Are Men's-Specific Fashion Weeks Swiftly Nearing Extinction?

The Council of Fashion Designers of America may be busy promoting  New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which begins on Monday, but elsewhere in the world, the idea of a men’s-specific week seems to be nearing total extinction. As noted by the New York Times' Vanessa Friedman on Monday morning, Givenchy is going co-ed.

"The first brand owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to join the trend of combining men’s and women’s shows, as embraced by Gucci and by Burberry, among others," new creative director Clare Waight Keller will make her debut in show that consist of menswear and womenswear on October 1 in Paris, per Friedman. 

Yes, Keller’s predecessor, Riccardo Tisci, "showed women’s couture with his men’s ready-to-wear, it was more of an accessory to the men’s collection." 

Add to the growing list of brands distancing themselves from sex-specific shows: Italian design house Antonio Marras, which is another one of the latest to announce that it is doing away with separate gender runway shows. Opting out of the menswear shows last month, the house is showing its mens and womenswear collections together on the same runway, instead. 

"I think it's time to present men and women collections in a single moment," Antonio Marras said when his eponymous label made the announcement. "The two collections are becoming more and more the two faces of the same soul, that together can complete each other.”

And Marras is quite obviously not alone in thinking so. His decision comes after Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Vetements, Burberry, and Public School, among others, recently announced plans to do away with separate men’s and women’s shows. Instead, the aforementioned brands will show both collections on the same runway, cutting their annual shows down from four to two. Prada has shown something similar for several seasons now, combining its women’s pre-fall collections with the corresponding men’s shows.

YSL has been mixing genders on the runway, as well. So, too, has its sister brand, Gucci, under the direction of Alessandro Michele and with the support of Gucci CEO, Marco Bizzarri, who spoke out on the matter last month, noting: “This is a very natural progression. Moving to one show each season will significantly help to simplify many aspects of our business. Maintaining two separate, disconnected calendars has been a result of tradition rather than practicality.”

THERE’S MORE TO THE MOVEMENT THAN THAT

Gucci’s chief executive, Bizzarri, of course, highlighted the practical (as opposed to the creative) implications of combining the collections. And this is not just for Gucci, but for nearly all brands that are struggling to find time to create anywhere between four and eight collections annually. But, there is more to this movement than just purely logistical concerns.

Michele, who has been showing gender-fluid looks since he took the helm of the Italian house last year, spoke to another element at play: the changing landscape of fashion. "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. It will not necessarily be an easy path and will certainly present some challenges, but I believe it will give me the chance to move towards a different kind of approach to my story telling,” he said earlier this year.

This is significant. Much like how today’s consumers are not quite as tied to seasonality as their older counterparts are (or were), gender is certainly not as static as it once was, not only in terms of garments but more importantly, in the world outside of the fashion industry. Transgender Olympian Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair last year. Transgender actresses are cast in major Hollywood roles, and a transgender model even walked the Gucci runway this past January alongside an array of gender-bending models.

Gender is nothing if not a topic of discussion now. In the midst of the rise of such gender-fluid runway shows, North Carolina, for instance, is embroiled in controversy (and a civil rights lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department) following the passage of legislation that prohibits people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. Since its passage in March, North Carolina has become a national battleground on the issue of transgender rights, something that has come to be recognized (and rightfully so) on a much larger scale.

And it seems that North Carolina is not the only one stuck in the past. Strict, traditional gender specifications are just not viewed the same way they were when fashion week was initiated (roughly two centuries ago in Paris and over a half a century ago in New York) and so, why should garments and accessories be limited and/or marketed in such a way? Late music icons Prince and David Bowie, and more recently, fashion brands, such as Gucci under Michele’s creative direction, have been defying traditional gender roles in terms of dress, and making feminine silhouettes and materials more appealing for men.

Raf Simons’s eponymous label, which is technically a menswear brand, has been attracting a growing number of female fans. Unisex collections, such as Rad Hourani's line, are skyrocketing in popularity and the line between menswear and womenswear is arguably less defined than ever before. 

While what is commonly coined as "gender-bending" is viewed as “trendy” when done in the name of fashion, there is, as noted above, more to it than that. Fashion is reflective of the sentiments of society at any given time, after all, and the increasingly widespread acceptance of gender fluidity and a widespread acceptance (although still very much a point of contention, judging by the controversy in North Carolina and the murder rate for transgender individuals) is very real.

However, the runway is showing signs of transformation, which is hopefully representative of a larger phenomenon. According to a recent report by Trendwatching.com, “People of all ages in all markets are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more.”

Interestingly, the focus seems to be less on the suggested gender of any given garment and more on the garment itself. “Ultimately, it is more about beautiful clothes that are rare and special; it is more of a sidebar note that these clothes are stylistically less rigid than what we perceive to conform to a definition of masculine versus feminine,” Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for menswear at Barneys New York said earlier this year. 

With this in mind, it seems that gender-specific shows are rapidly becoming outdated and that the end of the Fashion Week: Men’s-type outings are upon us (at least for the time being). New York, which only just implemented the men’s-specific weeks in 2015, will have to play catch up.