Thursday, January 20, 2011

Decoding : Sex and other fashion considerations

Raquel Zimmerman in 2009
 If we could sum up fashion with only one word, a word that would explain at the same time its existence and its gist, I think that the word body would be satisfying. No flesh, no bones = no clothes. And yet, body is something Fashion is always trying to hide the reality, as clothes hide the skin. It's a scandal each time creators or photographers reveal the body of a female model. But a naked woman in a fashion magazine, what it is ? Sex, art or a joke ? Indeed, how bare skin could sell clothes ? Some stylists have found the antidote to this problem : they added a naked man next to the dressed woman. But still. The sex disturbs. But sex is intimately related to fashion. We choose our style depending on our sex and on the sex we want to seduce. Reductive ? Yes, especially for the heads of marketing. If we didn't have a sex, we could buy more clothes. No more choice between menswear and womenswear, but an infinity of possibilities. And here enters androgyny. The concept exists in the industry for a while, but at the beginning, it was mainly a deliberate transgression from designers and stylists who liked their tea with a bit of provocation. Among them is Jean-Paul Gaultier. Already in 2009, he has stricken our imagination with his A/W 2009 campaign which was showing two different versions of model Raquel Zimmerman. Stunning.
Andrej Pejic and Martin Cohn
 But, in June 2010, he struck harder. In the catwalk, a tall and seducive blond is walking, her ciggy carelessly lit in her hand. She looks at the public with arrogance. But this blond beauty, who is showing the designer's latest womenswear collection, is not a woman. It is Andrej Pejic, a 18 years old Aussie boy. We must say that Andrej is working a lot on his androgynous look : long hair, ambiguous clothes and girly pout. He could fool the jury of Miss World for sure. Same with the porcelain doll's face of Martin Cohn, who is now one of the most booked male models and who recently have reached the rank of It boy. Men are stripping, but their bodies are not sexed at all. They met the ancient Greece ideal : effeminate posture, children's innocent faces and invisible genitals. Long-past, the male body seems to be made for womanhood. In ancient theatre, the actors could easily play the part of a girl and in opera, castrato were more celebrated than female singers. We can find more easily men who cross-dress rather than women. But if it is easier for them to slip on our clothes, then, perhaps the female models should start to worry. Male models can parade for both collections, but can female models do the same ?
Tilda Swinton and Lady Gaga
 Probably, but it is not certain. Nowadays, models look more like fragile little girls rather than strong little boys. Some already have embraced the boyish trend, such as Agyness Deyn and Freja Beha Erichsen, but most of their female colleagues balk at cutting their long sylph hair. In other professions, some are less cautious. In cinema, actresses have cross-dressed for a long time : Sarah Bernhardt in L'Aiglon, Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim, Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria, Barbara Streisand in Yentl, Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, Hilary Swank for Boys don't cry and more recently, we have to remember the stunning performance of Cate Blanchett as rocker Bob Dylan. If actors cross-dress for comedy ( Some like it Hot, Mrs Doubtfire, Hairspray ), actresses have always drama roles. There is something melancholic in seeing a woman dressed as a man. See the famous pictures of Lady Gaga for Vogue Japan. No smile, but solemnity. The feminists will protest, but it looks like women can't easily be men. To my knowledge, Tilda Swinton is the only one woman who can brag to do campaigns for both womenswear and menswear at Pringle of Scotland. With her unusual look and her boyish style, she can easily be mistaken for a man.
David Bowie, Brian Molko and Miyavi
 Then, men still have the advantage here. But for our defense, it is just because they have a leg up. Men started to work on their androgynous look in the 70s. It is something usual in the music industry. We can't do an article about androgyny without mentioning David Bowie. Many other singers have played with their ambiguity, such as Brian Molko, the singer of rock band Placebo. But when it comes to Japan, it is a real institution : Visual Kei, a specific kind of rock, have very strict codes of appearances, and fan girls are worshiping singers and musicians with feminine appearances. The roots of this trend date back to Kabuki theatre. Theatre, Music, Cinema, Fashion : it is a permanent loop and the trend of androgyny is not going to disappear. Ancient Greece's philosopher Plato thought that, at the beginning of the world, there were no male nor female. We were one, and the gods decided to cut us in two distinct sexes in order to have peace. An idea that facinates so much we can't get rid of it, and even, in our modern world, eager of novelties, starts to establish itself as the new norm.
Gisele Bundchen for Balenciaga and Ben Grimes for Grazia Magazine
 So, in the future, will we ask ourselves "To be sexed or not to be ?". Science-fiction promised us cold creatures in androgynous jumpsuits. Are we going to sacrify the dresses to the suits forever ? Some brands already started to launch collections wearable by both men and women, such as Acne and The Kooples. In many new campaigns and photoshots, models are masculine. With the increase of women at the head of fashion houses and magazines, is it a sign of power ? Or is erasing sex a way to have more sex ? Bisexuality is staying discreet but some defend it as the It sexuality. I don't think there is an It sexuality, as I think that there is not one sexuality. And not one fashion either. Because the human being is not only one thing. There always will be aestheticism and free will. Two other words that can also perfectly describe fashion ...
Model of Danielle Scutt Womenswear A/W 2010 collection
Third Sex ( 3eme Sexe )


  1. Fantastic post. I have the same thoughts as you. Androgyny is so interesting and I think it just depends on your own style and opinions on how you want to look as a woman / man. It is great that Swinton has modelled for both men and women's wear but as you say, there are only a limited number of women who can do this and really pull it off. I think it also has something to do with the fact that men need only extra padding and a less-tight skirt so as not to show off their manly 'attributes!' But women would need their breasts strapping down or just to wear baggy clothes if they were wanting to look completely like a man. So maybe this is off-putting to some.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading that post. It was very interesting!


  2. Thanks for reading and for commenting ! Glad you like it :)

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