Fashion is a genderless beast, blurring the line of what distinguishes men’s from women’s wear as industry insiders parade around events rocking whatever the hell they want. Hailing tall, lanky limbed creatures, the beauty ideal is stripped of sexuality before it is artificially repainted on androgynous interpretations of the two sexes.
For too long has androgyny reigned the scene, repressing the flawed, vulgar and obscenely voluptuous side of human desire. Sure, sex pervades the industry, but only artificially, as photoshopped twigs taunt us from billboards wearing almost nothing, yet bearing no realistic resemblance to the sex appeal of the natural male and female bodies.
Danish fashion designer, Nicklas Kunz recognizes the masculine power that lives inside a sexually empowered female and he wants to unleash it, by letting her force inspire his eponymous menswear line. Fashion has hailed androgyny for too long, objectifying women by stripping, shrinking, and stylizing their ideal shape to both create unreachable standards for the female public and encourage unreasonable expectations from the opposite sex. The ingredients of sexiness exist only ostensibly — the nudity, the curves and the untamed manes worn effortlessly disheveled— while the posing models battle insecurities, eating disorders and chauvinism behind the scenes.
As a woman writing this, I can (hopefully without rebuttal) claim that this objectification of the female body is being acknowledged to a certain extent by the curve-embracing trend that hits the runways every few seasons. You know, the one where these unattainable ideals of beauty sashay down the runway in textile creations that exaggerate the round female shape commonly erased by androgyny. Though it’s not enough to eradicate the tendency to keep women looking like pre-pubescent girls, at least it is rapidly becoming a popular, if not tired to the point of having no effect, topic of discussions around dinner tables and in Cosmo.
What is perhaps more troubling, are the male standards of beauty set by this industry we all love to hate but can’t live without. Robbed of traditional masculinity — the rugged, tough, less than hairless appearance shaken, not stirred with a heavy handle of confidence — male models are shaven bare, prancing down catwalks on fragile limbs to pout their sharpest fish face, showing off those sunken shaven cheeks dusted with shimmering bronzer. Sure, on billboards, men flaunt washboard abs and broad shoulders, but the size of the ad is more of an optical illusion, combining the highly stylized ingredients of masculinity, painting them on in Photoshop and blowing the image out of proportion. And, like their sexualized pixie counterparts, these dudes are consumed with their appearance off camera, making any real looking man insecure about his rugged shape.
When Andrej Pejic took the world by storm as the first male to grace the cover of Elle magazine, he was hailed for redefining androgyny, acknowledging the fluid nature of sexuality, the spectrum of gender, if you will. And yet, “while this is all well and oh so politically correct, the tendency overlooks the opposing poles of gender,” Kunz told me during a recent stint in New York, explaining why he thinks androgyny is overrated, threatening the power of sexuality by stripping it away. “If a man can dress as a woman without it being drag or unisex, it jeopardizes the traits of both genders.”
The sentiment is neither homophobic nor anti-transgender, but rather a concern for the slow erosion of the distinction between the feminine and masculine essences all of us embody. “Androgyny is pushing masculinity towards femininity, and that doesn’t work, because we forget the man inside the woman’s clothes,“ he professed before musing, “How will this affect the future of masculinity? Who will be the hunters of the future? What will happen to the feminine, when men adopt female characteristics? Will the masculine qualities of strength, that both genders can embody, disappear?”
The interchangeable nature of androgyny poses a threat to the futures of these gendered traits, spurning Kunz to channel the traditional hunter role in his menswear designs in order to reclaim the strong characteristics that epitomize masculinity, reinstating its power and beauty. Less abstractly, his collections comprise voluminous pieces to echo the male shape, accentuating broad shoulders to command notions of strength, attitude and confidence. In other words, he wants to put the sex back in menswear by returning to its core: man. And, in so doing, honor the unisex essence of male strength in both genders and, by opposition, preserve the dichotomy between rugged masculinity and delicate femininity. Stay tuned, as Kunz is currently working on a collection inspired by the Rocky trilogy.