to the non-gendered future of fashion.
The Paris Fashion Week ready-to-wear starts this Tuesday, September 29, and we can already expect to see some trans mannequins tread the podiums. The world of fashion has just experienced a small revolution, with some of its actors having fun pushing the confusion of genres further than ever.
But if we put this gender-fluid wave in perspective, we realize that it comes from far, very far even. Decryption of this phenomenon, which could become much more than just a trend.
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It all starts with androgyny. Many icons have made their spearhead: Coco Chanel and his boyish look of course, in the early twentieth century, but also Marlene Dietrich, Lauren Bacall, or the British icon Twiggy, who appropriated the male codes In the 60s.
The men are not left out: after the extravagant pianist Liberace in the 50s, Mick Jagger cultivated an androgynous look in the late 60s, followed closely by David Bowie. If the latter plays a look tinged with femininity in 1971 (shortly before the release of his 1972 album The Man Who Sold The World), his famous character Ziggy Stardust will push the jamming genres to the extreme.
Through these celebrities, and many others, androgyny gradually infuses into pop culture. And some creators will largely be inspired. In 1985, the great lover of counterculture Jean Paul Gaultier presents his skirt for men. The following year, Yves Saint Laurent attacks the feminine side with his creation of the Smoking, a suit for women.
The models who present the collections are then cisgender androgynous: if the women marching for YSL present certain masculine traits, they are nevertheless defined as women.
Gradually, the boundaries of the genre continue to fade one after the other. To the point that the 2010s are marked by the rise of trans mannequins. “It’s certainly a contemporary trend, but it’s not new,” says Maxime Foerster, author of Elle ou lui? A history of transsexuals in France.
This is because previously, some gender-fluid individuals had already marched to present collections of the opposite sex to theirs.
Some names have become known. This is the case of Michel Marie Poulain, a French painter who defined himself as a woman, and having parade while managing to conceal his real sex during the inter-war period.
Karine Espineira, an academic specializing in gender studies and author of La transidentité: from the media space to the public space, also reminds us that: “There is nothing to tell us that transgender models did not march through without us even know. “
To be a transgender model, you had to deceive and hide. The creators initiated a small revolution in the world of catwalk by intentionally engaging men to present their women’s collections, and vice versa.
In 2010 already, the Brazilian top Lea T had become the face of Givenchy, parading on the catwalk in the midst of resplendent young women. Two years later, she underwent surgical operations of sexual reassignment, before becoming the face of Redken in 2014.
Then she goes back to Givenchy, presenting the Fall-Winter 2014 collection. In the meantime, her strong media coverage has propelled her to the rank of new darling of the media.
In parallel, the Bosnian model Andrej Peijic follows a similar trajectory, scrolling as well to present collections masculine and feminine. It also marks the spirits on the occasion of the parade of the collection Spring-Summer 2011 Jean Paul Gaultier, wearing the wedding dress, flagship piece of the collection.
She then added an “a” to her name in 2014, after she also passed into the hands of surgeons. Then she marked the story of a milestone by becoming the first officially transsexual model to be featured in US Vogue in May 2015. The fashion magazine has devoted four full pages to her.
Note also that last June, the highly publicized Hari Nef created the event by becoming the first transgender to integrate the uber-famous modeling agency IMG Worldwide, as recalled Vogue.
A tendency to persist
Lea T, Andreja Peijic and Hari Nef are the most famous cases, but they are far from isolated. In general, transgender mannequins are more and more numerous.
But transgender women are not left out. This is what former swimmer Casey Legler has highlighted, becoming the first to sign a contract as a male model, with Ford Models.
Multiple signals indicate that the trend is becoming more and more important. Last summer, the modeling agency Apple Model Management even opened a branch in Los Angeles only employing transgender individuals, as reported by The Advocate.
For Karine Espineira, there is therefore a “transgender wave in fashion”:
Although this inscription can experience ebb and flow according to the spirit of each era, it settles for a long time.
For his part, Maxime Foerster confirms: “It is rather a movement of substance than an ephemeral trend.”
The barriers of the genre seem to break one after the other. While cisgender androgens are no longer transgressive, transgender people (and even transsexuals) are now occupying the space in their margins. A new zeitgeist is born, has just taken its first steps, and may one day succeed in establishing itself as a new standard.
But nothing is played so far: while the fashion of transgender has been talking a lot about it for some time, it still remains largely a minority in the fashion industry.
It is also often confined to relatively underground environments where money does not flow. This is what Raya Martigny, a young Parisian gender-fluid posing as a female model, mentions, which can be found on several pages in the last issue of WAD magazine:
I have worked with artists, students of Fine Arts, young designers and clothing designers, for music video clips … Despite this, it does not really pay for living.
Apart from a few transgender models who have managed to break through internationally, it is true that most still struggle to afford real wages through their profession. But patience: this new movement, which aims a complete jamming between genres, is needed a little more each day and seems to echo the creators.
Towards a unisex fashion industry?
Noting the importance and evidence of this phenomenon, trend makers have reacted accordingly. While some labels such as Jean Paul Gaultier, As Boys, Rick Owens or Rad Hourani have long broken gender barriers, in recent months, more and more giants of textile and fashion are multiplying initiatives. and gradually contribute to erase the notion of gender within the fashion industry.
Last March, the large UK chain Selfridges announced the arrival of Agender, an ephemeral and experimental department that exclusively offers unisex clothing. For its part, the online store The Corner has chosen to launch “No Gender”, a collection of clothing and accessories designed for both sexes.
During the last Milan Fashion Week, houses as classic and famous as Prada or Gucci presented collections as well made for lady as for gentleman: on the catwalk of Gucci, now governed by Alessandro Michele, the men paraded in blouses of tight-fitting lace alongside women dressed in ample costumes.
Some young creators have made this non-genre their DNA. Among them, J. W. Anderson, Public School, Teflar Clemens or Hood By Air, true leader of this movement. At each fashion show, the New York brand founded by Shayne Oliver creates fascination and confusion, both his creations and his models disregard any notion of the genre - thanks to Boychild, fetish model of the creator.
Initiatives still too rare
Iris Marchand observes that if, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the confusion of genres seems to have gained ground, reducing sex stereotypes to archaic and obsolete concepts, the road ahead is still long.
If we take a step back, the institutions and other creators who manage to overcome the classic and gendered codes of this huge industry, like Selfridges, HBA, Andrea Crews or Maison Marchand Mustafa, remain only one tiny minority. Especially in the Hexagon. Maroussia Rebecq also reminds us:
France capitalizes on its image of Paris-capital-of-creation and its Parisian style, chic and timeless. That’s good, but it is very far behind in terms of innovation.
At a time when the question of sexual identity continues to arise in our societies, it may be time to spend the second.