"Genderless" and "Agender" are two terms that have appeared frequently in fashion columns and fashion show reviews in recent months. A fashion designed for her, but that can also affect his wardrobe, and vice versa, is nothing new. But what is striking is that the label that was championing this trend last January was Gucci, a brand in the process of major change. The brand's new creative director, Alessandro Michele, has displayed a clear and romantic vision of the trend that has enabled him in a very short time to bring the brand back into the ranks of the best loved labels among fashionistas. Obviously, the trend took off in a flash. But why did it meet with such immediate success on the markets and who are its main targets? We posed this question to various fashion experts and we start today with our interview with Antonio Mancinelli, one of the most popular fashion journalists, but much more than that. Anyone who knows him, or follows him on Marie Claire, where he is Deputy Features Editor, knows that Mancinelli has a fantastic ability to link what we see on the runways to other creative fields. Antonio Mancinelli is a man of culture, witty and intelligent, who can write about the fashion system placing it within a precise sociological context. That's why we felt he was the best person to start our analysis with.
The concept of genderless is definitely not new. I’m thinking of the Japanese arriving in Europe in the eighties, of the minimalism of certain designers in the nineties. What, in your opinion, has the concept changed into and how do people approach it now?
I think the pervasiveness of "genderless" – or rather "a-gender" – in today’s popular culture is different from the unisex cult of the ‘70s and ‘80s, in the interchangeability of garments which were once strongly associated with "femininity" or "masculinity". I’ll explain: thirty or forty years ago, the utopia of dressing in the same way basically meant a simplification of the interpretation of clothing – and therefore the transsexual jumpsuit, the ultra-simple oversize pullover, the buttonless coat. Today, however, there is a transition from one wardrobe to the other of blouses with lace and bows, of biker jackets, of undershirts, of jewellery. Personally, I consider this aesthetic very contemporary and, at the same time, extremely interesting from a marketing viewpoint. The new consumers of today – particularly foreigners and youths – can no longer identify with the “tailored” suit-and-tie, but are seeking a new uniform, a new form of expression. One that also contemplates the option of taking certain “pieces” of her wardrobe (the opposite has always happened), and to wear them without fear of being judged sexually “bizarre”. As underlined by a wonderful article in The Atlantic, “Pink Wasn't Always Girly” by Anna Broadway, the distinction between what we consider today as "virile" or "girly" is nonetheless a cultural and even quite recent legacy: in “The Great Gatsby”, the journalist recalls, Jay is criticised by his lover’s husband because he wears a pink suit. But the insult does not lie in the fact that it is a feminine colour, but in its inelegance. In the twenties, pink was in fact the colour of the working class. I think that the spread of genderless will happen gradually, in a much more nuanced way, but in the end it will be accepted by everyone as a novelty, a way to give a touch of modernity to one’s appearance. Cara Delevingne walks the red carpet in a man’s suit. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are snapped by the paparazzi at the BAFTA Awards in matching tuxedos. The writer Donna Tartt is photographed in a man’s jacket, man’s buttoned shirt, pants and brogues. Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision in a glittery tube dress, flowing hair and neat black beard. The London department store Selfridges opens an entire floor of clothing entitled #Agender. These seem to me to be strong signs that this is not a passing fad, but a way of living and showing others that society is undergoing profound changes.
Genderless has been talked about a lot also thanks to the success of the aesthetic presented by Gucci’s new designer, Alessandro Michele. Why do you think there has been this huge media and public response to the new Gucci era?
I think that the answer is in the previous question: there are new consumers who are looking for an individual fashion that represents them in a specific, personal way. Without forgetting that in the fashion’s global billion turnover the menswear market has been for growing more quickly than womenswear over the past fifteen years: what Alessandro Michele has been doing starts from the right intuition expressed at the right time. The fashion system, as Ugo Volli says, is like a Mexican wave during a football match. You can’t move before or after “one” precise time, but only at that time. What is most interesting to me is that the artistic director of Gucci hardly ever talks about "gender" or "roles", but of "beauty". If there are two sexes but Beauty – in the platonic sense – is just one concept, why not share it? I think it’s a really interesting perspective, but I repeat: with a lot more links to the commercial aspect that we would be made believe from certain fashion shows, certain ads and certain models. The media response happened because in younger generations there is a need for “non-definition” with regard to one’s sexuality, which can manifest itself in the form of genderless fashion. And it is no coincidence that declarations of bisexuality are becoming a real trend among celebrities and a new wave of transgender models are redefining the concept of beauty. That Gucci’s approach has also a link to the ongoing “adolescentisation” of society is another definite element, which in the end, for me, is the real crux of the question. I mean, in a Western world where people are no longer having children, and where we live longer, luxury is equivalent to a youthful body, in evolution, not yet marked by a large bosom or a beard. The body of an adolescent, actually. Having one is a real luxury today.
What does this new genderless approach actually mean in everyday life, in our everyday customs? Given that it is actually something that may affect the tastes of the general public, do you think it will be a passing fad?
It won’t be a passing fad. We are living in a time of serious recession and genderless is one of the ways to overcome this reality, of which fashion is only an outward representation. All of this will have less and less to do with the sexual orientation of a person. But it will represent a different way to identify ourselves. In everyday life, I think it is more in terms of form, tailored yet minimal, with colours non-colours and vintage details like old jewellery. There is a need for a softness, and a non-aggressive male and a non vamp woman are the best standard bearers for this socio-cultural need. Fashion uses androgyny to underline a desire for craftsmanship and tenderness. And, together, it also leads back to a desire to belong to a "trans" tribe – transsexual, transnational, transgenerational – combined with love for certain musical and/artistic (sub)cultures that include and go beyond predefined roles.
Excluding the previously mentioned Gucci, what brands do you think are translating this type of cross-pollination in the most interesting way, and why?
I think some breakaway brands, mainly American ones: Hood By Air and Telfar – which introduced youthful, culturally borderline ideas that see fashion more as a political statement that an aesthetic one, in the name of a socio-cultural equality that is not only strictly linked to the sexual sphere. As I said before, what wins is the idea of the tribe, the gang, of family, of the posse. But I cannot but mention the “father” – even if he’s actually very young – of contemporary genderless: Rad Hourani. First, he was the author of an asexual Haute Couture range, and he encompassed different experiences in terms of experience and vision: he is a director, a photographer, an artist. I also find the work of the designer Stephanie Hahn extremely interesting, who with the line 22/4_hommes_femmes is creating a series of “uniforms” that can be worn by men or women with the same result: a sober, ultra-modern, whispered elegance.