Purushu's award winning fashion blog was founded in 2009 while studying fashion design at NIFT New Delhi. At the age of 19, he wrote show reviews for FDCI's Designer Node dailies at India Fashion Week, New Delhi. Following a stint as menswear designer at Future Group (Lee Cooper), Mumbai in 2013, he relocated to Chennai where he continued freelancing and authored fashion columns for The Hindu newspaper. In 2017, Purush Arie blog evolved into India's first ungendered fashion label. Purushu spoke about gender neutral revolution through fashion at TEDxChennai in March 2018.

Gender Bender

Set in the back drop of increasing gender fluidity, the AW15 menswear shows have loudly called for a unisex mode of dressing.

Some fashion trends merely go unnoticed while others hit you loud and clear. Going by the recent autumn/winter 2015 menswear collections, the message is loud and clear — androgyny is the new black. AW2015 runway shows announced the arrival of a new flamboyant retro sensuality that predominantly focused on the androgynous gender blending theme, breaking away from the omnipresent immaculate suiting and monotonous charcoal hues that dominated the menswear department for long. At the London collections, men’s British label Burberry Prorsum offered flamboyant mirror patterns using the Indian Kutch embroidery technique, while British fashion designer Todd Lynn’s models challenged the depiction of masculinity. Their waif-thin bodies and long black hair would definitely earn them a place in a retro rock band.

From left to right: Gucci, Gucci detail, Burberry Prorsum

The androgynous haze later moved towards Milan where the designers played it relatively safe with gender neutral silhouettes teamed with sharply tailored suiting options. However the strongest expression of the season came from Paris at Gucci’s show. Moving afar from last season’s preppy nautical outlook, the new creative director Alessandro Michele imparted an unconstrained flamboyant vibe to the label. A lanky and long haired model led the charge at Gucci in a red silk blouse with pussy bow and mink-lined sandals. One could barely tell if he was a man or woman. From slinky gilded red lace top to scarlet blouses, the collection bridged and blurred the gap between genders rather than wedging them. Miuccia Prada explored the idea of gender and context by showing both menswear and pre-fall womenswear range together for the first time in brand’s history. Givenchy was yet another label to push the code by showing female models as an excellent contrast in menswear show. Givenchy’s creative head Riccardo Tisci paired button up shirts with skirts set in dark and glamorous mood. Skirts made an appearance with knee high stockings and black veils at Thom Browne’s show. Comme des Garcons show featured androgynous silhouettes with tailored suits. The gender blending theme reached new heights at Vivienne Westwood’s show where boys wore velvet pumps and blush. It wasn’t about cross dressing but men dressing up frivolously. Fashion designer Rick Owens who is celebrated for his artistic interpretation of fashion with neo-gothic aesthetics went on to rebel against taboo associated with male nudity. In what was one of fashion’s first, the fashion fraternity who aren’t any strangers to exposed breasts and naked bottoms got a peek-a-boo of manhood assets on runway when Rick Owens’s cutaway robes exposed penises. The deconstructed robes were beautifully contrasted against boxy peacoats and zipper jackets. The taboo busting garments were not aimed at raking in orders but sending out a strong statement. Thanks to fashion designer Heidi Slimane’s layered necklaces at Yves Saint Laurent, this year even the men’s jewellery has become heavier.

Fashion designer Hedi Slimane introduced the ‘feminine’ skinny silhouettes for men more than a decade ago. The trend was outrageously experimental for most men to adopt back then. But now that it has been largely embraced, streamlined silhouettes are no longer associated with tampering with the notion of masculinity. The depiction of masculinity was often challenged by flamboyant style icons in popular culture. Back in the heyday of the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones exchanged clothes with their girlfriends. It was certainly a revolution. Slimane’s skinny silhouette for men was a revolution, and so is the modern vision of androgyny.

Men and women are now living parallel lives and their clothes need to be able to perform the same functions, resulting in amplified rebellion against the gender specific dressing norms. Don’t expect to see flamboyant dresses replacing tuxedos in red carpet, but we’re clearly set for a unisex mode of dressing in future. There’s a receding gap between what we ‘should’ wear and ‘want’ to wear. The resurgence of relaxed flare trousers, tartans in vivid hues and retro flamboyance is clearly hinted towards the rebellious and libertarian 70s. Skinny models with hairless bodies spark a whole new debate about the conventional philosophy of masculinity. With bold discussions about gender equality, feminism and a heightened LGBT activism, fashion industry is embracing yet another brave idea.

A version of this article was published in The Hindu Metroplus.
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