When it comes to the FW24/25 collections no one could remain indifferent to the presence of female models and silhouettes on the runways of men's fashion shows over the past few weeks.
As AFP reports: "Paris Fashion Week menswear, which took place from January 16 to January 21, 2024, transcended all binary notions and seamlessly mixed men's and women's creations on its runways." But beyond this appealing headline, what does this evolution say about the business of fashion?
According to Christelle Cagi Nicolau, head of support for emerging brands at the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), interviewed by FashionUnited at the PFW Sphère showroom, "fashion has become genderless, it’s a real consumption phenomenon.”
She continued: “In South Korea, for example, stores like Empty Store no longer have separate men's or women's spaces. In Japan, there has always been a predisposition for women to buy men's jackets and, conversely, for men to buy women's sweaters. Today, among Gen Z, this has become a mass phenomenon in the country."
When looking at the technical aspect of designing a collection, designers create patterns based on both male and female bodies and offer a wide size range, from XS to XXL. Some allow their clients to choose which direction a coat or jacket should open in. This new technicality enables buyers to reference both men and women.
An example of this is buyer Hervé Huchet, owner of the French multi-brand store La Villa Hommes, who ordered pieces from the brands Études and Drôle de Monsieur, thinking "this could appeal to women who enter my store."
A more favorable open-to-buy (purchase commitment budget) in January than in March
But behind the flamboyance of Naomi Campbell for Balmain's men's collection, Coco Rocha for Louis Gabriel Nouchi, Lou Doillon for AMI, or Pharrell Williams' cowgirl at Louis Vuitton, there is a market to satisfy: while the genderless trend is a societal fact, the timing of buyers' budgets is an economic reality.
During Men's Fashion Week which takes place twice a year, in January and in June, buyers have their full budget for ordering. The March and October periods, in other words, during the autumn/winter and spring/summer women's fashion weeks, come a little late in the international sales campaign calendar (after New York, London and Milan). Perhaps even too late, according to some experts.
As evidence, luxury brands have long been using the men's sales campaigns to present their pre-collections (which even start in November). The same goes for multi-brand showrooms. “All the houses that do evening wear, semi-couture, and even contemporary wear present in January in multi-brand showrooms such as Mirabelle, AMF, or The Good Six (with collections like Rodarte),” Xavier Latapie, co-founder of the Moddity guide, explained to FashionUnited.
“Simply because buyers have their entire budget in January to buy for the following fall/winter season. Why wait until late February/early March to buy the collections”.
This is particularly true in January, which is a busy month for men's fashion shows, showrooms, trade fairs (Man, Tranoï, Wecome, Who's Next) and Haute Couture presentations. It's enough to capture the attention of buyers, press and VIPs for almost two weeks. Haute Couture week, and especially the 'off-show', is already serving as a launching pad for greater visibility.
Paris fashion week menswear is more than just a launch pad for women's collections
This phenomenon can be observed at Tranoï Man, partner of Paris Fashion Week, which has reopened its doors to women's pre-collections. Four brands in a space dedicated to the Gaité Lyrique is a start, but it’s also a clear sign of market positioning.
“The idea is to present in January to reach my buyers earlier,” says Eilola Teija, Finnish creator of a namesake British brand, to FashionUnited. “This gives me more time to produce and allows department stores to install the winter collection as early as June.” It should be noted that this explanation might explain why large stores wish to discount summer collections as early as June, thereby creating chaos for independent retailers.
Another testimony gathered at Tranoï comes from Dino He, a cashmere manufacturer for Loro Piana, who launched his own label, Kashette, three years ago: "Buyers have their entire budgets at this time of year, so it's easier to sell collections.” And that, pragmatically, is why more and more women's collections can be found on the catwalks of men's fashion week.
Does this mean that men's fashion week could surpass women's as the primary market week?
Paris has a title to defend: that of the fashion capital, the place where all designers aspire to showcase for prestige. Indeed, Parisian women's fashion week maintains an untouched aura. It's where designers of all nationalities gather to make a mark, prioritising their ambassadors (influencers and personalities) as vectors of likes on social media, over buyers, especially luxury brands which primarily distribute through their own stores.
“We are dealing with sliding open-to-buy budgets: when sales go well, buyers might have additional budgets,” Christelle Cagi Nicolau, explained. “As Americans discount their winter collections at the end of November, they want early deliveries. The Japanese discount two months later and wish for later deliveries. Thus, many brands continue to present their entire collection and their statement pieces to the press in March.”
In the era of genderless fashion and budget constraints, is the concept of separate men's and women's fashion weeks a bit outdated? The question arises, but it also warrants nuance. In recent seasons, fashion has been riding the wave of the genderfluid and Quiet Luxury trends, characterised by women's desire to wear suits inspired by men's wardrobes. But as with any "trend," it implies transience.
“We are seeing suits, three-pieces, tailoring, beautiful coats, and oversized styles,” Patricia Lerat, brand strategist at PLC Consulting, said, speaking to FashionUnited. “The increased presence of women shows a desire to wear similar clothing, but also reflects all faces and ages of today’s society.”
“We have never seen so many 'older guys' on the runway,” she adds. “Beyond market realities, there is a desire for inclusion, to show that people of a certain age have a fashion culture. Designers like Yohji Yamamoto or Walter Van Beirendonck are free-spirited and filled with humour. They bring joy. They have understood that, in this world, we need to stop being pretentious: we should be able to mix it all up.”
And that’s how ‘Paris will always be Paris’, to borrow the catchphrase from the FW24/25 show of Pierre Mahéo, founder of Officine Générale.
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and edit from French into English by Veerle Versteeg.