One doesn’t have to look far to see the fetishisation of male youth in fashion. Since antiquity the nostalgic, innocence of the male form has been at the forefront of art; think Donatello’s 15th Century bronze cast of prepubescent David depicted post-slay of Goliath. In contemporary times, these fascinations are perhaps more latent, with the stigma of HIV and AIDS still somewhat fresh from the nineties, it is a natural reaction for people to shy away from the subject.
However, with the eruption of brands like Gosha Rubchinskiy, sometimes it is as though the themes of the male ephebe are directly linked with streetwear. Has the industry lost the romanticism behind youth and instead replaced it with the tired aesthetic of “football hooligans” and “post-soviet rebels”. Male youth now seems to have a fixed image, when the subcultural movements of youth, by definition, defy categorisation; and more importantly cannot be grouped together under the same social milieu. Thinking I am condemning Rubchinskiy is false, his influence on fashion has been astonishing in recent years, but when I look towards past collections from the likes of JW Anderson I see an abstract translation of male youth; rather than literal. His Fall 2014 collection is a testament to his gender-transient nature; the cut is feminine and the line curvilinear, unlike the actuality of some streetwear, the clothing is whimsical. Anderson subverts the aesthetic of masculinity, as seen in his collaboration with Versus Versace for the Resort 2014 collection, by showing pieces that embrace gender neutrality and respond to the club kid culture; the perfect marriage of Versus and JW.
This romanticism of the male experience is what I, personally, see as youth culture. It’s easy to overlook the nostalgia of being young when confronted with the rest of your life ahead of you; especially when forced to make life-governing decisions. Perhaps my escapist attitude is bias towards a Dorian-Gray-esque way of thinking but I do see the sanctity of youth as important (minus the narcissistic tendencies of course). This is the only answer I could think of when questioning why throughout history the arts have had a magnetism towards the young male subject; the idea of freedom.
This season Rei Kawakubo intelligently captured the care free attitude of male adolescence, as sprite-like models adorned various colour ways of glittered shorts and danced around the wooden platform. By “danced” I mean the “kind of shuffled” as you can imagine a normal, awkward boy would do in a club, a perfect depiction of the realities of teenage life. The show shook the typical, depersonalised atmosphere perpetuated by most fashion shows; instead Kawakubo projected the light-heartedness of being young, a welcoming feeling when one thinks about current political affairs. Ann Demeulemeester reacted differently to male youth, creative director Sebastien Meunier choosing instead to experiment with the sensuality of material. A full sleeved sheer top covered, only slightly, by the harsh cut of an asymmetric leather waistcoat; the story was playfully romantic and perfectly fitting for a spring/ summer collection.
Seen in every season the infatuation with male youth is sure to continue into the near future and with designers like Raf being at the helm of commercial megabrand Calvin Klein, the obsession is sure to be televised.