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Prada SS16 Menswear Womenswear show Milan Spring Summer
Backstage at Prada SS16Photography Virginia Arcaro

Is it time to ditch gendered fashion weeks?

The world is waking up to new possibilities of gender – isn’t it time the catwalk did too?

Spring/Summer 2016 Men’s and Women’s Show. So read the invitation for last night’s Prada show on the Milan menswear schedule, where a whole troupe of girls – twenty in total – almost stole the spotlight from the boys in slick python skins, graphic prints and mix and match layered tops and dresses. It was far from the first time we’d seen the gender-blending of a Prada runway – after all, the house’s collections have always had parallels between them, often drawn out most consciously in his ‘n’ hers campaign imagery – but this time it felt like it had been pushed it to another level. While such casting decisions are often an easy way to open up the more insular world of menswear to a wider fashion audience, now they’re coming at a time when, both in terms of fashion and the self, ideas of gender are becoming more popularly questioned and deconstructed. 

Of course, Prada isn’t the only one to make its runways co-ed. It’s something that McQueen championed in the 90s, and it’s a trend that’s been notably building over the past couple of seasons, particularly with the menswear shows. As it’s gained ground, more girls have been brought along for the ride, but it doesn’t always go both ways (one stray, shaven-headed model did make his way onto the runway at Proenza Schouler’s AW15 womenswear show in New York, though). This menswear season kicked off in London with Craig Green opting to send two female models down his runway for the first time, explaining backstage that it was a gesture designed to “honour the womenswear followers that we have already.” Girls also showed up at Nasir Mazhar, Matthew Miller, Kit Neale, SiblingBurberry and Coach – where a holy trinity of American model favourites: Binx Walton, Lexi Boling and Julia Bergshoeff – took to the runway. Over in Italy, they were spotted at Moschino in Pitti and Emporio Armani in Milan.

“Such casting decisions are coming at a time when, both in terms of fashion and the self, ideas of gender are becoming more popularly questioned and deconstructed”

It’s not just about creating unexpected, infinitely Instagram-able moments – fashion is undergoing a wider shift towards gender fluidity. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Gucci – with their new direction debuted in Milan last season, Alessandro Michele showed a vision that, as he put it in the recent campaign notes, “blurs the masculine/feminine divide”. Long haired boys sported pussy-bow blouses, shrunken knits and peekaboo lace, barely determinable from the girls on the runway. Meanwhile, other gender-bending provocateurs are still going strong – standout looks from J.W. Anderson’s SS16 menswear show included sheer bodysuits adorned with silver feathers, while Fashion East newcomer Charles Jeffrey threw an ode to his own queer clubnight in his presentation and a whole host of designers explored new erogenous zones for men.

But some are going further. This year Selfridges launched their radical Agender retail space, determined to provide clothes for a “genderless shopping experience” – and indeed, a future where we might realise that dividing our world (and our fashion shows) into two neat categories of male and female just doesn’t really make much sense. Young people, brought up on Tumblr rather than TV, are throwing out the rules of gender more than ever before – look at someone like Jaden Smith, who’s proudly been seen rocking skirts as of late. And while the trans experience is different from androgyny, it seems that after having witnessed Caitlyn Jenner appear on the cover of a major magazine complete with the popular trappings of femininity (long hair, make-up, lingerie), even the mainstream media is realising that ideas of sex and gender are more complex than simply what’s on your birth certificate.

It’s decades since Jean Paul Gaultier made fashion editors leave his show in an outrage over the fact he’d put men in skirts, and girls have long since been borrowing clothes from the boys. But as male and female models appear side by side on the runways, it’s easy to wonder just why fashion remains so gender segregated. Just as the topic of race in the industry is more than a black and white issue, there’s a lot more to gender than simply male and female, and the simplistic divide of fashion weeks seems outdated. While combining the seasons would make for a killer schedule, it might also encourage designers to think more creatively about new ways to showcase their collections. After all, fashion’s always been about pushing against boundaries and breaking out of boxes. The world is waking up to new possibilities of gender – isn’t it time the catwalk did too?