Vogue featured several British female designers with men’s collections to kick off 2014, naming it a ‘new’ revolution. In the article, Sarah Mower states that it’s the “sexual dynamics” that pique her interest–how it’s possible for women to design for men. According to her, these women are “trampling down all kinds of ancient prejudices” regarding women and their thoughts on how men want to dress. But isn’t one such ancient stereotype that of the wife laying out her husband’s clothes for their evening out? Or a mother picking out her son’s clothes, potentially far into his teens? In my experience, women definitely know how to dress men, just as men know how to dress women–so, in my mind at least, women that design menswear are not revolutionaries or radicals.
Vivienne Westwood, queen of punk fashion, installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
To start, women designing menswear is most definitely not new; Dame Vivienne Westwood has had a menswear line since the 1980s, and so has Rei Kawakubo, the head designer for Comme des Garcons. The women in Mower’s Vogue article have also been designing for years: Astrid Andersen, quoted in the article, began working with men’s fashions in 2010. Perhaps it is considered new because of the unprecedented number of women designers showing their lines at London Collections Menswear Fall 2014 shows January 6-8, 2014. But just because there were a few more women, it does not mean that a revolution is occurring in menswear.
I come from the ‘women should be equal to men, not exceptional to men’ camp, hence my concern with this Vogue article. By stating that this is something new, that this has never happened before, we forget about the women who came before this new batch of female menswear designers and reinforce the idea that women going against ‘tradition’ is unnatural. That these women are exceptional because they are designing for men, when men have been designing women’s lines for years. It is taken for granted that men know how to design for a woman’s body, and yet writers like Mower are suggesting that a woman knowing how to design for a man’s body is odd. It’s this double standard that pops up across all disciplines that truly bothers me.
Additionally, this trend can be found outside of Britain–women like Eunice Lee (who designs for UNIS) and Lizzie Owens (former costume designer for Brandon Flowers, now has own line Highland) are designing menswear in the States, and have been since 2000 and 2010, respectively. These two predate some of the designers mentioned in Mower’s article, in fact. The magazine The Fader covered this topic in Fall 2011 and happened to interview Lizzie Owens along with four other women who design menswear. One of the women in The Fader’s article is from Bangkok and another from Oslo, in addition to Owens who is from the United States and another woman from London.A look from the Unis Fall 2013 lookbook, designed by Eunice Lee
This is not to say that the semi-recent surge in women designing for men is not significant; these women are a breath of fresh air in the fashion world, and are proving that women can do what men can do—namely, design for the opposite sex. It is just not as earth-shattering as Mower makes it out to be, nor as localized.
So, let’s rewrite all of these articles and point out the fact that women are designing for men, that it’s a great step for women in fashion, and let’s treat these women just as we would any other designer. If men can design for women, then women can design for men—but just as these men are only considered exceptional when they create truly unbelievable articles of clothing, the women should be too. Not because they are women, but because they are able to design remarkable collections, whether its womenswear or menswear.Sources: Style.com, The Selvedge Yard, Unis New York For more on female menswear designers and their bios, visit Complex Style.