The new fashion merger: 'A fresh design language that blurs the lines between the genders...'
A number of high-profile labels are mixing menwear and womenswear on the catwalk. But is this fashion fusion madness or magnificent
For those who may not know their Versace from their Vetements, the past month has witnessed, as it does every January, a frenzy of fashion events across the globe. Key among these was London Fashion Week Men's, the (rather confusingly) four-day homage to men's fashion that sees the crème de la crème of the menswear world showcase their latest collections.
In something of a twist this year, several of the blue-chip brands opted to incorporate womenswear alongside their hitherto wholly separate menswear designs. From Paul Smith to Kenzo, Burberry to the grande dame of anarchic fashion, Vivienne Westwood, each has got in on this new merger act. And it's expected that where these labels lead, others will surely follow.
What's the big deal, you may ask. But that's to miss the point. This, after all is the realm of menswear, where evolution rather than revolution is the modus operandi. And that's why it's a significant development - and possibly even an era-defining one.
Vogue, the unofficial bible of dedicated fashionistas, has coined the term 'Sexit' to describe this amalgamation of menswear and ladieswear shows. It's a seemingly throw-away term but, make no mistake: the ramifications on the fashion industry are, potentially, huge.
The most obvious impact of this development on Planet Fashion is the inevitable reduction in the number of fashion shows. Whether this is viewed positively or negatively depends on one's perspective, but one inevitable upshot is that more room will subsequently be made on the fashion calendar for up-and-coming designers, which can only be viewed as beneficial.
But what about the impact on what is, after all, at the crux of the billion-euro fashion industry: the clothes themselves? Will the trend for these amalgamations propel menswear to new heights, or will it be a potential nail in its eventual coffin? After all, the value of menswear on the global market pales in comparison to that of its female equivalent, so it would make financial sense if resources were weighted significantly in favour of womenswear.
Irish designer Paul Costelloe, never one to sit on the fashion fence, has taken a pessimistic perspective of 'Sexit', believing it to be to the potential detriment of menswear.
"It's dangerous," warned Costelloe, "because the women dominate."
To date, the body of evidence on which to gauge whether Costelloe's fears are justifiably founded is relatively slim, so it's difficult to make bold forecasts with much conviction. However, taking events on the final day of the recent Paris Fashion Week (January 18-22), for example - when Paul Smith and Kenzo were the two trailblazers that opted for a co-ed catwalk and elected to show their autumn/winter 17 ranges for both sexes - it seems this is a trend that, with a little refinement, is something to approach with excitement, rather than trepidation.
While Kenzo's inaugural co-ed catwalk did little to advance the popularity of this nascent trend - critics complained of the show's exhaustive length (over 70 looks) and the failure to merge men's and women's clothing on the catwalk; menswear was shown first followed by ladieswear - Paul Smith's offering hinted at far more promise.
Smith's global brand may be defined by his impeccable tailoring but it is, nonetheless, significant that his suits for the fairer sex acted as co-stars, rather than playing merely a supporting role, to his more renowned men's suits. Whether in windowpane checks or dapper plaids, these soft-shouldered designs were the undoubted stars of the show and underlined Smith's growing credentials as a key player in the womenswear arena.
With Smith's suits just one of the stand-out successes from his decision to straddle the fine line between men's and women's fashion by merging the two collections, it is hardly surprising that other gender fluid labels, including Vetements, Tom Ford and Gucci, are taking his lead.
For Alessandro Michele, Gucci's creative director, the idea of showing men's and women's collections independently is rapidly becoming an archaic concept.
"It seems only natural to me to present my men's and women's collections together," Michele said. "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 storytelling."
Despite the early signs of promise, Paul Costelloe's fearful forecast may well ring true.
But if a fresh approach to what Michele describes as his 'storytelling' is one of the widespread offshoots of a merger between menswear and womenswear, then it can only be encouraged.
If fashion shows are to combine designs for both men and women, they need to break boundaries with a fresh design language that reflects the blurring of lines between the genders.
So it seems that merging men's and ladies' collections appears to be the next exciting step in pushing the sartorial envelope.