Spring 2020 Paris Men's Shows Champion Gender-Bending Style

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Spring 2020 runway looks at Commes des Garcons, Thom Browne and Louis Vuitton.

“If a guy wants to wear a dress, then he should be able to wear a dress and not care about what people think,” said designer Thom Browne.

It's not new to see men in dresses and skirts. Actor-musician Jaden Smith has long crushed gender norms in his personal wardrobe, and he memorably wore women’s runway looks in a Louis Vuitton spring 2016 ad campaign. And now we have creative director Alessandro Michele at Gucci regularly dressing guys (including brand face Jared Leto) in frocks and frills, and Pose star Billy Porter and musician Harry Styles on the forefront of gender-bending style statements from red carpet to stage to street. So it’s no surprise that the fashion world is playing catch-up.

An early signal was the Saint Laurent spring 2020 men’s show in Malibu on June 6, where guys stepped out in louche pieces such as billowy silk harem pants. The trend continued in Europe, where key designers at the latest shows for spring-summer 2020 at Paris Mens Fashion Week embraced a nonbinary aesthetic — often with women alongside the guys on the all-inclusive runways.

At Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh proposed having men champion floral motifs, a bloom of pastel hues, and sweeping floor-length pleated skirts. Timothee Chalamet may be pleased to see a new variation of the Vuitton harness he donned at the Golden Globes, updated with daisies, while fresh flowers burst out of handbags and hats and were translated in embroidery and pattern on shirts, shorts, cargo pants, trench coats, duffel bags and more. There were also loads of man bags for the taking, often worn in multiple.

Kim Jones continues to infuse hints of feminine elegance into menswear since taking over Dior Homme last year, entrenched in the idea that millennials don’t follow the same dress rule book as their predecessors. Why shouldn’t boys wear sheer pastels, satin sashes, bold jewelry and carry a handbag (a variety, from clutches to champagne cases, were offered as part of a collaboration with Rimowa)?

Nothing quite topped the Fendi men's show in Milan, where a parade of covetable handbags stole the show as every gentlemen model carried one. In the mix were new versions of the house Baguette bag in raffia and exotic skins, hampers, totes with perforated detailing, cross-body bags, clutches, belt bags, backpacks, luxurious work cases, duffels with webbing stripe handles, even a tote shaped like a watering can. Isn’t it high time that guys had handbags, too, rather than having to stuff essentials into their pockets?

New York-based designer Emily Adams Bode took home the Emerging Designer of the Year honor at the CFDA Awards earlier this month and in Paris, her first runway show offered a variety of ballet slippers for men. In step, Thom Browne’s show opened with drag queen-cum-American Ballet Theater principal dancer James Whiteside en pointe in a seersucker tutu, playing Mr. Browne's alter-ego, Monsieur Brun. Browne explained his vision to The Hollywood Reporter backstage. “I started with a feminine 18th century [dress] silhouette, using panniers for volume, and then used seersucker throughout as something very American.” 

Browne’s looks were peppered with sports references, from the brand’s signature shrunken jackets paired with matching seersucker kilts and shorts outfitted with codpads to basketballs, footballs and baseballs translated into bags and shoes. Yet the designer noting that lacing on padded skirts, reminiscent of traditional football pant lacing, “added something more understandable to men.” And there were skirts aplenty, including corsetry-inspired pieces attached to literal drop-waist skirts, caged "hoop" skirts, and skirts with wide, padded silhouettes.

Browne said: “It comes down to confidence in men and women just being able to be themselves. If a guy wants to wear a dress, then he should be able to wear a dress and not care about what people think. The same goes for women to wear, say and do and be as important as they deserve to be. Look, men in heels is not for everyone but I think it looks good. It’s just ideas and concepts that make people think a little differently and push [the conversation] forward.”

The sentiment was echoed at Commes des Garçons Hommes Plus, where visionary designer Rei Kawakubo has always dabbled in the idea of gender neutrality. Inspired by her upcoming job designing costumes for Olga Neuwirth’s December 2019 Vienna State Opera production of Orlando (Virginia Woolf’s famously pioneering novel whose heroine crossed the boundaries of gender), Kawakubo introduced prim Edwardian gents in frocks, skirts and ruffles with bobbed hair and pearls — a theme that she plans to continue for the fall-winter collection.

Pastel suiting, shirting and sportswear (a growing trend in menswear over the past year) added to the message. The sherbet shades, including millennial pink, showed up on sheer fabrics at Dior, Louis Vuitton and Heron Preston and in satin at Balmain, in a series of '80s-inspired suits shown with pants or shorts, while several brands showed pastel trenches and overcoats. Balmain also showed sherbet-colored sportswear including leather bombers, varsity jackets and tees. Jonathan Anderson for Loewe proposed a modern suit in lavender that consisted of cropped pants, a tied-waistband shirt and an open unstructured jacket.

Los Angeles-based designer Mike Amiri also leaned on a primarily pastel palette for his label Amiri that included tailored jackets, trousers, waistcoats and a blush-colored overcoat. And there were delicate crochet knits (another take on the sheer trend). Amiri’s references to Woodstock and the music scene played out in drum-shaped and electric guitar-inspired handbags as well as luxe oversized totes with detailing on the closure that resembled audio plugs to hit that perfect masculine-meets-feminine sweet spot.

As Billy Porter’s stylist Sam Ratelle told THR earlier this month, while discussing Porter’s skirted, matador-inspired look at the Pose season two premiere and speaking to the pair’s goal: “It’s all about changing perception. We want to keep challenging the notion of what it means to dress like a man or a woman. Women have been wearing pants for decades, but you put a dude in a skirt and it's like the world falls apart. We want to keep expressing that it's okay to literally wear whatever you want.”