At a first glance, this might have been an unexpectional (which would be an anomaly) Raf Simons collection – a bunch of black and white outfits. But when you look deeper into it, you see what’s so extraordinary about it. Over the last years, genderless dressing has been so prevalent in fashion that it’s almost lost its meaning. We’re so used to seeing boys in dresses that nothing surprises us. In that sense, Raf Simons’s men and women in corporate skirt-suits didn’t send disbelief down the runway at the Bourse de Commerce. But once you actually tried to picture that image unfolding in the real world it was another matter altogether. Simons has always challenged our relationships with conventional dress codes. This collection was his timely reminder that our collective mentality perhaps isn’t quite as far ahead as we’d like to believe. But it was also a compelling study of how those business dress codes could evolve in a real – if still not super near – future. “Right now, I think it’s an important thing because so many men are buying womenswear anyway,” Simons said after the show. “The question is if they’re buying clothes that are made for women, or clothes that are made for both men and women. It’s something I find fascinating to focus on.” Trying to determine the nature of a genderless garment, his research brought him back to where it all begins. “At the birth of a baby, nobody is approaching it like male or female. It’s just a baby. I wanted to work out a shape that works for both in the same way, even if your perception of the girl or the boy dressed in it is different.” Along the way, his silhouette and styling generated a wealth of overtones, illustrating how associative the image of men in skirts and dresses still is to the contemporary eye. Some of the looks had a clinical sensibility about them, which evoked hospital gowns. Some were almost tribal in their uniformity; and others looked ceremonial – religious, even – a fact only intensified by the skeletal hands that clenched the models’ biceps. Simons, who carried the arm rings over from last season, said he considers them a brand symbol, “like Martin has the Tabi boot.” In the context of his dress code rebels, it felt more like the ghosts of tradition trying to cling on to those preordained gender norms tooth and nail. “Maybe it’s autobiographical, I don’t know,” Simons reflected. “I went to a high school that was almost monastic in a way. You were supposed to be this, you were supposed to be that, you couldn’t dress like this, you had to dress like that… It made me think a lot,” he said. This collection was rebellious, but there was also a distinctly Prada-centric character to the clothes and the styling, which made you wonder if the esotericism that permeates the halls of Simons’s other job in Milan hasn’t amplified his susceptibility to ideas of uniformity. “I think it looks more like a uniform on a boy, and more couture on a girl,” he said of his new silhouette. “It’s a very pure, timeless shape.”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.