Gender-mixing Trend Hits Israel's Fashion Runways

Fashion designers are increasingly integrating female models into menswear shows. Who gains from this gender blurring, and who pioneered it in Israel?

Michel Dufour/Wireimage

Traditional gender-based fashion weeks were always part of the fashion industry landscape, particularly in key European venues such as Paris and Milan. The menswear shows were held twice a year, generally in January and June, followed by the women’s collections, usually in March and September. The one place where no such division exists is New York, though early this year, rumor had it that part of the week would be devoted to designers for men – particularly after the success garnered by the menswear show during London’s Fashion Week.

As always, though, while the industry is occupied with these traditional divisions, the major designers are occupied with blurring them and forging a new agenda. Women have recently shown up in men’s shows, wearing male attire or items from women’s collections that harmonize with the male items. The first designer to take this step in recent seasons was the most modernist of them all, Miuccia Prada. Already in the winter 2010 show she interposed the male models with female models. So when women strode onto the runway alongside men last June, no one was surprised.

“I think the combination is more real,” Prada told the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph at the time. “It is more today. Otherwise it looks like we are in classes, in the time of my grandfather, women divided from men. The shows [that are] divided are so unreal, and I think that it is when you put them together you get a sense of what is meaningful and real.”

Whether the gender blurring derives from principle or is market-driven, the use of female models in male shows is no longer a random event but a significant trend. In addition to Prada, the French designer Hedi Slimane also served up a gender mix in his very first show for Saint Laurent two years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. Other brands, including Moncler, Moschino and Alexander McQueen have integrated women into men’s shows lately, echoing the New York shows, where there is no gender distinction. Notable in this regard are Marc by Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang (which took this step in the 1990s and at the beginning of this century), Lacoste, Michael Kors and others.

Gender mixing on the runway seeks to emulate street fashion, where the traditional division into men’s and women’s attire is not always popular, especially when it comes to the way women dress. “Clothing, fashion and adornment distinguish – they identify who you are. And one of the primary things we’ve identified, that we’ve wanted to identify, is our gender,” Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told The Daily Beast website in June, adding, “But now, for a number of men and women, gender has become something that’s not so important for them to emphasize in their clothing.” Similarly, the designer Rad Hourani told the website that when he came out with his unisex haute couture some years ago, “I realized that I don’t think of people in terms of gender or age or race or nationality, because these are all man-made constructs.”

These may be abstract issues of gender and fashion, of little importance to clients in the street. Still, the Israeli fashion designer Yossi Katzav, founder of Sketch, a men’s clothing line, notes that this trend has been ongoing for a number of seasons and has seen apparel become increasingly unisex. Already two years ago, in the 2012-13 winter show, Katzav put a female model on the runway at the end of his show, as a teaser for a future collection for women (which has yet to materialize). “I thought it would be cool to add women to the show,” he relates. “Many women buy items from me, such as white shirts, to achieve an oversize look. There’s something very liberating in that. It all connects to the boyfriend trend, for example in the show by the French brand Ami. Women are tired of the body-hugging, over-feminine, over-sexy look. This is a cool answer to classic women’s attire. If I were doing women’s garb, I would make it more unisex, slightly masculine and in the general spirit of oversize.”

In Katzav’s view, the introduction of female models in men’s shows is a signpost for the whole season, not least because the men’s shows are held about two months before those of the women. “Sometimes you get a teaser for the coming season,” he notes. “For example, in the men’s shows of the British brand Burberry you will always find elements that will appear afterward in the women’s shows. There has been a theme in the major fashion houses of late which doesn’t draw a complete separation between the men’s and women’s collections. Fashion firms are asking themselves why they shouldn’t offer women an option in which they will be able to buy clothes from the male collection. However, we are still living in a somewhat more traditional world. Women can wear male clothing more, but men will hardly buy anything from the women’s collection.”

Katzav also attributes the new trend to the return of the unisex look that was launched in the 1990s. “That was a wonderful period, the golden age of Calvin Klein, who launched his unisex fragrance CK1 and the unisex jeans line. I see that as part of the whole development. You want to dress women in the clothes in which you dress your men. But maybe there is something else here: There is something outdated in fashion shows. They are no longer relevant. The fast-fashion companies see the shows, and before the real thing gets into the high-end shops, you can already find items in Zara and other chains.”

Moti Reif, a leading producer of fashion shows in Israel, is unfazed by the new trend. “I remember we did that back in the 1990s, with brands like Polgat and Bagir. We tried to introduce female models with a tomboy look, or models such as Yael Reich and Yael Abecassis. Unisex is coming back, as an attempt to blur the distinctions between men and women, particularly from the women’s side. After all, women can wear men’s attire and did so throughout the 20th century, since Marlene Dietrich wore a tuxedo.

“Take a brand like Givenchy – women would die to wear something from the men’s collection of Riccardo Tisci. The past few seasons have shown that gender no longer plays a part for him. That was so when he dressed men in skirts, and it’s just the same when women wear the men’s T-shirts he designs.”