5 Designers Who Pioneered Androgynous Fashion
Before gender-neutral was an idea with any currency in the fashion world, “unisex” was the preferred terminology (the word used by trailblazing designers in the middle of the century who had some inkling that gender and sexuality weren’t matched up neatly—and that self-expression need not necessarily reference either).
In the 1960s, “unisex” took on a totally cosmic dimension referential to a “future” (year 2000!) where everyone would have a shaved head and high-tech gadgetry in lieu of gender signifiers. Little did these designers know that they were in some ways foreshadowing the world that their grandkids would eventually occupy. These acts of fashion grooviness amounted to acting out a half-baked prologue to today’s queered and cosmic runways.
Enter the 70s, and designers transitioned from agender futurism to matchy-matchy maximalism (think men and women in matching lace tops) that whispered of a future where men could don drag at their leisure. Back then it was referred to as the “peacock revolution,” and marked the first time that mainstream menswear embraced flamboyant and effeminate styles. Around the same time, “menswear” began to emerge as a viable option for ladies: the first time femme tuxedos, shirt dresses, and pantsuits entered into the picture. If you think about it, these pioneers essentially paved the way for a tuxedo-ed Rihanna gracing our presence, or Hypebeast bros in dresses.
Below, five designers who pioneered androgynous fashion, and laid the foundation for today’s polymorphous landscape, (which undoubtedly has years more evolving ahead).
Pierre CardinItalian-born French designer Cardin was the pioneer of egalitarian space-age aesthetic, which made use of synthetic fabrics, totally unheard of silhouettes, and futuristic styling that ignored or re-shaped the female form. He was known for producing leggings for both sexes and for dressing men and women in unitards accessorized with plastic rounded helmets and eye shields. Although we’re not yet at the inter-galactic future he may have imagined, we’re certainly starting to see reinstatements of cosmic agender styling.
Rudi GernreichAustrian-born American fashion designer Rudi Gernreich is often referred to as the “inventor” of unisex fashion, for producing pieces that de-emphasized gender attributes, and through his vocal politics promoting sexual freedom and acceptance of nudity. Some of his crowning achievements were his swimsuit designs. He was the brain behind the monokini: a one-piece topless bathing suit intended to be worn by men or women, as well as unisex two-pieces.
Michael FishFish was a British fashion designer known for dressing Mick Jagger in some of his most glam-tastic getups. He was also the brain behind the “man-dress,” and “man-skirt” (bear with us). He thrust velvet, ruffles, and ornate piping tops back into vogue and generally spearheaded a “dandy revolution” which saw men and women donning similarly maximalist and glamorous looks. He’s remembered for once saying, “I always believed men are not physically designed for trousers.” It’s certainly worth considering.
Yves Saint LaurentYSL pioneered unisex “menswear” with the launch of a collection of “smoking suits” for women. The first tuxedo for women consisted of a black dinner jacket in wool or satin, trousers with a satin side stripe, a ruffled white undershirt, a black bow tie, and a cumberbund. Later, YSL would also unveil a collection of see-through getups: think shift dresses revealing the wearer’s breasts (seriously uncanny foreshadowing of Rihanna’s entire wardrobe).
Jean-Paul GaultierIconic French haute couture designer Jean-Paul Gaultier brought decadent styling and gender fluidity into his early collections in the eighties. He was master of the mashup, creating pant-skirts, sewn-together ties and leotards, and corset-chemises. He was also a trailblazer in using non normative-models, preferring tattooed, fuller-figured, and otherwise non-conforming bodies. In 1985, he released his “Men in Skirts Collection”, which sent shock waves through an otherwise reactionary and whiplashed eighties fashion landscape. His “Men in Skirts” were accompanied by androgynous femme-masc looks that evolved YSL’s earlier femme “menswear.”
Images Via StyleSixties, Devorah Macdonald, DandyinAspic, BuisnessInsider, & TheRedList
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