Womenswear designers are launching men’s collections: Will it work?

Home / Womenswear designers are launching men’s collections: Will it work?

It is a familiar,
played out romantic scenario: woman gets out of bed, puts on boyfriend’s /
husband’s / partner’s white shirt, instantly looks cool and sexy. Men’s
blazers, too, are of the covetable borrowable type, as are sweatshirts,
tees or anything masculine that can be perfectly oversized for a woman’s
silhouette without drowning it. The term ‘boyfriend fit’ was coined from
this scenario, presumably led by a slick marketing firm who had a jean or
other such products to sell to the opposite sex.

But I digress, as this is not a story about gender swapping fashion. Men’s
garments worn by women has long been a thing, but womenswear designers
launching menswear under their own name, less so. It used to be that
fashion labels that ‘sounded’ feminine, or indeed are feminine if named
after their female designer, that these brands stood less of a chance (i.e.
commercial success) if they branched out into menswear. But not any longer.

Designers like Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant, Nanushka, Lululemon, even
Celine, The Row and Chanel, all have launched or are launching menswear for
the AW19 season, and none would be doing so if it wouldn’t enrich the
bottom line.

For designers like McCartney, menswear is an extension of the brand’s
women’s wardrobe, and its collections are ultimately inspired by the Stella
Woman. At Marant, the go-to purveyor for Parisian boho-style fashion, the
brand’s nonchalant philosophy was easily translated into menswear, think
snuggly mohair sweaters, utility separates and patchwork contrasts.

Menswear had to have a masculine name and identity

It was only a decade ago when a man’s wardrobe and the labels and brands he
wore had to be identified with a masculine or gender neutral name in order
to be successful. Brand perception was all that mattered. A womenswear logo
like Lululemon, which looks like an outline of a coiffed lady’s hairstyle,
wouldn’t have passed the litmus test of masculinity. Yet all the while the
company was quietly selling its hero product of yoga pants to men. Even
before it officially segmented into ‘proper’ menswear, Lululemon was
already on a lucrative path to selling its branded wares to both sexes,
coiffed lady logo or not.

As stereotypes wane and creative expression becomes less restrictive,
fashion has reached a crossroads and shifted the definition of what is
considered traditional men’s and women’s clothing. Gucci, since the launch
of its first collection under Alessandro Michele, has heavily influenced
the zeitgeist that gender doesn’t need to dictate the way people dress.

Retailers have embraced a seismic shift in gender directives

In the UK, John Lewis abolished ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ labels in its
childrenswear. H&M launched a unisex denim line back in March 2017.
Selfridges in 2015 launched Agender, a pop-up of fashion for a genderless
future. “Selfridges’ ambition was to create a space where men and women
could essentially come and shop together irrespective of gender, and that
you would choose clothes as an individual rather than based on your
gender,” Faye Toogood, who designed the retail space, said at the time.

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Gender neutral is not the end goal

But this is not to say that McCartney, Celine or any womenswear label
shouldn’t design men’s collections without the end customer, a guy, in
mind. When McCartney’s collection first hit stores, it wasn’t an overnight
success. Sell-thrus were challenging, perhaps because of brand perception
and that it was known for its womenswear, or perhaps because the collection
didn’t resonate from the first drop. When a designer holds significant
cachet in one market segment, like womenswear, it doesn’t automatically
translate when it enters another market. Shouldn’t we judge a garment on
fit, proportion, make, quality, price, fabric, trend, as much as we do the

In the end, designers are defined by their products and not the gender of the customer who buys them.
When McCartney debuted her menswear during Paris fashion week, the garments were described as “softly
deconstructed classic and timeless pieces that sit both within a man and woman’s wardrobe.” Whichever
sensibility one is seeking, when the clothes are effortless and considered at
all levels, that’s perhaps all that matters. Alternatively it becomes a case of supply and demand.

Photo courtesy of Gucci

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