Girls will be Boys and Boys will be Girls
In The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a therapist of former French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby complains that as ‘they get thinner and thinner’ the ‘models look like boys.’ This may be a valid point as the rise of ultra skinny models has appeared to coincide with the prevalence of androgyny on the catwalks. This makes sense, as the absence of fat and muscle on the body diminishes obvious male-female physical characteristics – particularly breasts.
However, images of androgyny and a blurring of distinctions between the genders in fashion is not something linked solely to the size zero debate. Recent years have witnessed the success of two models which attack conventional beliefs about gender.
Lea T caused ripples of shock when Riccardo Tisci made her the face of Givenchy’ AW 10 advertising campaign. A stunning transsexual the Brazilian upset less imaginative viewers posing for the cover of French Vogue – entirely feminine; entirely nude and with one hand covering her male genitals. Similarly, LOVE magazine made her the cover star of their AW10 Androgyny issue, when she was pictured giving a boyish Kate Moss a rather nice looking kiss. Interestingly, inside the issue a head and shoulders shot revealed the most shocking thing about Lea T to be her dumbfounding Amazonian beauty.
The second face is the angelic, crystalline Andrej Pejic. Looking like a cross between the mythological Hermaphrodite and a Veela, Pejic models both men’s and women’s clothes. In January 2011, he walked the men’s shows for Marc Jacobs and Jean-Paul Gaultier and the Gaultier women’s haute couture. This included a partially transparent wedding dress with gothic veil, later adopted by Rhianna. Following the success of SS11 ad campaigns, Pejic’s career shows no sign of abating; proving his presence is more than a gimmick or the fast paced world of fashion would have already forgotten him.
Cross-dressing also featured in Dolce and Gabbana’s AW11 adverts wherein their quintessential Sicilian sirens were paired up with female models styled as teddy boys. Gender ambiguity continued in SS12 with Armani’s crisp, ice hued images of slim silhouettes and sharp tailoring. Likewise, androgynous models such as Freja Beha Erichsen who appears unflappable and the more masculine Stella Tennant have been extremely popular in recent years.
However, all this epicene coolness has been counteracted by attempts to reintroduce the ‘womanly’ woman to fashion. LOVE’s androgyny issue was preceded by what was nicknamed ‘the tits issue’ and espoused old fashioned glamour of the Mad Men wiggle skirt kind. Included in eight possible covers were Kelly Brook, Alessandra Ambrosio (a Victoria’s Secret Angel) and Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely in Jessica Rabbit mode. Other models to have inspired similar ‘return of the woman’ editorials include Lara Stone and Lily Cole- who has surprisingly large boobs, since you asked.
Celebrations of curves frequently coincide with laudatory comments about promoting healthy body weight and employment of plus size models like Crystal Renn. However, models with hourglass figures are most commonly used to spread one message: SEX. Many images of Lara Stone or actress Scarlett Johansson include enough cleavage to suffocate in and employ old school Playboy poses.
Contrastingly, part of Freja Beha Erichsen’s success is her ability to be chameleonic. From classic 1970s androgyny in Yves Saint Lauren, through suburban cartoon villain in Tom Ford and on to unadulterated femininity in Valentino, Erichsen morphs seamlessly between characters and concepts. Perhaps this is part of the appeal of androgynous models, not just their blending of genders, but their versatility in playing different roles. Ultimately, this helps display the clothes and the ideas behind them or a photo story. As Katie Grand said ‘What people do with whatever is in their pants can be interesting, but less so…than what those pants look like.’