South Africa menswear Week was rife with menswear labels reclaiming classically feminine silhouettes and trends. This reclamation swept through even the most stoic of labels, showing up in silken shirts and flared trousers, slouched jackets and blousons. Everyone was willing to try some aspect of this, push their boundaries. After all, for the last 50 years, women had done the same from menswear. But as with all design, there are lines that cannot be crossed, boundaries that demarcate where a label goes from innovation to mockery. And South African Label Merwe Mode seems to have rubbished that line in their new Spring 17 collection.
As a label Merwe Mode has always taken its design cues from street trends and the dress ethics of South Africa’s sub cultures, which explains why it has always veered towards androgyny and how subcultures use this rejection of traditional gendered norms to establish alternate identities. Their Spring 17 collection however moves from the streets to the boudoirs.
There is a definite sensuality to the new collection that we have never quite seen from Merwe mode. Silks, satin and chiffon, traditionally used in sleep wear and lingerie are the highlights of the collection this season, as is its signature piece, a sleeveless romper with a boned corset bodice, reworked for a man’s body. The label also reworks the classic satin shift dress and night robe, butching them up just enough that they flatter a man’s body. They also touch classic cropped blazers and the peplum blouse, softening it further with a sweetheart hem. The construction is fantastic, as is the execution of their ideas.
However, the collection begs the question; where do you draw the line in the appropriation of menswear? Much of the collection comes off rebellious for it’s own sake, with no greater message, no arching theme that challenges the status quo. The models merely look like men in dresses.
The message can’t be that simple, that devoid of nuance. With the work that has gone into this collection, it shouldn’t be.
Simon Deiner/SDR Photo.