A sharp reminder of why I don’t report on the men’s runway shows was delivered by the excellent fashion writer Tim Blanks in a piece for The Business of Fashion about Alessandro Michele’s Autumn/Winter 2016 Gucci show. As you’ll recall, Signor Michele was hired from the Gucci locker room to lead the atelier when Frida Giannini was axed. He’d been on Team Gucci since the Tom Ford days so his working knowledge of the brand is second to none.
None of us who witnessed Tom Ford’s Gucci menswear shows will ever forget the scent of 70s Halston, Studio 54 and sex that he brought to the house. Michele’s debut men’s collection for Gucci was a geeky, hippie, A-gender procession of diaphanous pussycat bow blouses, lace chemises, 60s Sorbonne student glasses, wisps of chiffon knotted at the throat, bobble hats and snake-hipped, androgynous trousers. The fashion industry hailed a new messiah.
Mr Blanks has the ability to disentangle all the references – geek, cartoon, trans, Bowie – and present Gucci as a rather profound comment on popular culture. He then proceeded to pen a sentence that proved he is still curious and excited by the new and the now: ‘Hari Nef, the trans-actress who’s been ruling Gucci’s Snapchat for the last while, stunned in head-to-toe vermilion: hat, cape, shirt, trousers, shoes and sass’.
Of course fashion is transfixed by trans and woe betides anyone who dares suggest it is a trend for designers much in the same way space age silver was for Versace this season. But it can’t have escaped notice in the ocean of tributes to David Bowie’s influence on fashion that androgyny isn’t a new costume to pull out of the dressing-up box. Ziggy was profoundly shocking in the early 1970s. He was also a feral, sexual creature.
What I find shocking in the a-gender element of the menswear collections is the neutering of any sex appeal. For me, good fashion should always increase one’s chances of attracting an eye or two. Tom Ford knows that sex sells. Alessandro Michele’s gender fluidity is like a burkha for the libido. Ironically, it was during Tom Ford’s tenure at Yves Saint Laurent that I first noticed the blurring of genders. His Mombassa handbags with great silver tusks as handles were adopted wholesale by all the gays in fashion. My response? ‘A haaaaaandbaaaag?’
One cannot disrespect the major men’s fashion brands. These machines generate billions for their employees and investors. We all know the catwalk isn’t their major source of income. But in the world of social media, the catwalk is an entirely justifiable expense as a public relations exercise. A fashion show can afford to be anything other than dull and Michele has succeeded in capturing the hearts, minds and attention of the young.
There is absolutely no point putting decent Italian tailoring on a runway hence Zegna’s decision to hire Stefano Pilati to design the Zegna Couture collections. Every exit has the potential to go viral online so of course Michele, Peter Dundas et al are going to put men in Tweetie Pie T-shirts, lace blouses and denim chaps embroidered like an Indian wedding sari.
Who actually buys these garments? Who cares? There will always be a closeted Gulf State prince, a Russian who has had an irony bypass or a pop star running out of reinventions who will be persuaded that a runway look will change their lives. As long as the kids on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook or God knows what else buy the low ticket items, it’s job done.
The designer I admire the most for taking on the digital generation is Jeremy Scott at Moschino. That was a match made in heaven. Franco Moschino – an old mate of La Farmer who tragically died of AIDS while in fashion mid-sentence – was the rightful heir to Surrealist Elsa Schiaparelli. His work in the 1980s was as satirical and sharp as Private Eye. In the 80s Moschino made a genius ‘ladies who lunch’ scarlet power skirt suit with gold knives and forks for buttons that said all one needed to say about the ‘greed is good’ decade.
Jeremy Scott was always obsessed with trashy 80s pop culture, drag queens and Barbie so, though infinitely less subtle than Moschino, he was a clever choice to head the house. Scott famously dresses Katy Perry as the human cartoon that she has become and his Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol references in the Moschino collections say as much about our instant gratification culture as the Pop Artists did in the 1960s.
The brilliance of Scott is that all the Katy Perry fans can buy-in to the spirit of his cartoon collections with a McDonalds parody logo iPhone case or a Spongebob Squarepants change purse. Thanks to t’Internet, fashion is becoming design in two dimensions. A runway look has to instantly translate to the screen of a hand-held device. Ever wonder why cartoon prints are so popular in fashion today?
I am sad to say there isn’t much dignity in the men’s designer ready-to-wear shows today. My days of wanting to wear cartoons ended circa 1975 with my Top Cat PJs. Of course the teens love the Pop Art prints but how many of them can afford it? Putting aside Brooklyn Beckham and Rocco Ritchie, I’d say damned few.
But, as I suspect, the big brands on the men’s fashion calendar aren’t proposing that you actually wear the clothes. Be shocked by them, yes. Laugh at them, possibly. Just as long as you pay attention, ‘like’ the pictures and retweet. Catwalk clothing today is content for social media.