By Selina Dufner
Whether you saw Harry Styles’ Vogue cover or watched the Burberry menswear AW21 presentation, one thing is clear: gender fluid fashion is a hot topic at the moment, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. Filmmaker Mark Isaacs produced a short film for Burberry titled ‘Thoughts on Masculinity’ in which a few people shared their opinion on that topic, as the title suggests. One of those answers stood out for me in particular: “I think everyone is somewhat masculine and somewhat feminine”.
Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent understood that perfectly. When he founded his own label in 1961, it was at the beginning of a revolutionary decade: the ‘60s. Women were tired of hiding their legs underneath a pair of long skirts and Laurent gave them exactly what they wanted: trousers.
With the invention of ‘Le Smoking’ in 1966, he challenged the traditional perception of women’s wear and offered them a more masculine and perhaps more comfortable alternative to the miniskirt. Perfectly tailored suits, usually worn by men, were suddenly seen on women’s bodies.
At first, ‘Le Smoking’ was seen as a controversial piece of clothing, but it became widely popular in the ‘70s when Bianca Perez-Mora Marcías ditched the idea of wearing a wedding dress and chose to marry Mick Jagger in a white YSL suit instead. In 1975, Helmut Newton took what is said to be the most iconic fashion photograph ever. Not a lot of things are happening in that black and white photograph, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting to look at. It shows Danish model Vibeke Knudsen standing in the middle of Rue Aubriot in Paris, wearing ‘Le Smoking’, holding a cigarette in one hand and putting the other casually in the trouser pocket. Knudsen’s hair is all slicked back which gives her an androgynous look. This picture was already provocative enough, but Newton took it even further by pairing Knudsen with another female model and capturing them both kissing each other. The other model is completely undressed, aside from a pair of high heels, to demonstrate that she embraces her femininity and to create a strong contrast to the way Knudsen is styled. Both images appeared in Vogue Paris.
A few years later, Newton took another iconic shot of a female model dressed in ‘Le Smoking’ for Vogue Paris, but this time of Robin Osler. She leans seductively towards model Gia Carangi. The difference to the other photograph: Carangi is fully clothed and instead of their lips touching, the cigarettes in their mouths are doing that job. Thus, this picture is quite intimate as well. Carangi never hid the fact that she was a lesbian and allegedly she was a bit jealous of Osler being the one dressed like a man.
Lesbian, gay, feminine masculine – how come we have to put a label on everything? Maybe Carrie Bradshaw was right, and some labels are best left in the closet. Yves Saint Laurent definitely belongs in mine.