By Kristopher Fraser
2015 was the year that rebelling against gender norms became a hot topic in the media. Transgender issues and the non-gender conforming movement continue to promote that gender exists on a spectrum and isn’t as black and white as people treat it.
People in the media, like “Orange is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox and ex-Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner, are given increased media visibility to transgender people who fit outside of the traditional gender binary. The idea that there is more than just the male and female gender is becoming increasingly less surprising to people. In the quest the transgender non-gender conforming movement has taken, they’ve found a wonderful ally: the fashion industry.
The androgynous look and non-gender conformity is in, and designers are fully embracing it, and an increased amount of transgender models are being signed to agencies. Of course, long before 2015, there was one big name designer who was a huge fan of rebelling against gender norms, Mr. Jean Paul Gaultier. Gaultier just shuttered his ready-to-wear line, but, in his prime Gaultier was known for staging runway shows where you would be left unclear as to the gender of the person modeling his looks. It was all too common for a male model to strut down the runway in one of his ready-to-wear dresses with full make-up on, and for a female model to be fully adorned in a sleek and flamboyant men’s suit.
At Gaultier’s couture show in July 2014, he had drag queen Conchita Wurst of Eurovision fame make her runway debut. Gaultier is known for being heavy on the drag and the idea that fashion shouldn’t be gender normative.
Androgyny has also become very heavy in the fashion industry. Kris Gottschalk is one of the prime examples of how androgynous models are in high demand. Gottschalk is signed to Elite Model Management, one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world, and she’s in high demand by top designers. During NYFW: Men’s she was in the lineup for the Garciavelez presentation, Public School presentation and Theory’s presentation. While Gottschalk identifies as female, she’s arguably one of the most desirable “male” models in America.
Recently, a surprising new face of gender non-conformity has arrived in the fashion industry, 11-year-old Frasse Johansson, son of Acne creative director Jonny Johansson. Frasse is the face of Acne’s FW15 women’s collection campaign where he’s featured donning an oversized salmon pink wool coat, flared pants, nose jewelry, metallic heels, and a range of leather handbags. Johansson’s decision was not motivated by nepotism, but rather he cited the new generation’s open-mindedness when it comes to gender fluidity and expression as his reason behind casting his son for their women’s wear campaign.
A major face in the world of gender-fluidity and modeling would have to model and recent addition to the cast of “Orange is the New Black”, Ruby Rose. Rose has openly discussed that during her teenager years she began saving for gender-reassignment surgery, but decided against it, and now instead identifies as gender fluid – not fitting in the binary complex of being just male or female. Gender-fluidity is the idea that you don’t need to be on either end of the spectrum, some days you can wake up feeling more female and put on a skirt, other days you can wake up feeling more male and put on your baggy crotch men’s jeans and a baggy t-shirt.
Of course, the ladies getting all the attention lately are the transgender women landing the major fashion and beauty campaigns. Andrea Pejic, a transgender model who has been featured in American Vogue, will appear as the face of Make Up For Ever this year. She’s also walked the runway for Jeremy Scott, Marc Jacobs, and Thome Browne just to name a few. At the forefront of the movement for more transgender models in the industry is modeling agency Apple Model Management.
The agency officially launched in the U.S. in August, and is the world’s first agency solely for transgender models. Apple Model Management is originally Thailand-based. Some models the agency represents include Arisce Wanzer, Tobago-born performer Dominique Brebnor, and Instagram famous Angel Qinan. Cecili Asuncion, who is director of the L.A. branch, was quoted saying to fortune.com that, “The lay of the land is changing. It’s like, ‘OK, cool, you’re trans, let’s see what you got.’ Because I see the women as models first and trans women second.” The industry has come a long way from the days when Caroline Cossey caused the controversy that was heard throughout the modeling world when she posed for playboy and was later outed by British Tabloid News of the World as a trans woman.
The look for male models has changed as well. Back in the days, the traditional alpha male was the hot commodity of the fashion industry. Models like Tyson Beckford had the ideal body types and bicep measurements to be applauded and coveted by designers the world over. While the alpha male look is still there with models like Rob James Evans and Jamie Dornan, the more feminine androgynous look is major in the industry. Looking at the lineup of male models for Theory’s NYFW: Men’s presentation, models had long hair, slender builds, and feminine faces.
The svelte look became all the rage thanks to Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane, who has a strong preference for incredibly slender models for his runway shows. Roan Louch is a male model rising to prominence who is famous for his androgynous look. Louch with his feminine bone structure and flowing long hair has walked the runway for Gucci, Hood by Air, and Maison Margiela. He is the face of what is becoming a major trend in male modeling, a breakaway from the traditionally masculine.
Fashion is in an era where gender is merely an idea that can easily be broken. Models can rock a three-piece suit or a couture gown regardless of whether they are male, female, or outside of the gender binary entirely. While it’s easy to say that this might just be a trend, for an industry known for being on the forefront of LGBT issues, fashion is sure to hold true to its rebellion against gender norms.