What Did LFW Have To Say About Gender?

by Joshua Graham on 23 September 2022

London’s creatives have never been shy at pushing gender discourse and this Fashion Week is no exception with menswear brands expanding with womenswear and vice-versa. Here’s your rundown of the brands that did it well, and the ones that didn't.

London’s creatives have never been shy at pushing gender discourse and this Fashion Week is no exception with menswear brands expanding with womenswear and vice-versa. Here’s your rundown of the brands that did it well, and the ones that didn't.

You only need to make a quick stop at the V&A’s Fashion Masculinities: The Art of Menswear exhibit to see that London has long been a bastion of gender nonconformity. From the dandies to the New Romantics and the disruptive designs of hometown heroes including JW Anderson and Craig Green, it's the city’s creative mavericks that continue to drive the ever-shifting notions of gender. There's never been a shortage of talent blurring the lines of masculinity and femininity, and this London Fashion Week was no different as an influx of menswear designers expanded their worlds with the introduction of womenswear and vice-versa but who did it well? S.S. Daley and Simone Rocha used their latest runway shows to tackle the nuance of identity with their signature romanticism, while branding master Harris Reed continues to try his hand at what he dubs ‘fluid’ demi-couture. Among the noise, it was rising star Chopova Lowena’s stellar runway debut that expertly transcended gender by mirroring the realities of defiant youths around them. Move over Judith Butler, because it's London’s design talent that’s driving today’s gendered discourse.

S.S. Daley S/S 23

In the short time rising label S.S. Daley has been a part of the LFW schedule, the LVMH Prize winner behind it, Steven Stokey Daley, has made quite the impact with his romantic queering of masculinity. The designer's signature soft tailoring and feminine flourish was ever-present in his S/S 23 collection as the Liverpudlian continued to expand his brand with womenswear. The collection was inspired by letters between Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, two queer women who navigated the patriarchal confines of early 20th century English society. In a show defined by ambiguity, the brand's tried and true staples were met with the addition of soft silks, and peeps of tulle, resulting in a melancholic relevance that rings true to the realities of many queer people nearly a century later.

Stefan Cooke S/S 23

Stefan Cooke also made the leap into womenswear with the label’s first co-ed collection for S/S 23. Co-creative directors Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt have expertly challenged ideas of masculinity in their past collections with their theatrical collections. No strangers to having male models don skirts, sequins, and tulle; it’s the juxtaposition of traditional masculine and feminine details that have made them one of the Big Smoke's new exciting talents to watch. Still, there’s an overarching slither of disappointment with their foray into womenswear, which ultimately comes down to a lack of size inclusion evidenced through the presentation of languid bodies decked out in tights, frilled mini skirts and ribbon-detailed tops. If the only androgynous aspect were the silhouettes; poor old Stefan may need a rethink.

Harris Reed S/S 23

An ex-boyfriend once told me to never trust an artist who only produces big work. He explained the imposing size and spectacle almost certainly meant overcompensating for any real substance. While I don’t wholly agree with that statement, it's exactly how I feel about Harris Reed’s S/S 23 demi-couture collection. When it comes to the conversation on gender identity, there's no ignoring Reed’s influence. They have, after all, unceremoniously become the face of what they so brilliantly market as ‘fluid’ (clearly his BA in Fashion Design with Marketing from Central Saint Martins has worked its wonders). While the heroic ideas of unbridled self-expression that Reed touts should be celebrated, the designer’s mish-mash of evening wear ideas leaves much to be desired. In short, Reed’s unshakeable confidence that comes from a place of privilege over any discernible talent or creativity, (culminated in ill-fitting trousers and crafty construction) is less admirable in reality. Do they have anything to say apart from ‘look at me’? That’s yet to be determined. Fun hats though.

Chopova Lowena S/S 23

The two biggest standouts of the gender-bending discourse that took place this season came from Simone Rocha and runway newcomer Chopova Lowena. The latter’s highly anticipated show brought with it a palpable buzz after the well received A/W 22 lookbook highlighting Emma Chopova and Laura Lowena’s affinity for handmade craft. For S/S 23, the duo expertly transcended ideas of masculinity and femininity with a show that reflected the non-binary attitudes of East London’s creative sect. Titled A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose, the collection was inspired by the pageantry behind Bulgaria's summer rose festival. A mix of friends and streetcastings donned the brand’s signature punk-imbued kilts in a display of honest inclusivity that should be at the forefront of any discussion around fashion and gender.

Simone Rocha S/S 23

Finally, there was Simone Rocha's menswear runway debut. The rise of the Rocha man comes after the designer’s commercially viable foray into menswear with an H&M collaboration last year. The heavily compromised fast-fashion collection lacked the designer’s flair for romantic detailing and penchants for airy tulle embellishment. However, it’s fair to say she’s made up for it with her S/S 23 collection. Unapologetically introducing menswear into her whimsical world, the collection subverted masculine tropes inherent in tailoring and utilitarian staples with rounded proportions and frilly tulle skirts. Model’s donned veils down the runway making it difficult to distinguish the male and female presenting models. It’s precisely this ambiguity that should continue to drive fashion’s fascination with gender.

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