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

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Fashion |OPINION

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.

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 brand?

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

Stella McCartney