Women were borrowing from men’s wardrobes long before Diane Keaton knotted a tie beneath her vest in Woody Allen’s 1977 movie Annie Hall, but now men are raiding the wardrobes of female friends for jackets and sweaters with an extra edge. Seeing an opportunity to offload more blazers and baggy pants, savvy Australian female fashion brands are opening their change rooms to everyone.
Since 2004 the tailored aesthetic of designer Margie Woods’ label Viktoria & Woods has appealed to , but when its boxy blazers caught the eye of men, it introduced a unisex collection which has found its way onto the shoulders of a discerning clientele.
Creating pieces for men has been brewing in the background for years because it makes sense with our sensibility of being sporty and laid-back, Woods says. Friends have been encouraging us but during the COVID-19 lockdown we found the courage to launch the unisex pieces.
I tried one of Viktoria & Woods single-buttoned unisex blazers, which fit my 193 cm frame as easily as my traditional tailored suit jackets, with the only difference being an absence of pockets on the inside (where do women put phones and crumpled Mars Bars wrappers? ) and the button fastening on the opposite side.
We have had feedback on the buttons and will be making changes, Woods says. It’s funny because a woman wouldn’t think twice about a man’s button, they would embrace it. Women are happy to be androgynous but many men are still scared of being feminine.
For Nikki Campbell and Sophie Coote, founders of Sir the Label – which gained popularity in 2014 with floaty white linen dresses – they always suspected their tailored pieces and T-shirts would be popular with men. Then they checked their website analytics.
When we saw that 15 per cent of visitors to our website were men, we knew we had to do something, Campbell says. Last year the label released a capsule men’s collection featuring simple straight-leg white drill pants, asymmetric T-shirts and white linen shirts with drooping collars that nodded to the ’70s.
Following the success of the staples, Australian male supermodel Jordan Barrett was enlisted to collaborate on a unisex range packed with cargo flight pants, ribbed singlets and chunky cable-knit sweaters – perfect for watching the cricket from a sports bar that serves espresso martinis.
Jordan has always had a foot in the door with Sir since the early days, when we were running the business out of our bedroom in Tamarama, Campbell says.
Coote adds: He has a strong creative eye and has always given us a lot of feedback. Since we admire his personal style, it made sense to do something together. There were a few late night conversations and the collaboration was born.
Launched last month, sales from the unisex range have been split equally between male and female customers. And there’s been an 8-10 per cent increase in men to the website, Campbell says.
Perhaps the greatest leap across the gender divide in our department stores is by race day staple By Johnny, with designer Johnny Schembri launching hoodies, flannel shirts and long-sleeved T-shirts alongside strapless tangerine dresses with cut-outs and pink marle miniskirts.
Well I could lie and say that it was part of our vision, but it was because of COVID-19, Schembri says of the budding men’s collection. With lockdown, the market for dresses fell over immediately so we had to look at our dead stock fabric and how we could move forward with a unisex drop of sweaters and hoodies. That was our introduction.
With the muscled Schembri his own advertisement for the sporty pieces on social media, the collection found favour among his friends as well as female customers looking for presents for their boyfriend.
The interesting thing is the way it’s grown, Schembri says. We thought it would be the safest pieces that would sell out but when you put up a party shirt, it’s out the door in seconds. Now men’s is an important part of our growth strategy.
You just can’t pick who is going to buy something nowadays.
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