Mumbai Fashion Week Takes a Stand on Gender Neutrality

The fashion platform joins the global conversation surrounding gender identity and LGBT rights

This is the output of millions of years of evolution!? Shame. Shame. When you’re born like a man, try and be one for the rest of your life (sic).

Well then in next few years, girls will grow beard and moustache in fashion shows. Creativity has gone so far, that it is becoming senseless (sic).

The subtext underlying these extreme reactions captures the mindset of the Indian heterosexual male, wincing at the sight of model Saket Sharma wearing blue eyeshadow and blush-pink lipstick with a light stubble.

His photograph was posted on MensXP’s (India’s online magazine for men) Facebook page on February 3. Sharma was in costume for designer Narendra Kumar’s gender-free show at the recently concluded Spring 2017 edition of Lakme Fashion Week, which ran from February 1 through 5 in Mumbai. “The Facebook comments, some vituperative, but mostly mature, echo the divide in society. One section wants us to be evolved, but then a larger group is fixated on patriarchal hierarchy. I’m surprised at the number of men who stood up against close-minded comments, though,” said Kumar about his presentation, titled “Millenials,” which looked at unisex clothes using a coed runway format.

Fashion is personal. Peel off the glamour and its core function is to rattle the senses, tell stories of diverse self-expression. As the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-movement picks up momentum, a section of millennials (Generation Z aged between 18 to 34) say gender goes beyond the M and F tick boxes on official government forms. They say, with nonchalance, gender is so yesterday! At Kumar’s show held on February 3, boys flaunted makeup, and sported relaxed bomber jackets screen-printed with jungle motifs. Girls wore skinny ties and strapping tailored suits, with faces scrubbed clean of greasepaint. And just like that, Kumar turned India’s idea of gender identity on its head. “The millenials represent the current mindset, and they are slowly dismantling the binary notions of gender. And my job as designer is to bring these social changes to the fore,” said the heterosexual designer, throwing us a laugh on his way to an after-party, the characteristic baldpate sporting a scarlet wig.

While the world sees developments in favor of the LGBT rights movement, India fights little battles every day, standing up for alternate sexuality even as the highest court in the country came very close in 2013 to trashing the archaic section 377 (dating back to colonial rule of 1862), which defines homosexuality as “deviant behavior.”

By providing a platform for gender-free clothing, and the inclusion of transgender and gender-neutral models, Lakme Fashion Week this season joined the ongoing global narrative about the larger need for individuality in fashion, something that, in the West, has now been embraced by design houses big and small, major beauty brands, and beyond. And so, Nepal’s transgender model Anjali Lama became the first from her ilk to walk the ramp. Czech-Slovakian model Petr Nitka, who identifies as gender neutral, modeled clothing for both men and women. As Jaspreet Chandok, Head of Fashion, IMG-Reliance, organizers of the event, put it, “We are committed to breaking stereotypes in Indian fashion by leading the conversation on inclusivity.”

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