“Femininity is less about what we see than what we want to see,” said the Danish designer Astrid Andersen backstage on Sunday after her show at London men’s fashion week.
Silk, lace and florals often appear in Andersen’s collections. And if her comment sounded vague and a little highfalutin it was an accurate digest of the key themes of not only her show, but the weekend, which was less about traditional binary notions – and more about anything goes.
Andersen’s designs have always riffed on stereotypes of masculinity. Famous for putting rappers in lace tracksuits, she was an early adopter of contemporary sports luxe and remains, six years on, a purist of the canon.
This was a steady collection of micro-fine tailored basketball shorts, silken two-piece floral tracksuits and muted green parachute coats. The heraldic logo was dotted arbitrarily alongside foreign legion hats in lace. Rest assured that ab-baring crop tops, perhaps the main pillar of her collections, prevailed.
This autumn collection was inspired by safari – though Andersen’s themes were globalisation, exploration “and a world united by discovery” rather than big-game hunts. Perhaps the standout piece was a Chanel-esque tweed tracksuit in cornflower blue. It was, she suggested, a sort on in-joke about playing with the big boys of the industry.
If Andersen’s collection was as ever a gender-fluid approach to menswear, and to the establishment, it was just the tip of an iceberg from the last three days. For the past few years, menswear in London has been split between two camps: the lad and the peacock, a divide most explicit on the front row, where trainers sat cheek by jowl with Brummellian jacquard.
In a battle of Blur/Oasis proportions, thanks to the success of British designers such as Christopher Shannon, Cottweiler and Liam Hodges, kings of luxe casualwear, sportswear tipped the balance. But, as is customary, this has created a vacuum for a new focus: genderless fashion. Not just unisex, or gender-fluid clothes, but all-out gowns complete with corsets and panniers and modelled by gender-fluid models.
The new generation of British talent at the MAN show was a good starting point on Saturday afternoon. Art School, a collective focused on non-binary fashion, dressed models in full gowns and tweed two-pieces.
Pink dresses in pseudo trompe l’oeil and bright strappy dresses were shown alongside sheer shift dresses in red and tartan gowns. RCA graduate Per Götesson deployed pink and frayed-edged gowns on male models, while Rottingdean Bazaar, a name to watch, put their star model, drag artist Harrie Bradshaw, in a dress built from jeans, accessorised with a millennial pink saw.
Some models vogued, others did Rambert-like interpretations on the catwalk. Collectively, the three shows played with themes of gender, Tumblr and the mundane, and were deliciously esoteric. But that was the point: the message here was have fun, be creative and do what you want. In short, this was a rebuttal of conformity.
Old-school sportswear remained a minor theme elsewhere. Cottweiler’s understated collection reframed the design duo’s signature look – slim-fitting silken tracksuits in white and latte paired with “sponsors” Reebok – and Christopher Shannon’s fun, funny presentation in which boys sat on a pleather sofa playing video game Pro Evo football in tracksuits felt more like an installation than a presentation. But the message was clear: sportswear is no longer the kingpin.
The change is not surprising – but the change in mood at London was possibly industry led. Insiders raised an eyebrow at the departure of JW Anderson, perhaps the starriest name in the calendar and who this year is showing at Pitti Uomo in Florence.
Anderson loved skirts, and has been a trailblazer for experimental menswear without betraying the egalitarian aesthetic that made his clothes wearable. His absence has created space for fledgling eccentrics.
This generation of designers, fresh from college and presumably riddled in debt following the raising of tuition fees in 2012, will struggle to make ends meet. If you can’t make money from fashion, why not have fun with it? Why not have your opening model dance in a dress?
“Gendered clothes don’t really exist in the way they did,” said Andersen, smiling backstage. “So perhaps it is just how you are choosing to see it?” Answering the age-old question of who wears the trousers, in London the answer is no one.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010