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The Apex of Androgyny

Scandinavian fashion has long been the territory of the androgynous, and is the origin of the now ubiquitous trend of girls wearing boys’ clothes. This year witnessed the rise of a new concept amongst the region’s designers – one that declares boys can wear girls’ clothes too. Of course, this two-way street is nothing new in transgender circles, but for the mainstream it’s verging on radical.

The Stockholm based Acne Studios’ latest collection was widely applauded for its challenge to gender stereotyping, featuring creative director Jonny Johansson’s 11-year old son in high heels and a dusty pink coat. In an interview for ID Magazine, Johansson deftly negotiated the delicate territory of gender-activism, describing the campaign as a reaction to a younger generation’s new attitude to fashion that was simply about the “cut, shape and character of the garment.” Then in August, H&M sister brand, & Other Stories, shot the first ever mainstream fashion campaign to feature transgender models and an entire transgender creative team behind the camera.

Whether or not fashion imitates life or vice versa, Sweden has a noble history in promoting gender equality. It’s therefore of little surprise to see the country at the forefront of the movement for gender neutrality and the beginning of a wider culture that is seeking not only to challenge traditional concepts of gender, but to erase them completely. This year saw the introduction of 13,000 words into the Swedish lexicon, including the gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’; a word used by Sweden’s transgender community for over a decade. Guidance for its use is stipulated; for a transgender person, when a gender is unknown or if information regarding the gender of a subject is superfluous.

Like many other Scandinavian schools of thought the movement is taking root elsewhere. Earlier this year luxury London department store Selfridges merged its traditional men’s and women’s departments into three floors of unisex shopping, whilst toy retailer Hamleys removed the pink and blue zones that demarked toys according to gender. Of course, this was old hat for Sweden where gender neutrality has prevailed in preschools and toy manufacturing for years, boding well for the current campaign being more than a passing fad. Lo and behold, Gucci may continue to send out its male models clad in lace and chiffon (as they did in March this year) and the discourse on gender neutrality will continue to be heard. We can but hope.

Acne Studios image: Acne Studios
Child with toy image: DonSmith/Alamy