Impact of Unisex
The concept of unisex has far-reaching implications because it disturbs society on such a basic level. Fashion becomes a powerful tool in subverting sexual identity through connotations of dress. Throughout history and with varying degrees of success, designers have challenged conventional dress codes. In the 1920s, Chanel envisioned a new femininity in fashion that incorporated trousers—the symbol of masculine power. However, it was not until the Women's Liberation movement of the 1970s that pants were universally accepted as female attire. From this point forward, the impact of unisex expands more broadly to encompass various themes in fashion including androgyny, mass-market retail, and conceptual clothing.
Androgyny. Androgynous habits of cross-gender impersonation date back to the privileged classes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England and France; however, after the industrial revolution and the subsequent rise of capitalist societies, a fairly structured dress code dividing men and women re-emerged. The next great revolution in fashion—the Youthquake of the 1960s—would shatter those gender ideals. The sixties' premium on youth led the way for fashion that was neither specifically feminine nor masculine. From space age to hippie, the idea of dressing was less about being boyish or girly than it was about an overall frenzy of youth fascination.
The 1970s continued with the exploration of gender both underground and in the mainstream. In fashion proper, Yves Saint Laurent advocated the masculine look for women while the subcultural movements of punk and glam rock established, at least visually, an identity through androgynous dress. Further, in the 1980s, JeanPaul Gaultier sent men and women down the same catwalk in similar-style sarongs and pant-skirts inspired by the Orient. Simultaneously, the new-wave movement fused punk and glam-rock influences to create the next generation of unisex fashion.
In the contemporary moment, the styles of the 1970s and 1980s live on through countless retro revivals, but the pioneer of a new type of androgyny, one reborn in luxury lines, is Hedi Slimane, designer of Dior Homme. Sli-mane reworks men's classic tailoring through subtle detailing, and his collections have become coveted internationally by both chic men and women. As he himself states, "I think it's all a state of mind. Who cares whether a guy or a girl wears the garments? This masculine/feminine dialectic doesn't interest me—in my head, we're all a little bit of both" (eLuxury.com May 2003).
Mass-market retail. Retailers such as The Gap (incidentally born in revolutionary 1969) have produced wildly successful globally marketed clothing lines founded on a basic range of simple unisex separates: T-shirts, jeans, trousers, sweaters, and jackets. Their domination of the clothing market stems from their affordability, accessibility, and their capacity to transcend age, gender, and perhaps most importantly, trends. The Gap's consistency in design and marketing guarantees the firm's continual growth and success in a climate where the average consumer seeks more and more to dress in affordable, comfortable, casual wear that will stand the test of time.
Conceptual mode. The avant-garde in fashion has historically generated design based on a framework of conceptual ideas, converting theories into architecture for the body independent of gender. Ernesto Thayaht worked with fashion under the Futurist conviction that society could only be revolutionized through aesthetics. Fashion bridged the divide between the avant-garde and the masses. In the early 1920s Thayaht created the unisex garment known as the tuta that was similar in design to Russian Constructivist uniforms. The tuta was monotone, varied in fabric depending on the season, and was worn without an undershirt for all occasions.
The legacy of such experiments in fashion was rediscovered in various contexts from the 1980s onward. In contrast to the glitz and glamour of western fashion in the eighties, Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Ya-mamoto created collections the press dubbed as the "postHiroshima look." In a reaction to the hyper-feminized sexuality ubiquitous in European and American fashion, Kawakubo and Yamamoto designed genderless, loose, asymmetric and irregular clothing in black that placed a primacy on garment construction.
Conceptual fashion evolved the following decade with Belgian deconstructionists, most notably Ann De-meulemeester and Martin Margiela. Deconstruction revealed the process of tailoring, shape, and construction through surpassing gender codes and questioning body proportion. While traditional fashion physically reinforces sexual codification, these movements took the notion of gender identity away from clothing and reinserted the importance of garment fabrication and the conceptual origins of creation.
See also Futurist Fashion, Italian; Space Age Styles. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Davis, Fred. Fashion, Culture, and Identity. Chicago and London:
The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Derycke, Luc, and Sandra Van De Veire, eds. Belgian Fashion Design. Bruges: DieKeure, 1999.
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London and New York: Routledge, 1987.
McDowell, Colin. Fashion Today. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 2000.
Steele, Valerie. Fifty Years of Fashion: New Look to Now. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. Vinken, Barbara. "Transvesty-Travesty: Fashion and Gender." Fashion Theory 3, no. 1 (1999).
UZANNE, OCTAVE Octave Uzanne (1852-1931) was a French writer and bibliophile, or book lover. Editor of several journals, such as Le livre (The Book), and founder of bibliophile societies that published illustrated books, he was also a prolific author who specialized in the art of making beautiful books. As of the early 2000s Uzanne is an obscure literary figure, remembered if at all as the author of a short story called "The End of Books" (1895), which foresaw how new technologies might result in such inventions as the audiobook. Yet he also produced a rich, albeit still neglected, body of work that helped to provoke discussion of fashion and femininity in fin-de-siècle France.
Uzanne was obsessed with women's fashions, which he described with ardent, even fetishistic attention to detail. Fashion, he insisted, was woman's only "literature," and he himself the only true "historian" of women's fashions. It is characteristic of Uzanne's work to regard fashion and femininity as inextricably linked. He revived the term féminie to describe everything that fell within the domain of woman—beauty, love, and fashion—and his reputation as a fashion authority was closely associated with his supposed expertise in female psychology. The famous dandy Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, who wrote the preface to Uzanne's second book, Le bric-à-brac de l'amour (1879), told him, "Monsieur, you have le sentiment de la femme. You have what no one has anymore in our frigid era: You have an amorous imagination."
Uzanne's first and perhaps most famous book in the fashion genre was L'éventail (The Fan); (1882), a charming illustrated history of the fan. He admitted that his book was "not by any means a work of mighty wisdom and erudition," but merely the first of a projected series of "little books for the boudoir." Totally ignoring the use of the fan by East Asian men, Uzanne preferred to see it as the quintessential feminine accessory, "the scepter of a beautiful woman." His next book, L'ombrelle, le gant, le manchon (The Sunshade, the Glove, and the Muff); (1883), was also illustrated in rococo style by Paul Avril. Uzanne's tone continued to be playfully erotic. "The muff!" he exclaimed. "Its name alone has something adorable, downy, and voluptuous about it." Regrettably, he never wrote his promised book on shoes and stockings, although he later published Les ornements de la femme (Woman's Ornaments), which reproduced in one volume the combined texts of The Fan and The Sunshade, the Glove, and the Muff, both of which were also translated into English and published in London.
Son Altesse la femme (Her Highness, Woman); (1885) was an even more luxuriously produced book, with full-color illustrations by contemporary artists. Its subject, Uzanne wrote, was "the psychological history of the Frenchwoman from the Middle Ages to the present day." Her psychology, Uzanne implied, was quite sexual and therefore dangerous to mere men. Félicien Rops, best-known for his erotica, illustrated Uzanne's chapter on the medieval woman with a picture of a nude sorceress. One of Uzanne's favorite periods, the eighteenth century, was interpreted as a time of erotic dalliance, when upper-class Frenchwomen changed lovers as easily as they changed dresses.
La Française du siècle (The Frenchwoman of the Century; 1886) focused on the years since the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Uzanne drew on a host of memoirs of the period to create a dramatic picture of changing modes and manners. For example, his chapter on the latter part of the French Revolution, known as the Directoire or Directory, included descriptions of such events as the bal des victimes. These bals were parties attended only by people who had at least one relative who had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror. Women cut their hair short, as though they too were about to be guillotined; some even wore a ribbon of red satin around their necks.
Uzanne later republished what was essentially the same book under at least two different titles: La Femme et la mode. Métamorphoses de la parisienne de 1792 à 1892 (Woman and Fashion: Metamorphoses of the Parisienne, 1792-1892); (1892) and Les Modes de Paris. Variations du goût et de l'esthétique de la femme, 1797-1897 (literally Fashions in Paris, but translated into English as Fashion in Paris. The Various Phases of Feminine Taste and Aesthetics, 1797-1897]; (1897)). As these various titles indicate, women and fashion were virtually interchangeable concepts for Uzanne, at least with respect to Frenchwomen, or Parisiennes, whom he chauvinistically regarded as the most feminine of all women. Significantly, he also emphasized the importance of the specific venues within which fashion-oriented behavior occurred, such as the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne and the annual painting exhibitions at the musée du Louvre.
In the meantime, Uzanne wrote La Femme à Paris, translated into English as The Modern Parisienne; (1894), one of his most significant books. In this work, he moved beyond the restricted world of fashion to explore the lives of women at all levels of French society. Many working women in Paris were employed in some branch of the fashion industry, and Uzanne did considerable research into the lives of dressmakers and saleswomen as well as female artists, actresses, bourgeois housewives, and, of course, sex workers—from common prostitutes to expensive courtesans. In 1910 he repub-lished La Femme à Paris in a cheap edition under the title Parisiennes de ce temps.
Many of Uzanne's books were masterpieces of the art of bookmaking, lavishly produced in numbered edi tions for collectors. He was solicitous of every detail from the typography to the paper and the design of the cover. His book Féminies (1896), for example, was a deluxe publication featuring numerous striking color illustrations by Félicien Rops. As previously mentioned, Uzanne revived the word féminie to refer to everything in the domain of women (beauty, love, fashion), claiming that it was now necessary to use the plural since there existed so many "gynecological republics." The cover illustration of Féminies, influenced by symbolist art, depicted a woman piercing a rose with a dagger.
By the early twentieth century, Uzanne was reduced to publishing small and inexpensive editions of his books. L' Art et les artifices de la beauté (The Art and Artifices of Beauty; 1902), for example, contained only black-and-white illustrations. In a series of chapters on such subjects as cosmetics, hairstyles, corsets, jewelry, and underwear, however, Uzanne continued to explore the ways in which fashion and artifice constructed feminine beauty.
See also Dandyism; Fashion, Historical Studies of; Fashion, Theories of; Paris Fashion.
The books by Uzanne mentioned in this essay are all out of print and generally available only in large research libraries. No book-length study of Uzanne has been published as of early 2004. For Uzanne's era, however, the reader may consult the following works:
Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History. 2nd ed. Oxford, New York, and Tokyo: Berg/Oxford International Publishers, Ltd., 1998. Weber, Eugen. France, Fin de Siècle. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Valerie Steele y7
VALENTINA Working in New York City from the mid-1920s until 1957, Valentina Sanina Nicholaevna Schlée (known professionally as Valentina) was one of a very small, select coterie of mid-century female designers who achieved commercial success and maintained influential careers during the formative years of American fashion.
Working for a carefully chosen, exclusive clientele, Valentina turned out exquisitely cut and constructed evening, cocktail, and day ensembles that were commissioned and crafted in the manner of the French haute couture; every Valentina creation was made to order and was subject to multiple meticulous fittings and hand-finishing until the designer deemed the resulting garment worthy of her label. Known for her floor-gracing, draped, silk jersey gowns; body-skimming evening dresses with low-cut backs; deep décolleté; and bolero evening ensembles, Valentina also designed pared-down day dresses, linens, and undecorated cocktail dresses—all of which exuded a frank, forward-looking minimalist aesthetic.