Written by Jamie Russell
Fri. 9. Aug.
Belfast City; a land where bright white Nikes roam and rule the streets. Where tracksuits, socks and trainers form the foundations of each and every look. The old faithful ''jeans'n'shirt'' combo is never quite complete without the obligatory brown loafers and for the vast majority of men, fashion is something to poke fun at or fear. Haute Couture is unheard of and it is safe to assume a lack of style has become the most predominant trend of all. Meanwhile womenswear flourishes under the guise of commerciality and seasonal sold out catwalk events. Why are there so few fashion forward fellas gracing our front rows?
Cut to any other major city around the world and the story changes. Glancing at sites such as LookBook and tumblr, a barrage of exciting new cuts and colours scream from the screen with stunning visuals depicting each city’s style through an image of the fashion conscious male. It's clear the male inhabitants of Belfast have some major catching up to do. Nevertheless a new breed of menswear is sharpening its teeth, prepared to pounce, as designers Riccardo Tisci, Thom Browne and our very own homegrown J.W.Anderson to name a few, slowly loosen the leash holding back the beast.
Under the influence of street-style, these modern menswear designers alter our perception of masculinity. Employing a feminine approach in their design aesthetic, high fashion menswear is changing form and adopting a new identity. Ultimately, designers are creating an entirely new brand of fashion, unisexual and unique and they are not alone.
In Versace’s Autumn/Winter 2012, Donatella explored the contemporary use of studding, floral brocade suits and even dared to dress one dude in skin-tight double denims, dripping in ghetto gold chains. Sheer shirts came complete with crystals and it wouldn't be Versace without a whole herd of leather jackets, both oversized and super skinny. For Lanvin, traditional views of menswear were redefined as Alber Elbaz and Lucas Ossendrijver sculpted a more masculine silhouette, utilising feminine techniques. Waists came cinched to create military inspired looks, while extreme padded shoulders and flamboyant collars found themselves providing men with an entirely new shape for the season ahead. In New York, Thom Browne veered away from deconstructing standard suits and instead smothered his collection in sparkling studs. The androgynous punk uniform was reborn as the skinniest of jeans came embellished all over and cropped belly-top knitwear seemed dark and dangerous due to studded and spiked shoulders.
Cut to Spring/Summer 2014 and we are set for the least masculine menswear season yet, as recent catwalks showcased relaxed silhouettes, feminine fabric choices and an altogether ambiguous gender identity. Sheer and mesh vests arrived like a plague. Burberry delivered it clean and contemporary, Rick Owens paired it oversized with fringed skirts and leather and Shaun Samson kept it ghetto. Vibrant floral prints and lace bloomed at Alexander McQueen and Christopher Kane. Kilts, skirts and leggings dressed an African army at Givenchy, and J.W Anderson took femininity to an even greater level as his male models took to the runway in all manner of shape and style. Halter-neck tops and ruffled garments made a brazenly defiant statement concerning modern masculinity within the world of high-fashion.
Despite these daring displays of menswear alluding to feminine details within design, a consistent masculine current continued to flow throughout each of the aforementioned collections. Men and women’s clothing has begun to meet in not-so holy matrimony, with a passionate tryst resulting in truly androgynous attire suitable for both genders. So as leggings and tights slowly infiltrate male style across the globe, just how long before the average skirt evolves into a M’irt?
Back to Belfast then, in our fair city, it is hardly surprising the top catwalk trends barely filter down to the everyday man’s wardrobe. While certain brand names do offer edgier pieces, it cannot be denied menswear has no place within the mainstream fashion scene of Northern Ireland. Semi-clothed muscle men are used upon catwalks to amp up the token sex-factor, while the styles remain the same season in, season out. Steady yourselves lads, this may come as quite a shock: Men now wear women’s clothing. FACT.
Across the country a new form of gender-bending has come into play. It’s not about sexuality. It’s about fashion. More importantly, it's perfectly allowed. Those skinny jeans your mate wore out on Friday night? Primark. Womenswear. £10.00. The t-shirt your brother has started wearing? It actually belongs to his girlfriend. Vintage. £12.00. I'm not ashamed to admit a good portion of my wardrobe began life in a ladieswear department, slowly growing into something I’ve reworked myself with a touch of DIY, made acceptable for me to wear on numerous occasions.
Quirky and fashionable trends have simply not existed for the men of Northern Ireland. Rendering them helpless but to create the desired look from alternate means. Does it matter if the label reads M or F? Ultimately it's all fabric and thread at the end of the day, right? So perhaps next time you find yourself lusting after forbidden fruit in the form of a finer fitted jacket or a statement necklace you KNOW you could carry off, give in to temptation. After all, Adam and Eve both wore the same leaves...
Video & Behind The Scenes: Simon Crawford.