Fashion For The ‘Label-less’ Generation
Each mythology has a particular genderless imaginary and in each of them genderlessness is a divine, supernatural feature, gender fluidity being a symbol for mythic or sacred experiences.
In the Philippine culture, for example, the Western difference between man and woman never existed: they considered humankind as one singular species with various social relations to play not necessarily connected to biologic gender. In Hindu mythology there are many gender changing deities manifesting different genders at different times or having an androgynous or hermaphroditic origin. In early Christian and Greek mythologies homosexuality was largely accepted, even though later Christian traditions labelled former homosexual relations as brotherhood and banned all sexual connotations from it. Despite all this historico-mythologic background, Western history of sexuality suppressed sexuality from the 17th to the 20th Century due to capitalism and bourgeois values.
As Michel Foucault proved in his book, The History of Sexuality, The Will to Knowledge, Western societies (who gained global power) manifested a scientific interest in sexuality and prohibited all forms of sexuality that did not fit within the marital bond.
It seems that with the youthquake of the sixties several social movements tried to empower different sexualities and from the eighties gender fluidity took center stage. Still the contemporary conservative turn is not very favorable to preserve previous results. The success of a story like The Handmaid’s Tale proves how strong are the fears connected to the re-establishment of a patriarchal world order. At the same time researches on Gen Z proved that for the first digital native generation gender neutrality is a given and they refuse to think in binaries about human sexual identity and social roles. Which has consequences on our body image: a non-female non-male body has to be redefined in terms of silhouette, in terms of aesthetics, politics and … clothing.
In fashion the first generations taking androgyny seriously were the designers of the golden eighties open to reconstructing the silhouettes of the bourgeois society along with assigning new gender roles and thinking beyond human. For those creators the male/female opposition was so strong that they still thought about ‘genderless’ in a binary manner: they introduced elements of female wardrobe in the one of males’ (Jean-Paul Gaultier’s and Vivienne Westwood’s male skirts) or the opposite (the feminine power suits of Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana), adopted female silhouettes for men (see the triangular body shape rotating from larger shoulders to larger hips and vice versa). Parallelly alienlike androgynous bodies dressed in genderless uniforms appeared in Rick Owens’s or Martin Margiela’s creations or over-shaped human silhouettes in Rei Kawakubo’s or Yohji Yamamoto’s works. All those creations worked with the male/female opposition.
The 2010s brought something new on the scene: the all-encompassing human wardrobe regardless of gender differences. Just think about Alessandro Michele’s Gucci-silhouettes where from the beginning there was no difference between sexes: ironically as Frida Giannini left the company earlier than planned, Alessandro Michele’s first ever show was the 2015 fall-winter menswear collection. On 5th April 2016 Marco Bizzari, the CEO of Gucci announced that the fashion brand is merging its men’s and women’s show. The gesture had a serious impact on the working logic of the fashion industry where men and women shows were scheduled for different fashion weeks. As Michele pointed out: “I’ve always shown ‘men’ in the collection because I don’t see myself as just a womenswear or unisex designer – it’s just for whoever wants it can wear it. It seems only natural to me to present my men’s and women’s collections together. It’s the way I see the world today.” For me the most exciting part of Michele’s affirmation is the naturality with which he’s transcending a very well-established opposition and makes room for a new manner of thinking.
A similarly natural gender fluidity characterizes the works of Telfar Clemens known for “producing androgynous basics with twists”. For him the new approach is not in a different anthropologic conception on human identity, but in an alternative ontology of clothing:
In his recent collection presented on the 9th September in New York he worked again with the idea of elementary clothing, a refreshing back-to-the-basics approach so needed in those times of omnipresent, fake sustainability. Telfar refuses preestablished fashion categories but he’s not refusing sartorial traditions and wellbeing: he uses very classic forms and vivid colors with a strong fashion history.
His contemporary ballerinas worn by women and men are a must have for any human wardrobe: practical and structured, elegant and comfortable, black and white. Telfar’s and Michele’s fashion creations oblige us to rethink some basic obsessions of the contemporary fashion industry and to realize that we can happily leave without them. Those collections are like therapy: we need more of them to free our minds from some tradition-imposed fake convictions.
The whole conception behind those approaches can be resumed in one very commune idea: Gen Z had enough of labelling and they are strongly convinced that if we will finally transcend labels, we’ll have a second chance to save our spoiled societies, spoiled planet and spoiled human condition. I believe them. It is as simple as it sounds.