Four key designers at this season’s LCM – Christopher Shannon, Craig Green, Sibling and Parnell Mooney – have stuck out their chests to give us bras and latticed corsets, as well as strategically placed windows, into which one can peep upon the world of counter androgyny and gender evolution.
It seems ironic / appropriate that an industry where the sexes are split by most designers – in the showing of two entirely separate seasonal outings – is still determined to keep blurring the lines between the two.
The counter observation would be that the outings are becoming less separate – in that most menswear collections now include some female looks. This has not just been a way to present a cohesive creative vision. A great designer doesn’t just split one creative narrative into two executions but it uses the two genders as a layering mechanism – so designs from both lines can engage with one another.
This week, Craig Green did this with spectacular effect – and he used the chest area as the main pull. His show was an evolution. Menswear jackets – worn by men – had their chests encircled in a twisted teat of cloth, which resembled a flat-packed balloon. Women then followed, their chest plates engorged with a flowing lactation of cream silk. The Hans Zimmer Interstellar sound track added a metaphysical undertone; what’s a boy or a girl, anyway? Perhaps if the men had the cream fabric flowing, rather then the girl, one would devise some other metaphor, of courage overflowing…or man as mother. The poetic influence of Japanese designers – such as Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo – can undoubtedly be felt in Craig Green’s work. Their outsider ability to sensitively scramble the western notions of gender boundaries – whilst maintaining a strict love for the simple love of cutting cloth – is a school from which Green is looking to graduate.
Rather then the Japanese designers, Sibling’s S/S 2016 counter androgynous aesthetic was in the spirit of another postmodern master: Jean Paul Gaultier. Sports jocks were jokingly conveyed in juicy team brights, complete with criss cross corsets, jock straps and beefcake pecks. The technique was apparently a Chanel-ian one, which added to the refined mish mash of frilly Paris fashion with ego sweaty frat house. The casting at Sibling was the kind of positive objectification, which sees queer culture hold a mirror to straight culture – and straight culture appropriate it right back. It looked like a few of these boys were ready to sign up to Emma Watson’s He for She campaign. The cartoonish position of looking at gender feels like it can sometimes heighten stereotypes rather than destroy them. No more bras were burned in 1968 (it’s a myth) than jock straps – and for men’s sake, I welcome a new paradigm for them as much as women. Like the Japanese designers, who have used codes of the west – such as uniforms and military wear – to create structure from which to destroy, I appreciate we are stuck using a visual grammar where old each others’ underwear is being jumbled up to articulate new visions.
Christopher Shannon made an interesting statement about the state of the male nation. With his collection, he not only celebrated the lad’s holiday but also picked away at the sensitivity beneath such bravado. Bikini tops were strewn over tees – as an apparent narrative around having conquered the female species at a foam party. Whilst t-shirt prints of clipper lighters had the jibe words Needy and Damaged written across them.
Yves Klein once said “If Malevich stood before the infinite, I am in it”, whilst comparing his IKB Monochromes to Malevich’s black square. Parnell Mooney’s collection at MAN, inspired by Malevich – and no doubt the recent exhibition dedicated to the black square at London’s Whitechapel gallery – saw him open the chest like it was a window into the soul, whilst demi-skirts were decon-recon asexual. Exposing the chest to show your manhood – or apparent lack of girlhood – is again part of the old paradigm.
Gender actually doesn’t actually look like anything. It just is. Just like Malevich’s black square. Just like infinity.
Cover image: (left to right) Craig Green, Sibling, Christopher Shannon, Parnell Mooney (MAN)