Las September, at Les Invalides in Paris, Hedi Slimane presented his highly anticipated debut show for Celine. Amid a dark mirrored set that was designed to recall an after-hours nightclub, the French brand revealed a rock ’n’ roll spin on post-pronoun looks.
Outfit after outfit, models with directional mop tops wore variations on the Bowie-for-millennials aesthetic Slimane has made his signature. Short embroidered kimonos featuring patterns designed by the Swiss American artist Christian Mar- clay shared the catwalk with Saint Laurent–esque prom getups.
There was also menswear—a first for Celine—and it echoed Slimane’s slim and trim Dior Homme past. In another first for the label, Celine is going unisex: The men’s pieces from Spring/ Summer 2019 will also be available in women’s sizes.
With each passing season, designers such as Slimane push the gender binary of women’s wear and menswear closer to a gender unity. Givenchy’s new creative director, Clare Waight Keller, said she had the handsome Swiss heiress turned cult gay writer Annemarie Schwarzenbach on her mind for spring. Channeling Schwarzenbach’s boyish uniform of sophisticated dress shirts and slacks, Keller created elegant matching navy power suits for men and women alike.
Keller’s predecessor, Riccardo Tisci, now oversees the design at Burberry. For his first outing at the storied British house, he showed punkish Savile Row tailoring for both sexes, including a pair of twin metallic gray suits.
Other designers had similar double visions, albeit in looser, less structured ways. At Louis Vuitton, Nicolas Ghesquière created sci-fi looks seemingly made for a genderless colony in space. At Versace’s Pre-Fall 2019 runway show there were bright colored parkas, vinyl rain slickers and full-length animal-print coats for both men and women.
These fresh takes on androgynous dressing make sense in the wake of #MeToo and the ongoing cultural dialogue taking place everywhere on the playing field between powerful women and men in power. Today’s rethinking of style norms is also indebted to provocative queer designers like Shayne Oli- ver of Hood by Air, whose genderless mash-up of streetwear-inspired hooded blazers and buttondowns deconstructed into halter-neck tops earned recognition from Kanye West and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. (Oliver recently announced a three-season partnership with the 95-year-old Italian sportswear brand Colmar.) When Alessandro Michele took over Gucci in 2015, he found instant commercial and critical success through baroque pussy bows for men and androgynous brand ambassadors who now include the transgender It model and actress Hari Nef.
Matthew Mazzucca, the creative director of Barney’s New York, said Celine and others have been less interested in making a gender-neutral statement in recent collections, however, than in proposing a unisex wardrobe made for a new breed of flexible shopper who no longer sees crossing retail’s great gender divide as taboo.
“Women have historically been at ease navigating racks for whatever works best for them,” Mazzucca said. The Spring 2019 men’s collection from Balenciaga, for example, features elongated overcoats with dramatically embellished shoulders—items likely worn by the sex opposite the one they were supposedly intended for. “The men’s pieces have an enhanced silhouette that our female customers are drawn to,” he said.
The decision by Slimane, fashion’s reigning 50-year-old enfant terrible, to reimagine Celine as unisex is perhaps the most punk-rock part of his controversial makeover of an understated French label previously beloved for its cerebral femininity. “Androgyny has always been on the runways,” W magazine’s style director, Sara Moonves, said. “But I don’t know any other major designer in recent memory who has done all the men’s clothes in women’s sizes.”
“Even though it just happens to be a male silhouette, it’s not like you’re borrowing your boyfriend’s suit,” she added. “That’s what is different for this season. The Celine suit is actually quite sexy, whether it’s for a man or a woman.”