“Demna Gvasalia Is Preparing Us To Care About Couture” was an an article I wrote back in December discussing Balenciaga’s decision to re-enter fashion’s most rarefied arena. You could argue that, like nearly all headlines, the statement had a bit too much mustard on it — there are plenty of guys who enjoy couture week as a spectacle and have done for a long time. Yet it feels like there is a discernible buzz about this edition in particular, not solely attributable to the Demna-effect, but because of how it speaks to the zeitgeist where a new generation of menswear obsessives are concerned.
Outside of Balenciaga’s gender-inclusive show, we also saw men’s couture by Kim Jones at Fendi, Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, and Giambattista Valli (Jones and Piccioli’s had already dipped their toe into the menswear pool in January). Chitose Abe at Jean Paul-Gaultier and Kerby-Jean Raymond’s Pyer Moss might not have had any menswear in their collections, but both have cultivated fervent enough followings that there was bound to be some crossover interest among male fans. Even yesterday’s Saint Laurent show had some couture-esque looks; the kind that felt more like "grand circus master" than "rock 'n' roll star."
But why are these houses choosing to enter couture for men now? Perhaps it’s simply because they can. Is sending men’s looks down the couture runway — despite its history and stringent rules — really such a big deal in 2021? The likes of Jones have been adapting couture techniques to their menswear for years, so the question is not why would he dabble in men’s at Fendi, but why wouldn’t he? The notion of tradition in fashion gets quainter by the day, thanks in part to Jones and his peers. The floodgates have been long open, albeit I wouldn’t hold my breath for a stringent of men’s suits appearing on, say, the Chanel runway anytime soon.
When trying to work out why couture would strike a chord with men, I think back to a conversation I had a couple of months back with High Fashion Talk director Iolsi Edwards. Iolsi explained how a lot of younger folk were becoming interested in esoteric brands such as Carol Christian Poell, mainly because they were feeling put out by the “mainstream” industry. That's part of it, but so too is the fact that merely possessing knowledge of what makes such design savants unique — in CCP’s case, perhaps it’s the animal blood and human hair — has become a kind of unofficial clout currency in the age of Instagram curators, Clubhouse, and groups like HFT. The more you know, the higher you'll go.
If couture is fashion’s silver tuna, that it would appeal to the artisanal side of a new wave of aficionados who have come to value “the craft” above anything else is obvious; that’s been true as far back as the #menswear Tumblr days. Most won’t be able to afford the $100,000+ garments being shown (the same could apply to a lot of luxury ready-to-wear), but who cares? It’s more like a shared, vicarious experience; an online art show where simply being able to appreciate is enough.
“There is not a 'men’s couture' or a 'women’s couture.' It’s just couture," said Piccoli back in February, echoing Gvaslia’s words that “we want to kind of erase the gender identification of couture being only for women, or only for older women who have money to afford it.” Menswear, womenswear… who the hell cares? Co-ed shows (albeit not as trendy as they once were) have proven that both can exist harmoniously together. Couture needn’t be treated any differently.