Fashion week, it never seems long before it's upon us again. But it doesn't make it any less exciting. Waiting to see the looks both on and off the runway, planning your outfits and purchases for the season ahead. Which trends will you buy into this time? But there is one particular trend that has begun to transcend seasons and is gaining more momentum every fashion week from London to New York and beyond...
Combined shows. Another day, another designer announces they will be combining their men's and women's wear collections. But what is the catalyst behind this movement? Is it a 21st-century gender rejection, a financial scapegoat? Or is it more complex?
Big names such as Burberry, Tom Ford and Bottega Veneta all took the plunge in 2016; showing their mixed gender collections on the women’s show schedule. More recent announcements included Kenzo and Paul Smith, who dubbed this move as a 'natural progression' for his brand, having previously shown his men's in Paris and women's in London. For Smith, this follows a huge overhaul of the company as he merges not only his catwalks but 7 sub-brands into just two. Gucci and Marras are also following suit this season, removing two more names from Milan's Men's Fashion Week.
One reason designers are giving for this change is that collections are conceived from the same creative origin. In a statement from Antonio Marras, as he announced his upcoming mixed gender show, the designer claimed that "The two collections are becoming more and more the two faces of the same soul, that together can complete each other." This rather poetic sentiment is echoed at team Gucci, with new creative director Alessandro Michele stating "It seems only natural to me to present my men’s and women’s collections together. It’s the way I see the world today." With gender becoming an increasing topic of debate amongst Millennial's, and seemingly more so for Generation Z, the combining of shows can be seen as a small victory for the breaking down of stereotypes and conformed-identities. Gender and traditional gender roles are becoming less important to the younger 'hyper-individual' population, as they use fashion and make-up to carve out their identities outside of these constraints. This can be seen in the Gucci's of the world as they take a more gender fluid approach, presenting men in sheer blouses and flower prints. But this is not just about men wearing more traditionally female garments. Kanye's Yeezy shows have been combined since the beginning and designer Craig Green uses female models even though the collection falls under the category of “men’s”, knowing that the collection also appeals to female fans.
In what must have been a sigh of relief for the newly (re)named LFWM's, Britain's own Vivienne Westwood chose to combine her lines and show at LFW Men's, returning home after showing in Paris. London Fashion Week Men's lost big name Burberry to women's last season, but YMC, Barbor International and Sibling all followed Queen Viv's lead. Vetement's Guram Gvasalia seemingly explains this trend for us, "today, men wear womenswear and women dress in men’s clothes. Gender is not a given fact anymore."
Combining shows has some other obvious advantages for brands, namely, its a huge saving on costs. The escalating expenses of putting on not one but two extravagant experiences every season (plus all those in between collections) is a huge outgoing for any brand. By showing men’s and women’s at the same time all efforts and budget can go into creating one spectacle and help to streamline the business in general. Working on two completely separate calendars while trying to maintain one creative vision can take it's toll, especially when directors work for multiple brands. Working in this way has been more about upholding tradition rather than for practical purposes. Add in the additional pressure of see-now-buy-now and something has to give. The old model of two shows, men's and women's, clothes arrive in store six months later has become rather obsolete. Blame the internet.
Burberry has been leading the pack when it comes to embracing social media and the immediacy that it brings. Their see-now-buy-now strategy proved a huge success in September 2016 with their Regent Street store sold out of many pieces by noon the next day. This change to the system has definitely provided buzz and put Burberry in the spotlight but we are yet to see whether this model is sustainable long term, with other brands remaining firmly in the see-now-buy-later category. Streamlining shows definitely makes this transition a lot easier from a management perspective and the press are embracing this move, with the Elle Magazine's October cover star Lily James appearing in a full Burberry look the day after too. Gender-mixed shows also mean a mix up to the guestlist, with editors from men’s publications at women’s shows and vice-versa. This generates a lot more coverage both in the press and across social media platforms.
Some buyers are also benefitting from the combination trend. In some stores, both men’s and women’s collections are either merchandised together or bought by the same individual, so being able to see the entirety of the brand’s offering in one sitting makes it a lot more straight forward when working out your orders. It will also mean the deliveries of merchandise can be optimised, moving them up by two or three months. Womenswear is still the bigger aspect of many brands’ business but this shift shows a growing importance in the menswear market.
However, this is not a one size fits all model and a spokesman for Kering, owner of Gucci, has stated that each of their brands has their "own creative reality". Meaning, don't expect to see Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen jumping on the co-ed bandwagon just yet. Miuccia Prada stated her clear disinterest in following suit in an interview with Women's Wear Daily, “I am against it,” she said. “To do two creative shows in one is a massacre. And it has to be a huge show if you want to do it seriously.” although prior to men's fashion week's existence this would have been the norm.
Whether it's to unify a story, promote a world of greater gender equality or simply make the task of running a global fashion house that little bit more straight forward, you can be sure that these brands will not remain alone in their decision. One trend is for certain, and that is change. The fashion industry never sits still, forever pushing boundaries and making statements, and we cannot wait to see what they say next.