The Body: Male Twiggy


The Body: Male Twiggy

Incisive commentaries sprung up in the global media after menswear collections for Spring/ Summer 2016 recently walked the catwalks in Milan and Paris. That gender-blurred, non-classical dressing is storming menswear retail and is no longer about a certain kind of sexuality is the big buzz. Yet, at Gucci a fortnight back, the most discussed show of the season, I found myself groping for a semantic understanding of fashion’s gender-ambivalence. Alessandro Michele, the brand’s creative director since January, sent out a collection titled Détournement on male (and some female) models, all looking painfully skinny, as if trapped in jittery boyishness that precedes coming of age, with vacuous eyes, hollowed faces and a ghostly gait. Boys you would expect to giggle or howl over Xbox. As versions of the Male Twiggy—though the British teenage model of the 1960s was too bright-eyed compared to these young men—walked by, I had to remind myself to also look at the clothes that dressed the au courant male body.

Michele’s note on Détournement, a finely nuanced piece of writing on “memories projected against a new poetic horizon” or “re-associating the reservoirs of memory in new forms”, called his collection “also, and above all, a political device”. That almost said it all. I certainly hadn’t missed the colourful butterfly flanked by two little black bees on one side of the invite to the Gucci show. On the reverse sat a cheeky little cat. The imagery Michele mounted through the clothes and the words of the note were a semantic challenge.

Sitting on straight-backed red painted chairs in what was once a Milanese train depot, now air cooled to perfection with a robust Wi-Fi connection to aid social media fanatics, the audience was spoilt for takeaways. They could take back the story of lavish materials, silhouettes and techniques used for menswear, such as eyelet lace, crochet, satin- stitch embroidery on pastel suits, sexy satin, brocade-like silk jacquard, metallic mesh, and appliqué. They could clap for Michele’s originality. Or wonder how the male model had become indistinguishable from the twig-thin female body in Western fashion, a post-1960s cult which continues to throw its weight till today on catwalks, never mind plus-sized arguments.

Fashion is stitched from dissociated fragments of history to form an aesthetic that makes current sense. You know some and don’t know some. So you must soften your boundaries as a spectator. I found myself rapidly converting to the large square spectacle frames, the silken sheen of dressing gown-like wrap tunics over flared trousers, the knitted crochet skirt ensembles with a butterfly on the chest and even the embroidered suits for men. But unlike the clothes, the white, starved, prepubescent male models didn’t inspire easy praise.

Must we get used to skinny, shaken versions of pop singer Justin Bieber as skeletons of transformative ideas on ambisexual clothes? Aren’t men with flowers in their hair (last season at Gucci), or men with hair buns (actor Leonardo DiCaprio at last year’s UN climate change summit, and actor Jared Leto at the Golden Globes in January), or in clingy lace and little else (Moschino, Men’s Spring/ Summer 2016) enough to begin tracking deconstructed masculinity?

Apparently not. Besides the clear shift in men’s fashion all over the world, there is a movement inside men’s heads egging them to burn their sharp suits and blue, striped shirts. But what we are also witnessing is a global cultural moment. A leaning in towards the non-hunter-gatherer male body, like at Gucci. Sorry Sir Darwin. More importantly, with the brand obviously targeting untried markets in age and sizing, posturing and poise, will Bieber-like consumers replace Brad Pitt-like shoppers at Gucci?

I wonder if besides making compelling clothes, Michele is telling the fashion world to heed to ambisexuality as the current neurosis of our times and not just in fashion. I have butterflies in my stomach wondering if twiggy men will follow the global “un-suit” on the Indian ramp.