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Fashion shows that different is beautiful

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Signing Casey Legler as a male model pushes boundaries between gender and identity.

Despite being declared a trend in 2011 by Vogue, gender as art and performance in fashion appears to be lasting longer than a single season.

With Casey Legler being signed to Ford models exclusively as a male model, she joins transgender model Lea T and male model Andrej Pejic in blurring boundaries between the definitions of gendered beauty.

Challenging the traditional concepts of male and female may be easier in an industry that celebrates the outré, particularly in couture.

However, for an industry often in the headlines for the wrong reasons – the skinniness of models, rather than the art of the design – using models who expand the definitions of beauty may help advance general acceptance and understanding of more fluid concepts of gender.

Legler is a former Olympic swimmer for France who, after quitting swimming, moved to New York where she worked and studied before being signed to Ford.

Lea T was born in Brazil to a Catholic family and was named Leandro. From the start of her modelling career, she has spoken out about being transgender and the loneliness it can cause.

Andrej Pejic, while modelling both men’s and women’s clothes, is increasingly building his name on his beauty in pieces designed for women.

While Pejic is known for his reticence on the subjects of gender and sexuality, both Lea T and Legler are using their public profiles as a platform from which to lead discussions on identity and gender.

Lea has been open about her decision to undergo sex reassignment surgery in 2012, and it is her unique honesty coupled with her beauty that Benetton is featuring in its Spring/Summer 2013 ad campaign.

Brand Republic says the ads show that Benetton ‘is aligning the social issues it features in brand advertising with its product campaigns for the first time.’

Benetton chairman Alessandro Benetton said that “this brand… holds diversity as a value, and the unity of differences as a wealth to be treasured.”

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Legler said, “My job is to be brave. And to show what that looks like.

“And if that moves other people to be exactly who they are, that’s what it’s for.”

As well as the models wearing the designs, the clothes themselves are playing a role in the new discussions about gender.

British designer JW Anderson is making a name for himself through his androgynous designs which focus on the beauty of the clothes, rather than the definition of the person who may wear them.

“I think the brand will always be about androgyny,” he said.

“That kind of mixture of sex and sharing of garments – I think it’s normal. It’s about wearing clothes that tell a story and an emotion; it’s not so much about gender.”

It appears possible that an industry that is regularly accused of various “isms”, particularly size-ism and age-ism, is providing increased space for openness about gender in its many forms.

And as Lea says in her Benetton video, “I try to be myself.”

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