Forty-six years ago, in July 1969, the Rolling Stones took to the stage for a concert in Hyde Park. It was two days after the death of guitarist Brian Jones and thousands of young fans flocked to see them. The gig was dedicated to Jones, and Mick Jagger read from Andonais, a poem Shelley wrote about the loss of his friend John Keats. What did Jagger, arguably then the figurehead of youth culture, wear for this poignant moment? A white, frilled dress with a pie crust collar covered with bows.
Ever since Elvis wore eyeliner, men in rock have enjoyed a bit of dressing up and challenging the cultural idea of masculinity. Some of the most iconic men in pop – David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Jimi Hendrix – ruled rock’s airwaves done up to the nines in frilled blouses, glitter makeup, brocade, high heels and feather boas. They even had their own designers – Bowie worked with Michael Fish, creator of what became known n as “the man dress” and the designer of Jagger’s 1969 number. The subversiveness of all this only added to their allure, their air of transgression and all-round swagger.
While Springsteen’s leather jacket and Status Quo’s denim are a vital blue-collar, who-cares-about-fashion, macho vision of masculinity in rock, it’s the gender-playing, androgynous aesthetic menswear designers are studying now. Today’s catwalks show styles typically associated with womenswear, only this time worn with stubble and a slouch and an unmistakable masculine attitude.
Take Gucci. This season is the debut outing for new designer Alessandro Michele. Although he had worked with the previous creative director, Frida Giannini, for more than 10 years, his image of men is light years away from hers. Her last Gucci menswear show was all nautical, jet set, grown-up and 100% masculine. His first show, for autumn/winter 2015, began with a boy with long blond hair in a red pussy-bow blouse and continued with sheer lace T-shirts, capes and lots more blouses. What a difference a season makes.
It wasn’t just Gucci who put their weight behind this new, more flamboyant ideal of man. Balmain’s models wore jackets made of sparkly jewels over their polonecks, Givenchy and Dries Van Noten had kilts and patterned, embellished blouses, while Haider Ackermann created a band of boys in louche leopard-print coats, stringy silk scarves and chelsea boots. JW Anderson – always a disrupter when it comes to gender and fashion – had boys in tight leather, skinny knitwear and bootleg trousers worthy of Prince.
Then there’s Hedi Slimane’s Saint Laurent. Since he became creative director in 2012, the brand has been a greatest hits of rock’n’roll fashion. Musicians rather than models were cast for this season’s catwalk shows; boys – skinny as rakes, with that signature Slimane-approved swagger – in shocking pink fur coats, leather trousers, mesh tops, eyeliner and heels as high as those of the girls who sometimes joined them on the catwalk.
Damien Paul, head of menswear at matchesfashion, links this trend to “a reaction against the sports-influenced look that has been dominant for the last few years and no longer feels impactful. Now it feels much more subversive to channel an androgynous look.”
It’s a subversion that, ironically, has been missing from music of late. A quick scan of the charts shows that – just as in the pre-glam era – being a regular guy is the thing. There’s the buttoned-up, Sinatra-influenced smartness of Mark Ronson, the T-shirts and jeans of Years & Years, and the hats and hair combo of singer-songwriter types such as James Bay. The likes of Kanye West wearing a Givenchy kilt, Kid Cudi in a crop top at last year’s Coachella festival or rapper Lil B wearing chandelier earrings this summer are few and far between in pop. West, hardly conservative when it comes to clothes, even apparently tried to remove images of himself wearing the kilt from photography agency Getty after negative press online.
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