Androgyny, despite remaining a dominant trend of the modern era, is certainly no twenty-first century creation. Since the 1920s, the fashion industry has provided a dynamic forum in which stifling gender boundaries have undergone constant challenge. Thanks to the likes of Hepburn and Chanel, your wardrobe will never again be free from girlfriend invasion. Long gone are the days where chivalry robbed you of your coat. Nowadays we want your jacket, your jumper, your jeans and your scarf.
Yet, before you start security tagging your American Apparel, you may wish to remember this is not a one-way street. From David Bowie’s make-up to David Beckham’s sarong, influential men have done more than flirt with the idea of androgyny. Now fast becoming a dominant concept in modern-day menswear, who do the women have to blame for the many man-worn deep V’s and tight jeans which rival our own? Of the many guilty culprits, Raf Simons is under our current observation.
Born in Belgium in 1968, Simons broke into menswear fashion during 1995, after only a few years of self-study. His collection ‘Raf Simons’, presented in Paris biannually, has long been defined by reference to youth culture. Simons stated in Wound Magazine that his collection aims to “capture the budding spirit” of a young boy on his journey into becoming a mature man. Such spirit is inherently linked with youthful experimentation, sexuality of which plays a huge part. Simons continues his exploration through ‘Raf by Raf Simons’ launched in 2006.
As Creative Director for womenswear label Jil Sander (2005-2012), androgyny has become an unavoidable feature of Simons’ designs. Here, masculinity and femininity are united through the creation of empowering garments that are designed for corporate women of the twenty-first century.
Commended though these collections are, it is his latest womenswear endeavour that has thrown the fashion world into frenzy. Since appointed as Dior’s creative director this April, all eyes have been on Simons to see how the designer would balance such conceptually clashing collections. The fashion industry flocked to Paris to witness Simons’ most anticipated shows to date, the spring collection for his highly respected menswear line (27th June) and the designer’s haute couture Dior debut (2nd July).
Youthful sportswear and classic tailoring filled the Raf Simons runway, demonstrating his unwavering loyalty to his early inspirations. However, of all features, androgyny was predominant. Tim Blanks of Style.com was not alone in suggesting that such must be attributable to Simons’ most recent of roles.
Describing the designer as “an aficionado of the masculine/feminine hybrid”, Blanks asserts that Simons’ Dior appointment was clear in his menswear collection. Shorts featured suggestive slits, oversized T-shirts were decorated with bold painted faces, and a seemingly simple tailored coat was given an androgynous edge by sealing parts of a pleated floral sundress to its front.
In asserting that “the conversation between the Dior woman and the Raf man has already started”, Blanks predicts that the dominance of androgyny evident in Simons’ menswear would be mirrored during his Dior designs. No mean feat when one considers the feminine frills and elaborate embellishments so often associated with the house of Dior. In a room superfluously covered with individual flowers, Simons described the setting as almost a metaphor for the entire collection – a long cry away from any ounce of androgyny. However, as the show began, Simons’ gender blending magic was evidently present. In the same way that Simons manages to inject femininity into his menswear while preserving the lines’ inherent masculinity, he strips Dior back to basics. Clean lines and powerful structures dominated the show, in what Alber Elbaz described as a “marriage between a designer and a house”.
So what does this latest marriage mean for the future of male fashion and the safety of women’s wardrobes? Simons has indicated that conversation across the gender divide has always been two-way. His Dior appointment therefore, will do little to bring this ‘conversation’ to an end. Despite this, Simons maintains that in many ways his preoccupation with androgyny would have existed irrespective of his womenswear roles, as he’d noticed that there was “a slackening of the constraints on how men are expected to dress” amongst the younger generations. Paying homage to his roots, Simons affirms that his connection with youth will always be the inspiration behind his menswear collections. For now, we hope for our sakes that our mini-skirts are safe.
Elizabeth H. Neep