Take a look at the runways of international brands in fashion weeks across the world in the past month, and the lines between what once clearly identified as men’s and women’s clothing have blurred. Even closer home in Bollywood, ushering in an era of gender-fluid fashion, is Ranveer Singh. The actor has been channelling androgyny (combination of masculine and feminine characteristics) like no other Indian celebrity ever has. From half-skirts to lowers that are a cross between palazzos and harem pants, the actor has been exploring androgyny effectively.
Artists from Chennai aren’t far behind. In fact, blogger Purushu Arie, was one of the first talents in the country to create a clothing line that celebrates individuality by proposing neutrality of race, age, appearance and every other cultural conditioning and stereotype.
“My women’s wear assignments back in college were designed in a way so that I could wear them later and not abandon them. My graduate collection at NIFT Delhi, inspired by a mélange of saree and lungi, had pan-gender designs. So, gender is no longer a criterion when I design clothes. Back in the day, every gender dressed alike than different. Gendered clothing, that has come into existence in the past few centuries, is a by-product of our sexist and misogynist mindset. My fashion philosophy is to ‘ungender’ the clothes. Gender-neutral fashion looks beyond the binary notion of gender and offers same functionality in clothes regardless of gender. With all these barriers fading, we’re heading towards a future where you will share clothes with all sexes,” says Arie. His garments are cut from handloom lungis by Tirupur weavers. Gatherings, ruffles and bell sleeves of vintage Indian saree-blouse lend inspiration to the crop tops which are ergonomically designed to fit bodies of both sexes.
Meanwhile, designer and stylist Archana Aarthi, came up with a concept shoot on the recently observed International Men’s Day. The model in the shoot wears a beautiful lace shirt and trousers, with a cape, and a bouquet of roses, an image that we’ve conditioned to believe to symbolise a bride waiting for her groom to sweep her off her feet. “The main inspiration of this concept came from a white-themed wedding. I wondered why should it always be a woman waiting for the man, why can’t it be the other way around. The same thought process could be applied for clothing. Also, we wanted to use adjectives like gorgeous, pretty and the like to define a man. At the end of the day, I don’t think fashion has a gender. Every individual defines fashion in their own unique way,” she adds.
City-based photographer Ganesh Toasty, whose photo series Sui Generis (a Latin phrase that means of its, his, her, or their) featuring androgen Lemuel Huffman, went viral, says, “I wanted to de-freakify transgender and gender queer people by revealing their humanity. And fashion was the natural choice to do it. The main idea was to turn the spotlight on a parallel narrative to the traditional rules of gender binaries in fashion or otherwise, so that we can better appreciate the beauty of a person for what they truly are rather than what they’re supposed to be or what they must wear.”
‘I’m not one of them’
While androgyny is seen as a concept by most, for Lemuel Huffman, one of India’s first androgynous models, it is a lifestyle he embraced several years ago. “Androgyny to me is when someone is not into the concept of gender matching clothes, but instead someone who is comfortable being themselves wearing clothes that are made for both genders. I’ve been androgynous ever since I can remember, but it started to get intense since the last 10 years when I was introduced to shows like America’s Next Top Model and RuPauls Drag Race. Gender-neutral clothing is much more exciting to me and there’s so much a person can do with it in terms of styling and making heads turn,” says Huffman.
Being an androgynous model also gives him an edge over the others, he says. “Well, I’m clearly not termed as ‘one of them’ which is an advantage, because most models want to fit in to the industry by just being a pretty face. Anyone and everyone in this present day wants to be a model without having any knowledge about the industry. I on the other hand, know the industry and how it works to a vast extent. Most of all, a model is supposed to have a sense of style even off the runway, which many lack. I know how to carry myself and hands down I could tell you my style is bomb. I’m certainly a cut above the rest,” Huffman says unapologetically.