Fashion, the rare field in which women will always outshine the men

The arrival of the unisex show only highlights how hard it is to make menswear look interesting
Gigi Hadid (left) and Lauren Hutton at Bottega Veneta © Catwalking

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

This is an experimental feature. Give us your feedback. Thank you for your feedback.

What do you think?

“The fact of the matter is, you put a man next to a woman, and everyone looks at the woman.” So said the editor of a mens’ monthly magazine as we left Bottega Veneta SS17, the first show to have combined its men’s and womenswear collections on a single catwalk in its 50-year history, and the 15th anniversary of its creative director Tomas Maier’s arrival at the house.

The editor was not just being casually chauvinistic (#everydaysexism, etc . . . ). He had a point. The menswear at Bottega, perfectly sober patchwork suede and cotton trousers, relaxed suits and sports jackets, was rendered almost invisible by the women that shone alongside them. It was the women who lingered in the memory here, among them Karen Elson, the flame-haired Mancunian model who rose to fame during fashion’s grunge period, looking resplendent in citrus leather, internet It girl Aymeline Valade, and the blonde 1980s supermodel Eva Herzigova.

Gigi Hadid (she of the 23.2m Instagram followers) and Lauren Hutton (the 72-year-old former model and star of American Gigolo) walked together for the finale. The house is reproducing the original intrecciato clutch used by Hutton in that film (and which she also carried on the SS17 catwalk), along with 14 other bags from its archive, and there was no better advertisement for classic beauty with a timeless appeal than the actress herself. It was a major coup. Hadid and Hutton may represent completely different incarnations of the modelling industry as we have come to know it, but this proved once again how high-born cheekbones, a killer smile and exemplary blondeness still rate among its most prized assets. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The vogue for amalgamating the women’s and menswear collections is one taking hold within the fashion industry just as surely as the new retail model of ready-to-buy. While some designers have long sent the odd chap on to the women’s catwalk — Michael Kors likes to think of them as being his women’s “dates”, while Karl Lagerfeld often uses ornamental males to adorn his Chanel sets — they have usually been an ancillary feature. Now they’re getting equal rights. At Burberry, in London, the men’s and women’s ready-to-buy collections were combined last week as part of the company’s new streamlined, retail-ready approach, and Bottega Veneta will be followed next by Gucci, which announced earlier this year they would be combining the two shows as of next March.

For some houses this decision has been financially led: shows are expensive and, in a climate where fashion houses are scrutinising budgets, halving the show cycle makes a lot of sense. It also makes the distribution easier: the buyers get to see everything in one place. Burberry are currently in the midst of a £100m cost-cutting drive across the company. Instead of staging their show within an enormous marquee earlier this month, they moved into the former Foyles building on Charing Cross Road: it was a more modest environment, more “intimate” and, surely, a lot cheaper. At the Kering-owned Bottega Veneta, the decision to combine the shows must in part have been precipitated by the label’s disappointing half-year results in July, which announced its revenues down 9.1 per cent to €571m.

Bottega Veneta © Catwalking

Whatever the reasons, I will say this: it makes for a very long fashion show. Twice as many looks means twice as long to sit twisted on a tiny, narrow backless bench with one’s buttocks squished up against another fashion editor’s. Time can pass very slowly and, at Bottega, where there were 76 looks, the show’s duration certainly stretched the attention span. Thankfully, the womenswear was gorgeously arresting. The men, lovely as they were, became little more than wallpaper. It’s a rare industry that must ask how to make men more visible in the workplace, but it’s a question with which designers will have to grapple as the new show formats move ahead.

No men at Jil Sander, although a man is in charge of the label. Rodolfo Paglialunga’s SS17 collection continued to essay many of the themes the house’s founder made her own — suiting, jackets, functional workwear, sobriety — but here it was flavoured with more current fashionability. The shoulder was oversized, padded and boxy, or sculptural and rounded to the elbow. Jackets and dresses were gathered with drawstring details and sleeves were slashed to the wrist. There were lots of Issey Miyake-style pleats as well, and the palette of pinstripe neutrals was punched up with burnt orange, ice blue and shades of apricot.

Jil Sander © Catwalking

Oversized shoulders were a big feature at Marni also, a SS17 collection in which many of the big themes in Milan were again synthesised — pleating drawstring details, mule shoes and an apron-style-skirt-cum-utility-belt among them. The mega shoulder emerged last year at Vetements and Balenciaga, where designer Demna Gvasalia exaggerated its proportions to create great square-shouldered jackets. JW Anderson has also been experimenting with volume in the past year, showing huge puffs of it (last inspired by the Tudor leg-of-mutton sleeve).

Marni © Catwalking

This season has seen the trend ongoing. At Marni, where the silhouette is always exaggerated, the shoulder was big and dropped to create its outsize shape, but the volume was balanced. Huge pannier-style pocket bags hung from harness belts cinched around the waist. Long skirts swept around mid-calf. Many of the looks were worn with big, structured lacquered shiny bags. It was a terrific show, with an exceptional palette and some really pretty prints.

Salvatore Ferragamo © Catwalking

The other big trend here has been “sports” — few are the luxury houses that have failed to incorporate some aspect of athleticism into their design and the catwalks here have been filled with leggings, moto-style trousers, thin parka-style jackets and sweatshirts. At Salvatore Ferragamo, the accents were more movement-focused — skirts were full and flared, technical fabrics and techniques were interwoven with more typically luxe fabrics like nappa leather, broderie anglaise and python, and sweaters were held in place with X-back suspenders. In the world of the gym-honed, comfort is key. And the fashion world is working hard to keep up.

Photographs: Catwalking

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.