juun.j goes genderless at the pitti menswear fair
On Wednesday at the Florentine men’s fashion week Pitti Immagine, Juun.J gave it up for gender-neutral fashion while Indian designer Suket Dhir won the Woolmark Prize.
And so it begins. At the finale show for the Woolmark Prize on Wednesday evening in Florence, David Bowie's Heroes provided the soundtrack in what's sure to be just the beginning of a men's show season paying tribute to the world's ultimate menswear icon. Menswear-it's an old-fashioned word, especially in a time where there are more terms for 'gender-neutral' than there are for 'male' and 'female'. It was a paradox Juun.J dealt with in his headlining show for the Pitti Immagine fashion fair in Florence where words such as 'genderless' and 'boundaryless' were splashed across his typically blown-up outerwear.
That was paradoxical in itself: a show billed as a 'menswear collection' by a 'menswear designer' at a 'menswear fashion fair', claiming to be genderless? In a post-Bowie age, you'd think pointing it out defeats the point but come to think of it, fashion and its consumers actually haven't learned much from the androgyny Bowie introduced in the 60s. Fifty years on, despite efforts by every designer from Jean Paul Gaultier to Meadham Kirchhoff, we still deal in men's and womenswear, and a navy cashmere jumper at Uniqlo is apparently different for women than it is for men even if the two are identical.
"I wanted to show a collection without any limits," Juun.J explained backstage. In his native Korea, which stands out in all things human rights related, homosexuality is oddly something of a taboo, especially amongst older generations. Alongside the emergence of K-Pop, it's an attitude which ironically enables young men to go to town on their fashion-forward looks, because the often-androgynous appearance favoured by the cool kids who hang out in Seoul's vibing Itaewon area isn't necessarily associated with effeminacy or being gay. This hardly makes it easier to be gay in Korea, but in terms of pushing the codes of masculinity it's an interesting scenario.
The word 'kkonminam' is affectionately used to describe young men, who basically look like girls. It means 'flower boys', because their ivory-skinned [sometimes surgically enhanced] faces, long [sometimes false] lashes, and glossy [sometimes painted] lips make them look like pretty porcelain flowers, much in the tradition of the K-Pop stars. In the Korean sense, Juun.J was the perfect designer to comment on these genderless times in which we find ourselves, not least for the fact that he felt the need to spell it out like the millennial social media generation would on Twitter or Instagram.
Was the collection genderless, then? Answering that question would ruin its message for all of us. But there's definitely a shape-shifting quality about Juun.J's oversized proportions and sudden super skinny cuts that takes the male form out of the picture and creates some sort of blank canvas for the gender of the wearer. That considered, the designer was a great choice for Pitti Immagine, this amazing Florentine menswear institution that never ceases to outdo itself every season.
Why? Because Pitti lives off the idea of menswear (the sartorial peacocking side of which is taken the extreme here) and is dependant upon its future survival, but still dares to host a designer who challenges that old-fashioned border between men's and womenswear, which Bowie was already breaking down half a century ago. There wasn't much gender-neutrality in the show for the Woolmark Prize before Juun.J, which was won by Indian designer Suket Dhir-now 100,000 Australian dollars richer. But the collection, which could best be described as a Bohemian take on Paul Smith, tackled wool from the woven perspective, showing Dhir's impressive skill in the knitwear department.
Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Giovanni Giannoni.