Fashion on a Gender Bender

As we near the end of the men’s fashion shows which conclude on Sunday in Paris, and prepare for the coming weeks of women’s fashion, I realize that men cannot be considered second class citizens any more, at least as it pertains to la mode. There seems to be less of a distinction between the two with men appropriating women’s clothing and women doing the same to menswear. The transition (yes, that is the word) from male style to female is almost seamless now and will become more so in the coming years as androgyny and gender bending grow ever more commonplace. With awards going to actors who are either transgendered themselves, or who play transgendered roles on TV getting to be the norm (Laverne Cox in “Orange is the New Black,” and Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent”); Obama mentioning the transgender community in his State of the Union speech (the first ever such mention); as well as rumors that a former triathlon winner/former Kardashian spouse may or may not be transitioning (Bruce Jenner) see cover of In Touch Magazine , this is becoming the new norm.

Androgyny at Gucci

Along with the announcement of Frida Giannini’s replacement at Gucci: former head of accessories Alessandro Michele, who supposedly put a men’s show in Milan together in a week (Project Runway designers: listen up!) critics said they noticed a “notable aesthetic departure from Ms. Giannini’s work” which seemed “directed at a younger and more sartorially adventurous consumer.” This description may be referring to several “androgynous looks, including ruffled silk blouses, lace and cropped fur jackets” walking the runway, according to Vanessa Friedman at The New York Times.

Anna Dello Russo in Saint Laurent men’s poncho

Last season I had noticed a gradual blurring of the lines in some of the designers collections (for instance Anna Sui) who feature both male and female models on the runway. Indeed the style and articles of clothing as well as the models themselves sharing physical characteristics became almost interchangeable as if there was only one gender. Of course, I attributed this to the styles of the sexy ’70s, back in a big way for spring 2015; possibly the last time that the androgyny issue raised its unisex head. Many of the male models flirted with the David Bowie/ Mick Jagger/Marc Bolan glitter rock aesthetic. As Ray Davies of The Kinks put it “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls, it’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world.” To further illustrate that notion I just read that Anna dello Russo and Chiara Ferragni both wore items from Saint Laurent’s menswear lines to Milan Fashion Week. (link)

A Fashion Week Attendee Gets Attention
(Photo Laurel Marcus)

All of this got me thinking about something else I saw during last September’s fashion week.  It was not something on the runway, but on an equally influential fashion week attendee. Standing on the Lincoln Center Plaza was a young woman in a pale pink float-y chiffon like frock. What was notable was her choice of footwear. I didn’t realize it at the time but later research showed she was wearing a pair of shoes from the Riccardo Tisci x Nike Air Force 1 collab (the white high boot limited edition); the perfect combination of hard and soft, yin and yang, masculine and feminine. I snapped a quick photo, as did many photographers, as I turned to leave, later thinking it was among the best looks I’d seen all day. It turns out that RT was a young basketballer growing up in Italy ( playing the sport from the age of 7 until he was 15 when he injured his knee) who idolized the American brand and consequently has worn white Nike Air Force 1’s with his all black everything for the past 15 years. Seeing him taking his end of the runway bow in them made Nike approach him for the collaboration. ” Being a European person, what you dream of when you think of America is all of these iconic things—the flag, which I am obsessed with, and collect personally. You have Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Nike, many things for you that are quite normal. But for an outsider, these things are so beautiful, strong, and powerful. ” he said when interviewed. He thanked Nike for actually giving him a “blank sheet of white paper” in terms of the carte blanche to design the shoes.

Riccardo Tisci x Nike boots at NYFW

Tisci made three different colorways (white, black and a “band-aid” tan) of the same shoes (Low, Mid, High and Boot); each color having a separate release date (March, April and October 2014) and although he says he strove to make them accessible, around-the-block lines to purchase the shoe and its relative scarcity drove a frenzy.

Rihanna in Riccardo Tisci x  Nike

After thinking about the footwear (if I dream about it enough and it’s not monumentally expensive I try to make it happen), as well as seeing various versions on my style icon Rihanna, I eventually scored a pair of the AF1 gladiator boots in white on eBay. (Incidentally, there are currently a few sizes still available in the white as well as the black boots). Mine were from a shoe store in the mid-west, selling at regular retail price. To my delight they came undisturbed and packed with literal pounds of paper stuffing all the way up the leg; the huge black & white box complete with extra black leather laces and accompanied by their original regulation mesh tote bag featuring an eagle on one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other. In urban slang, they’re “gangsta” meaning “awesome.” (see here) .  The only bad thing is that they are quite time consuming to put on so, at least for me, I must commit to wearing them all day. Although there is a back zipper to theoretically enable the ease of entry, I find that it is necessary to loosen all the laces in order to accommodate my high instep, and then tighten them back up once they’re on. The good about that is I can definitely work up a sweat just getting into these bad boys; no need to actually partake in physical activity like basketball in order to burn calories.

A black pair on Naomi Campbell

Like anything distinctive and different they are not for everyone. Perhaps they are an acquired taste? Comments on various websites announcing their impending arrival ranged from those calling them “pro-wrestling boots” (I can see that), to posing the question “When did Nike start selling artificial limbs?” and “When’s the whole bodysuit gonna drop?” as well as the more direct but less creative “Yuck!” and “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Joan Smalls and Riccardo Tisci

Fear of getting them dirty is also a deterrent to wearing them, but Mr. Tisci says not to worry: “… as they get worn in and destroyed they look even better.” As for what outfit to wear them with, its true they look fine with skinny jeans but I definitely prefer the idea of teaming them with more feminine garb just to showcase their unisex vibe. (see here) Sadly, my days in a pleated schoolgirl mini are long over however I’m determined to “out them” with something femme currently “in the closet.”

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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