Jaden Smith, the new face of Louis Vuitton’s 2016 Spring/Summer womenswear collection

Fashion

The press and social media have been buzzing since the release in early January on Instagram of a few shots of Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2016 campaign. The actor-rapper Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, is the new face of the designer’s womenswear collection. Alongside women models that include Jean Campbell, Rianne Van Rompaey and Sarah Brannon, the teenage celebrity is wearing female clothing, including a metal embroidered skirt. Although this might seem like a typical commercial trick benefiting both the fashion house and Jaden Smith’s, it is not based on gratuitous provocation because it raises the increasingly more important question of gender in fashion.

Designers have in the past already explored gender boundaries: Jean-Paul Gautier caused a controversy in 1984 when he included skirts in his male runaway, Riccardo Tisci chose the transgender women Lea T. in 2010 to model his womenswear range, and Sonia Rykiel’s 2015 pre-fall runaway presented ‘woman-inspired men’s wear’. 2015 was a crucial year in the progressive blurring of male and female dress code, first on the runaways of Rick Owens and Alessandro Michele of Gucci, but also for more mainstream brands like Acne. Selfridge, in London, has selling space dedicated to gender-fluid brands. However, Louis Vuitton’s campaign represents a step further in the gender revolution in fashion. This is neither a man dressing-up as a women nor modelling clothes that both genders could wear. While playing with gender boundaries, these options still maintain them. On the contrary, Jaden Smith represents the suppression of the gender limits because he is a straight self-identified male who takes over clothes conventionally intended for women. The actor himself resumed this appropriation last year when he Instagrammed a photo of himself in a dress with a caption saying: “Went to Topshop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean ‘Clothes’”. Men taking over skirts and dresses would be like women adopting trousers and jeans.  The artistic director of Louis Vuitton Nicolas Ghesquière might be dreaming of being the new Coco Chanel…

At this point it is hard to assess the importance of this gender blur in fashion history, if it is a revolution, part of a slow translation towards a complete suppression of gender boundaries, or only a passing trend. Maybe this ideal of a no gender limits would allow fashion to be guided by an aesthetic criteria only. Women wearing trousers was scandalous on George Sand’s time and is completely normal now, at least in our society. This question raises another one on the relation between fashion and social conventions: does fashion adapt to social changes, provoke them, or is it a form of art detached from reality that belongs to imagination and beauty alone? Maybe all three…