At Peter Som’s spring 2015 runway, the hair was sharp and slicked. Think: a ’50s greaser’s take on business in the front, but with a braid in the back. “I felt like making the girls look and feel assertive. Handsome as opposed to sexy,” explains Wella creative director Eugene Souleiman, whose graphic grooming was meant to offset the floral prints. Similarly, at Marni the models’ rockabilly-like mock sideburns toughened the garb’s soft silhouettes. Meanwhile, the frizzy black bowl cuts and zero-makeup faces at Marc Jacobs nodded to a surprising muse: punk rocker Joey Ramone.
While the fashion and beauty world’s adoration of androgyny has endured for decades, the latest shift isn’t about women borrowing from men or vice versa, but a seemingly casual move beyond gender altogether.
Perhaps the most famous face of the new androgyny, Andreja Pejić (previously Andrej) stole the show at Jean Paul Gaultier in 2011 as a male model couture-clad as a bride. The ambiguous beauty went on to rack up both womenswear and menswear campaigns. “When I first met Andrej, I didn’t think, What a beautiful boy or girl,” mega-scout Sarah Doukas told New York. “I certainly didn’t want to put him in one particular box.” Although Pejić has since had sex reassignment surgery and come out as transgender, her success has underscored an industry openness to blurring the lines. This year Barneys New York debuted ads featuring transgender models, while male model Stav Strashko worked the spring 2015 womenswear runways for DKNY, Thom Browne and Moncler.
For Canadian designer Rad Hourani—whose campaigns have spotlighted lean, delicately featured guys and slight-hipped, makeup-less girls for years—androgyny is all about a freeing ease. It’s far from the aggressively theatrical school of ’70s androgyny, defined by a face-painted David Bowie and company. Hourani’s unisex architectural designs are boundary breakers, sure, but he also calls them “modern classics,” “comfortable” and “asexual.”
In today’s tech-driven age, could the new androgyny be an effort to find an aesthetic sympatico with our avatar-constructed lives? As androgynous performance artist Boychild, who has walked for gender-blurring streetwear label Hood by Air, remarked to Dazed, “I’m pretty much convinced that humans are cyborgs now.” In a sign of the times, this year Facebook expanded its list of gender options for users from two (female, male) to 50-plus, including agender, androgyne, gender fluid, gender nonconforming, gender questioning and neutrois.
Androgyny now is about “picking whatever you want from the choices you’re offered,” says transgender model Hari Nef, who walked Hood by Air and Eckhaus Latta’s spring shows. “With [Hood founder/designer] Shayne Oliver, it’s not about a le smoking bombshell or a tuft of chest hair poking out of an evening gown: it’s about a conflation of attitudes,” Nef says. “I’ve joked that in the show, I looked like Frodo Baggins and walked like Naomi Campbell. People asked how it felt being in one of the most masculine looks. It felt right.”