when two become one: vivienne westwood on the last day of lfwm
On Monday in London, Vivienne Westwood premiered the brand’s first fusion of its men’s and Red Label shows, kicking off a fall/winter 17 season of co-ed collections.
The fashion industry is watching history unfold this fall/winter 17 show season, don't you know? Not in a way the surrounding world would care very much about, but for editors and buyers alike the season signifies the introduction (or test run, shall we say?) of co-ed shows and a changed fashion cycle. Sibling premiered its on Sunday evening, and before Paul Smith does it at the Paris men's shows and Gucci in Milan for womenswear, Vivienne Westwood fused her Red Label and menswear lines into one grand staging at Seymour Leisure Center on the last day of men's shows in London. The boring ins and outs of buying cycles and press deadlines aside, this fashion revolution (of sorts) does actually impact the grander scheme of things in one interesting way. While the concept of unisex has existed since the Feminist Movement — and increasingly from the 90s onwards — these new co-ed shows mark an opportunity for designers to truly embrace the idea of one wardrobe to rule them all. Mainly because the collections, as Andreas Kronthaler said backstage at Vivienne Westwood, are now designed together at the same time.
"We knew about it straight from the beginning, so we wanted to bring together the shapes and the fabrics and the colors and everything. It was quite easy to do," the Creative Director and husband of Dame Vivienne explained. "Then you start switching around between the boys and girls. It depends who can fit it and who can wear it. Sometimes you put a guy in a dress and he can fit it, but he can't wear it, you know? It's messing around and it's fun. It's a bit like dolls, really, and I think that's what they looked like: dolls with crowns on top, in little things knitted and torn out of pieces from baskets. It had this feeling, not of recycling but of homemade stuff," Kronthaler said, referring to the homespun mood of the collection, which echoed the crafty and intricate message of Sunday's shows in London, too. Vivienne Westwood, of course, is hardly a stranger to unisex garments — it was kind of a cornerstone of the punk movement she co-fronted — and it made Kronthaler's first official foray into the co-ed format a fascinating one to watch.
He had all the boys in dresses and girls in mannish tailoring the way you'd expect from any of his shows — certainly Dame Vivienne's brilliant former Gold Label, now called Andreas Kronthaler Vivienne Westwood, which will still show in Paris — but the collection wasn't about wiping out genders and genitals. Au contraire, "I think it's important to do menswear and womenswear," Kronthaler insisted. "I don't know how to say it, but if the trousers are big you want them larger and if they're tight you want them tighter. It comes in waves. The fashion world is very interesting. It's not just us doing this unisex — or what do you call these shows? I have as much fun dressing up men as women, but in a way it's of course more fun with women — it's a different thing and more challenging in one way or the other, anyway." Vivienne Westwood may represent a punkish attitude to diversity on all levels, but the house very much also represents a punkish attitude to sex appeal — as defined by gender-specific anatomy that can't be denied.
Take for instance a man in tailoring, something the Westwood aesthetic excels in. "We did tailoring even in the World's End era — the punk era — forty years ago. There's this long tradition, and it takes knowhow and experience. Tailoring is something you accumulate more and more. What was important was the generosity of things: big lapels sticking up in the air as far as possible — not this mean little collars of a decent size! I think for too long it was too controlled. When you celebrate something live, things should be a bit big. I mean, big things are nice, aren't they?" Kronthaler quipped, and the statement couldn't be truer than at Vivienne Westwood where every show also comes with a grand activist statement — on this occasion, even prints on shorts. "They're everything Vivienne believes in as an activist. We've just put them on a pair of shorts, really: all her graphics and her campaigning and her manifestos. She did it herself."
In these post-post-modern times of co-ed shows and gender-non-binary-ness, is it wrong to say it's still nice to have both men's and womenswear? God knows we all wear whatever we want to wear anyway, and so the success of co-ed shows becomes more of a question of how advantageous the format is to the fashion presentation. At Vivienne Westwood it worked, mainly because it was one coherent collection for both sexes, and because Kronthaler didn't choose to merge his menswear with the line he shows in Paris, which is too founded in women's dressmaking — demi-couture, if you will — not to be shown on its own. But in many cases, there's a danger the co-ed format will confuse or simply overload the runway. A show is less than ten minutes long and there's a lot to take in as it is. Only the season will tell if our brains will expand — or discombobulate.
Text Anders Christian Madsen