The fashion industry is one that celebrates uniqueness. Kids who are bullied for their looks at school become supermodels, men wear dresses, tables become skirts and mobs of pastel-clothed Courtney Love look-alikes dance like puppets to Offenbach. Ok, so the last couple of things only happened once, but a boy can dream. My point is that the world of fashion is, in theory, where you can be whoever you want to be. However, clothing also polices gender, splitting the population in two according to sex. Where does this leave those who aren’t content with traditional gender labels? Will the open-mindedness of high fashion filter down to the highstreet and eliminate the escalator separating the women’s floor from the men’s?
Andrej Pejic has been the model of the moment since he was scouted in his teens. The details of his discovery are a much mythologised topic: was he found behind the tills of McDonalds? Was it at a swimming pool? I guess we’ll never know for sure. His incredible blonde-bombshell androgyny has led him to model both menswear and womenswear, and in January 2011 he was the first person to walk both the men’s and women’s runway shows for Jean-Paul Gaultier. When he’s not being mistaken for a gorgeous blonde girl by straight men, Andrej is featuring in prestigious catwalk shows and shooting countless editorials for the world’s top magazines. His celebrity status is also on the rise: he appears as a guest judge on this season of BINTM, and rumours of his very own reality tv show have just surfaced on the internet.
However, not everyone is ready to embrace androgyny. Last year, Pejic was voted as number 98 in FHM’s ‘100 Sexiest Women in the World 2011’. Evidentally, the magazine’s writers weren’t too happy with this, and posted an offensive rant alongside his position in the list. They branded him a “thing”, a “proffessional cross-dresser” who “fooled his model agency” and even added “pass the sick bucket”. They also brought up “troubling” transexual female model Lea T, and claimed that this transgender stuff is “one fashion trend [they] won’t be following.” FHM, ladies and gentlemen: a beacon of tolerance and equality to light the way to a new world (as long as that world is populated by top heavy girls and fast cars). The piece was soon removed from the web, and the publication offered a public apology, but you can see a screen-cap of the original content here. Another famous controversy happened at Barnes and Noble, where a copy of Dossier magazine, featuring a topless Andrej Pejic on its cover, was covered with an opaque sleeve in order to prevent ‘confusion’.
In my experience, it is more acceptable for a woman to shop on the men’s floor than the other way round. The I-just-woke-up-next-to-a-guy-and-borrowed-his-sweater look has long been stylish for girls. But what happens when males go out in skirts and make-up? Sadly, a lot of odd looks and pre-judgement. I was thrilled, then, to see men’s skirts in Riccardo Tisci’s S/S12 collection for Givenchy. Even Kanye West has sported one on-stage during the Watch the Throne tour. Similar gender-play has appeared in collections by Comme Des Garcons, Yoji Yamamoto and many others. It remains to be seen whether trends like this are on their way to the highstreet at large.
Fashion isn’t the only industry in which you’ll find forward thinking about gender. It’s a much-explored theme in the visual and performing art worlds, and singers have been using their on-stage personas to blur the boundaries for decades –think David Bowie, Boy George, and more recently Ssion and No Bra. Looking at Andrej Pejic and all of our successful androgynous role models, I think we can be positive that things are slowly changing around here. It can only get better. Hopefully you’re overcome by a powerful urge to punch the air right now, so I’ll leave you with a little audiovisual celebration of gender-bending goodness to prolong the feeling.