Tim Blanks explains why more than ever, the catwalk is crossing the line between his and her looks

Tim Blanks talks about crossing his and her looks on the runways
Catwalk Gender Bender

It’s a rare fashion season that doesn’t have some interplay between the genders. I’m not talking about something as specific as androgyny, or of a designer like Jean Paul Gaultier very deliberately reconfiguring the same items for men and women. It’s more often the use of a men’s fabric or a man-tailored silhouette in womenswear.

During the Spring ’08 shows, for instance, we saw the tuxedo assert itself as an evening option for women. Even now, a woman in a man’s suit still has a vestige of the frisson that Marlene Dietrich exploited to such great effect. It was, unsurprisingly, Dietrich whom John Galliano evoked when he marched the statuesque Australian model Catherine McNeil (shown) down his Dior catwalk in a white tux and matching top hat. And over at Saint Laurent, Stefano Pilati is toying with elements of Le Smoking, the tuxedo for women that Yves originally introduced in 1966. (It was so controversial at the time that, legend has it, tux-clad YSL client Nan Kempner was turned away by a posh Manhattan restaurant due to a “no women in trousers” rule. Kempner whipped off the trousers and entered wearing the jacket as a minidress!)

But, this spring, something a little less predictable unfolded on the men’s and women’s catwalks. The shared vocabulary was more two-way than usual. It’s sometimes said you can catch a foretaste of the women’s shows from what designers offer their male clientele, especially because the men’s shows for spring take place at the end of June, a good three months before the women’s. This was one season when that notion actually made sense. One of spring’s most visually striking womenswear trends was the use of transparency and veiling in the most anticipated collections: Jil Sander in Milan, Nina Ricci in Paris and Marc Jacobs in New York. But we’d already caught inklings of the trend in June, when Dries Van Noten and Fendi showed organza shirts for men, and Raf Simons layered translucent nylon jackets over shirts.

Catwalk Gender Bender

Likewise with the prints and colours that have made Spring ’08 the most vibrant in years. Flowers bloomed across the board, from washed-out blossoms at Dries to Balenciaga’s Warholian pop petals. And all of them highlighted intense colour, which harked back to the men’s collections: McQueen’s Hawaiian florals, Dolce’s hippies, Missoni and Burberry mirroring the primary palette used by artist David Hockney.

Which brings us to Miuccia Prada, who told an eerie bedtime story for spring, with images of vine-entwined nymphs printed on silk tunics and cropped, flared pants, and ethereal chiffons. That was her womenswear, at least. For men? She left out the fairies but showed the same silken tunics and flared pants in the same decadent colour palette.

As of this writing, Miuccia has already shown her Fall ’08 collection for men and, if anything, it moves even more determinedly into some new middle ground between the genders. Among her proposals for Fall ’08 are jackets that wrap or close with hook and eye like a corset, shirts that button down the back and a two-piece of bib front and garter belt. I’m calling it a boykini.

So what’s it all mean? I’ll give Miuccia credit for crystallizing the way the power balance is shifting between the genders. How many times have you read lately that women are out-achieving men on almost every level of society? That hardly means the boykini will be de rigueur for next fall (think of it as a statement Miuccia made for her show), but I say keep your eyes peeled for more of this mutant fashion.

Tim Blanks

Read last month’s column by Tim Blanks >