Gender fluidity (or gender neutrality) takes concepts and objects which are usually attributed to being either "male" or "female" and either blends them together or wholly redefines them. A subtle step in this direction was in the make-up and grooming of male models on the runway at London Collections: Men earlier this year.
Since LC:M, make-up on and for men has gathered pace as an emerging mainstream trend, with the passing of all-round icon David Bowie providing a further catalyst. Whether it's a subtle stroke of eyeliner or a pair of bright green eyebrows, the previously blank canvas of the male face has been pushed centre stage with Bowie's passing being an undeniable influence. A reminder not to take oneself too seriously and to challenge societal norms, Bowie inspired Burberry to adorn their male model's cheekbones with glitter and Alexander McQueen accentuated their model's bone structure with heavy eye make-up and exaggeratedly sunken cheekbones.
Off the runway, bloggers and industry heavyweight alike were seen sporting appearance-enhancing products with trends website Mashable tasking their fashion reporter David Yi to wear a different type of make-up every day while he attended LC:M [I wore makeup every day at fashion week]. His various looks received mixed reviews (the green eyebrows being a surprise hit) but have undeniably opened up a wider conversation on conformity, creativity and what it means to be a man in 2016.
With runway shows and department stores (not to mention Kanye West) embracing all manner of skirts, bows and blouses, gender-fluid dressing is no longer a curious aside at the fashion weeks - it's dominating the conversation (just look at Gucci, Rick Owens and Hood by Air).
Burberry's recent announcement that they'll be combining their menswear and womenswear shows into one streamlined collection every season (simply called "Burberry" after the closing of their diffusion lines Burberry London, Burberry Prorsum et al) has called for a seismic shift in the industry and numerous brands (Gucci, notably) have followed suit, seeing great benefit in presenting the world with one clear vision, in lieu of several disjointed collections throughout the year, separated by gender.
It will be interesting to see just how "combined" these collections will be. Will we see male models pummelling the runway in skyscraper heels? Cara Delevingne sashaying around in boxer shorts? Unlikely. What we're likely to be presented with is apparel which is identified as "menswear" on male models, and vice versa for womenswear, with perhaps the odd unisex trench or tee dotted here and there. Which is an OK start, but brings me on to the subject of "genderless" clothing.
As fashion designer Jack Bean sharply points out in his article "Gender-Neutral Clothing is a step backwards - and here's why" for Punk n Disorderly "The problem selling ‘genderless’ clothing is that clothing is ALREADY genderless. T-shirts don’t have genitals (surprise!) and shoes don’t identify as anything but shoes." So, if we are to ignore everything society has taught us about there being simply "men's clothes" and "women's clothes" - just how "genderless" can items of clothing be?
The past few months have seen Selfridges announce "Agender" their concept store which by Faye Toogood which describes itself as "a celebration of fashion without definition" where shoppers can find items based purely on colour, fit and style.
High street giant Zara followed by unveiling a section on their website titled "Ungendered". A rather sad, uninspiring collection of simple T-Shirts and sweatpants which are arguably "ungendered" pieces already in existence (basically what American Apparel has been doing since forever, but not executed as well as AA) and in no way celebrate the true essence of gender neutrality. Zara came under some major scrutiny with online reporters and social media followers accusing them of merely trying to jump on the news agenda, and using gender as a "hot topic" for marketing purposes.
As the fashion industry's rule book slowly but surely gets pushed off the window ledge, as do societal norms. Non-conformity is more than just de rigueur, more than a topical marketing ploy, it's here to stay and to flourish. 2016 has already seen Louis Vuitton announcing Will Smith's 17 year-old son, Jaden Smith as one of the faces of their AW16 womenswear collection. Jaden has been celebrated in the media for the past years for his fashion choices and opinions on gender fluidity, even wearing a dress to his own prom.
Identity as a whole, not just gender identity, is more talked about now than ever before. We as people have more ways of expressing our internal selves externally than any generation before us. Self-expression is celebrated, even encouraged and regardless of whether or not you loathe the term "gender fluidity", the concept is doing incredible things for human rights, for widespread acceptance and in my book, anything that makes anyone feel more comfortable in their own skin is ultimately a force for good.
An abridged version of this article is featured in Frank PR's trend report "The Peek". Read the full report here: http://www.joomag.com/magazine/the-peek/0960042001462871574