The gender benders

Updated: May 27 2007, 05:30am hrs
Times have changed, and so has the fashion statement of an urbanite world. You wear a pink striped shirt to office, while your secretary sports an utterly masculine watch without being called a tomboy. Though there is no doubt that most shopping till date is done within the confines of a menswear and womenswear mindset, the new generation of fashion aficionados, both consumers and fashion brands, are opting to give gender preferences a break, while they shop and sell.

Rashmi Atal, a manager with Indraprastha University, has splurged on Benettons newly launched unisex perfume. Among her many reasons to pick this moss-green, curvy bottle caged in a glass box is a break from the routine. Tired of the soft feminine fragrances, I used to try masculine ones as they stay for long. My brother, however, complained that I was trying something too masculine and that it might not go down too well with people. But with the new perfume, I think one can fight this mindset. First its tagged unisexual, so there are no complaints; second its in vogue, so it gets all the more attention, she says.

Benettons new unisex perfume is not the only one in the category. Numerous customers globally boast Calvin Kleins unisex fragrances Ck1 and Ck Be. Fastrack, the sporty youth brand of Titan Industries, wants to repeat the success registered with its limited-edition unisex range of wrist-watches. Allen Solly too has extended its Friday Dressing mood to women, positioning the brand as unisex. Crocs, the American casual footwear brand, recently launched a beachwear collection in India meant for adultsgiving the same colour palette and styles to both men and women.

Trend forecasters like Rajiv Goyal, however, think this has been there for some time. The differences that have occurred over the years are the increased confidence level among women and the ready-to- experiment attitude among men, he says. The latest line of unisex perfumes, he adds, has followed the colognes that are citrus fragrances and are weak in concentration so that it can click with both the genders. The look has surprisingly been taken well in apparel. Today, the fabrics and prints are kept almost same. Thanks to brands like Levis, one sees same fits and styles existing for both men and women. Moreover, one doesnt come across gender biases while picking gadgets and cars. These days, no one minds a bit of stylisation in these. When one sees both David Beckham and Beyonce Knowles owning a sapphire-studded Vertu Ascent series phone by Nokia, one agrees that diamonds, if used smartly, can interest both men and women, he elaborates.

Dilip Kapur, president, Hidesign, agrees wholeheartedly. Though his brand has bags that take care of individual gender tastes, certain sections of his range are also unisex. And, as he suggests, this has happened automatically. While working with international designers, Kapur realised that designs that work globally not necessarily depend on what would suit a man or woman. The thumb rule is functionality. That is the reason we see common styles doing rounds in the work wear category. Work brings both the sexes together. That is the reason why functionality is the focus, he says, and adds, Another reason for the prominence of the unisex look is the casualness setting in the lifestyle segment, especially in the sports and casual wear brands. When I see men from fashion capitals like Milan and London carrying big travel bags with handles like those on ladies bag, the idea is clear. In our imagery too, we avoid stacking our products as feminine or masculine, he says.

Vikas Gupta, president and CEO, Lacoste India, also underlines the functionality principle. Many times, usage of a product goes beyond gender specification. It typically happens when a consumer looks for a functional benefit from a product or a category rather than enhancement or expression of ones personality.

A consumer seeking impact resistance on a treadmill would buy footwear with proper shock absorption; a customer wanting a grip shoe for the squash court would buy shoes with treads; a consumer seeking to control body heat would wear a certain kind of garment irrespective of gender preference. But if one talks about occasion-based dressing, style and areas are clearly defined.

Very different from these views are those of people like adman Prathap Suthan. Saying he is conservative about fashion, he thinks the unisex look is nothing but a fad. But will it last With companies, may be, yes, as they get a chance to serve something different to their customers. What they are looking at is creating a third category besides those for men and women. Ask me as a consumer, the apparel or style of an individual is an integral part of his personality. Personally, I would like to stick to my kind of clothes, says the national creative director of Grey Worldwide, who doesnt mind the unisex blue-jeans-white-shirt look.

Finally, its the person wearing the clothes who will decide which way he or she wants to gostraddle the gender divide or stay clear of the border. Meanwhile, stay alert for some mild confusion in the fashion statements being made.