PARIS — Whoever said fashion was fickle? At the opening of one of the most highly anticipated Paris men’s weeks in history, could the conscious uncoupling of a cluster of the industry’s most influential brands returning to stand-alone show formats for men’s trigger an about-turn from other players aboard the coed movement? And could the shift indicate that the coed format on many levels is not working out?
Among the switchers adding major clout to the week, which opened Tuesday, Givenchy, Jil Sander and Celine will present the first stand-alone men’s shows under their respective creative directors — Clare Waight Keller, Luke and Lucie Meier and Hedi Slimane — with the latter marking the brand’s first men’s show.
Paris newcomer J.W. Anderson has also returned to a separate showcase for men’s.
“We observe that after testing the formula, several brands [are going] back to stand-alone shows in order in their view to more clearly value each of the two collections,” noted Ralph Toledano, president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
It’s a move that’s drawn the collective thumbs-up from men’s editors and buyers. But with the coed juggernaut already well in motion, the future of the dedicated men’s fashion weeks, in particular London and New York, remains in jeopardy.
As reported, according to data from Launchmetrics, the Media Impact Value — a quantitative number generated by an algorithm to measure the impact of relevant media placements — of men’s showcases around the world has been constantly diminishing as big names exit in favor of coed shows held during the women’s shows, with brands increasingly opting for a unified message across their departments.
With coed shows held during women’s fashion weeks more likely to maximize return on investment for brands, for Carlo Capasa, president of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, the concept of joining men’s and women’s “continues to be very strong across the men’s and women’s weeks, with just some slight signs that point to the direction [of uncoupling].”
Of the 27 shows of Milan’s just-wrapped men’s fashion week, 12 were coed, with a number of brands set to hold shows there during Milan Fashion Week women’s next month.
But while coed shows may reach more eyeballs, with Stella McCartney, Balenciaga, Haider Ackermann and Sonia Rykiel among brands featuring models of both sexes on the catwalk, the physical reality of readjusting schedules for men’s buying and editorial teams is proving a logistical headache.
Despite brands like Gucci, with its gender-fluid collections, having benefited from having a coed show, for men’s influencer Nick Wooster, “it’s only going to be good for men’s wear to have them separated.”
“Of course it’s a disaster,” he said of men’s wear being shown on the women’s schedule. “Everyone, from publications to retail stores, has to worry about the bottom line, so of course it causes havoc. Also with the schedule, because the men’s specialists always travel in these months and the women’s travel in those months,” said Wooster who, like many, thinks it would have been smarter for production, timing-wise, for coed shows to be aligned with the men’s schedule, which falls earlier.
“There is a delicate balance that obviously got upset, but also by the same token, in fashion we should be experimenting, we should be trying different things. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I think it’s probably easier for the system to go back to the way it was,” he added.
“In the end, Prada was always the smart one who maintained doing what they’re doing, and I think that’s great. There’s been a consistency in the schedule and it’s kind of an anchor for Milan week,” Wooster said.
For some, in today’s world where messaging is key, to not have editors, retailers and influencers physically experience a collection being presented in a specific moment in time, and in the context of the fashion week it sits in alongside its peers, risks having a negative impact eventually upon the sales of that collection and its relevance.
For the men’s crowd, when it comes to men’s being presented as part of a coed show on the women’s calendar, women’s wear no matter what, because of the nature of the business, will always take over. Hence competitors choosing to give the right message to the right audience could have a competitive advantage.
After all, the men’s showcases in Florence, Milan and Paris, whose schedules are filled with big brand names, continue to hold on to their relevance, according to Launchmetrics, with Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton men’s debut in June generating 18.2 million euros worth of media impact value, as reported.
Lee Goldup, men’s wear buyer at Browns Fashion, is all for brands returning to stand-alone shows, which he reads as “an indication of the strength of men’s fashion” and “the growing interest in men’s wear at a global scale.”
He would love to see the likes of Burberry and Gucci follow suit. “It would be a big deal for men’s fashion week. It is exciting to see Givenchy moving to a dedicated men’s presentation, and I can’t wait to see Celine’s debut men’s show,” he said.
While he understands “to a degree” why brands might want to have one show instead of two — “budgets and also resources, so therefore it does make sense to show during women’s rather than men’s when more international editors and buyers are traveling” — Goldup does not attend the women’s fashion shows, which means “I don’t get to experience the brand’s dedicated moment.”
With fashion still very much dominated by women’s, despite men’s wear increasing at a phenomenal rate, the men’s element of the show, he said, “can sometimes get a little lost.”
Goldup nonetheless acknowledged that coed showcases presented during women’s weeks — “even if the men’s element of the show can sometimes get a little lost” — don’t necessarily negatively impact the sales of men’s collections, “as long as [brands] still commit to a strong showing of men’s looks during the coed shows.”
Mr Porter buying director Fiona Firth is also in favor of safeguarding the men’s weeks and the stand-alone-show format, “especially as the direction of men’s fashion continues to evolve under new talent.”
“Stand-alone shows put men’s wear back in focus and provide designers with an opportunity to communicate their vision of men’s ready-to-wear to a growing market segment,” she said.
In Firth’s view, in the men’s wear landscape, where there are a significant number of men’s-wear-only businesses, “it’s important that we maintain a dedicated platform for these designers to present their collections in the market.”
As such, while a number of heritage brands continue their coed approach aligned with the women’s schedule, for her it’s an encouraging sign to see the ongoing commitment to Paris men’s from “other iconic brands with strong commercial and cultural relevance.”
Firth said she is looking forward to seeing Slimane expand his men’s wear vision at Celine, and anticipates “more of the dark, slimline aesthetic we saw in the spring collection.”
Influencer Wooster agrees that a stand-alone show allows for more depth of vision.
Case in point: Waight Keller, an experienced men’s wear designer who this week will present her first dedicated men’s presentation at Givenchy’s headquarters on Avenue George V, before returning to the runway in June. For the designer, who upon joining Givenchy had the challenge of designing couture for the first time in her career (she also introduced men’s haute couture at the house), the coed format allowed time to ease into her role.
“I can only imagine that creatively, it will be more interesting to express an idea more fully developed by stand-alone shows,” Wooster said.
For others, including Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, there is no “one-size-fits-all” formula, however.
The question for a designer of whether to shift focus from a single to a dual-gender show or vice versa, or which fashion week or city feels more particularly relevant, “is truly open for interpretation and timing for a brand,” he said, adding that the circumstances for a brand from one season to the next may shift depending upon their desired focus, market, etc., “resulting in a healthy fluidity in the show calendars.”
“Men’s wear has been a particular highlight in the industry of late due to the exponential growth of an interested and engaged customer because of the proliferation of and access to information and media as well as the unprecedented shifts and appointments of designers to dominant houses and brands that have added great excitement,” continued Pask. “All of this adds to the anticipation surrounding the men’s wear fashion weeks and I’m thrilled for the additions we’re seeing to the show schedules.”
For others, it’s simply a question of practicality.
Even coed partisan Heron Preston who, when he launched his collection a year ago, aimed for it to be gender-neutral and unisex — “This came from sharing clothes with my girlfriend, she was always wearing my clothes and looking really good in them” — is open to questioning whether the concept represents a realistic reflection of the market.
“When it comes to the masses, those who are actually shopping in stores, I think it’s easier for buyers and consumers to make that distinction in their head between men’s and women’s. I think it’s coming maybe more from a sales point of view and the market is demanding and responding to,” he said.
“When you look at how buyers buy and present in their stores, stores aren’t really set up to present in that way yet. There’s a men’s section and a women’s section, so it’s really a business decision.”
While for him, the coed approach represents “a very fashion-forward, future way of thinking of fashion, I’m starting to realize what maybe some of the other brands are starting to realize — the world isn’t quite there,” he said.