It was the pussy bow blouses in Alessandro Michelle’s debut collection for Gucci’s spring/summer menswear show back in 2015 that poetically ushered in the era of androgyny in men’s fashion. Permanently. This remarkable feminine infused show, replete with floral embroidery, lace tops, frilled collars, flyway blouses and grilled lurex tops saluted vintage Bowie, while the milkiest of silks imbued with delicate chinoserie and cherry blossoms made machismo seem like a stale fruit from seasons past. Joyous and radiant colours like buttercup yellow, scarlet, pink and violet blurred the lines of gender with a breathless whisper that emerged from the crevices of a soul that had decided to shun what the original idea of being male was. This fluidity carried with it an ease, or an alleviare as the Italians would say. In a world that now seemed to be teetering on the edge of chaos, it felt almost mandatory to alleviate the male consciousness to something romantic and…girly.
Androgyny in fashion is not a new thing. Men’s clothing has influenced women’s fashion for centuries and Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo, scandalous when it first appeared on the Paris runway in 1966, is now considered one of the sexiest looks a woman can sport, pipping even cellophane-like skin tight dresses by Versace and Balmain to the post. But this emancipation of women through fashion began way back in 1913 when Coco Chanel, perhaps deeply influenced by the suffrage movement that demanded equality for women, introduced masculine silhouettes, and shockingly, trousers for women. Later, pop icons like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna made androgyny mainstream and in the 1980s, the supreme Japanese triumvirate of Rei Kawakubo, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto played with shape and form so drastically that they reduced the notion of gender to a divisive hateful thing that would forever wage wars between male and female. People came and went like meteors and comments, dazzling us with their originality, chutzpah and bravado, but nothing seemed to stick. Until now.
Fashion for both women and men has morphed and metamorphosed into a gazillion things since then, but never has the world been more open and responsive to the inclusion of so many other genders than it is now. Transgender, cisgender, agender, genderqueer, nonbinary and androdyne are all a part of our daily lexicon and when Gucci, one of the world’s biggest and best fashion houses, decided to present androgynous fashion season after season, it became obvious that this wasn’t a fashion gimmick or some high concept trickery. This was life.
Garments such as a salwar or dhoti are unisex. We see men opting for kurtas. It’s been happening for ages, it’s just that today we sit and take notice of it. Androgynous clothing can be our biggest contribution to fashion as a generation, where we break stereotypes of how women and men are perceived to dress... RASNA BHASIN, Fashion Blogger
Rasna Bhasin, one of India’s coolest fashion bloggers with an encyclopaedic knowledge about both Indian and international fashion, says, “Gender blending today isn’t just about fashion and clothing, it is way beyond, it is an expressionist movement. While we talk of feminism and equality and topics as such, gender blending plays an extremely important role. With designers embracing the idea of gender being a fluid construct, it is no more limited to a certain group of niche people. In fact, in a nation like ours, garments such as a salwar or dhoti are unisex. Similarly, we see men opting for kurtas. It’s been happening for ages, it’s just that today we sit and take notice of it, we’ve only been less aware of it. Androgynous clothing can be our biggest contribution to fashion as a generation, where we break stereotypes of how women and men are perceived to dress.”
Fashion designer Arjun Saluja has played with gender stereotypes from the beginning of his career. His clothes are an androgynous rendition of dhoti pants, salwar pants, pathani tunics and saris, but his raison d’etre lies in taking the complexities of gender and distilling them to their simplest and most fundamental essence where the concept of he/she becomes almost reductive. Prominent designers like Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Rohit Bal, JJ Valaya and Varun Bahl have flirted with the idea of androgyny by using floral motifs and lungi-inspired skirts in their shows and the gentle shift from masculine to feminine is certainly present in their work.
International designers like Alessandro Michelle, Gosha Rubchinsky, Marques Almeida, The Y-Project and Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, use traditionally female shapes and themes recurringly, season after season, and no longer push the envelope. They write the memo.
India is the land of countless gods and goddesses with malleable and amorphous genders, and their influence has gone way beyond religion and spirituality and deep into the pulsating and ever evolving heart of fashion, from time immemorial. When you know that the kings and the queens who ruled your country both wore variations of the angarkha and the anarkali and lined their eyes with kohl and dusted their cheeks with sandalwood, you understand that the dhoti is the sari and the sari is the dhoti and that ultimately androgyny is just another word for unity and that really is fashion’s fantastic forecast.