Masculine-skewed dressing has cropped up on the runway with increasing regularity over the past few seasons. With his new publication, designer Thakoon Panichgul encourages women to take it one step further and embrace everyday menswear. By Grace O’Neill.
Hoodie, Ninety Percent from Net-a-Porter. Trousers, P. Johnson Femme. Shoes, Converse. Bracelet, Cartier. Earrings (worn throughout), model’s own.
Sophisticated women have always been drawn to men’s clothes,” declares Thakoon Panichgul, the New York wunderkind designer who has just returned from a two-year design hiatus with an unexpected new job title: Magazine publisher. Panichgul was banking that his theory about women who love menswear would resonate when he launched HommeGirls, a digital and print publication created explicitly for women who embrace a “borrowed from the boys” approach to clothes. “If you understand style,” he continues, “you are ballsy enough to go into the men’s department and find something.”
Panichgul didn’t set out to create his own fashion publication, although it’s not a total surprise, given that he spent the early days of his career as a fashion features assistant at Harper’s BAZAAR US. In fact, the idea came after a period in which he thought he was done with fashion altogether. After a career trajectory that saw him transform from Parsons design student to internationally recognised sensation in a whirlwind few years in the mid-to-late 2000s (Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama were among his early adopters), Panichgul hit the wall of creative burnout. “I started to re-evaluate my love for fashion,” he says. “I felt like we were collectively falling asleep at the wheel, and for me personally, just doing runway show after runway show after runway show... I wasn’t satisfied.”
Blazer; trousers, Christopher Esber. Bra, Baserange from mychameleon.com.au. Ring, Heart of Bone. Necklace, Sophie Buhai from mychameleon.com.au
So he stopped. He put his eponymous fashion brand on hold for a couple of years, travelled the world and did some soul searching. “There were moments when I was like, I hate fashion. I’m done with fashion,” he admits. “But as I travelled to cities in South America and Cuba, Marrakech and Bali, I found myself constantly thinking about clothes. It was a telltale sign that I didn’t hate fashion; I just felt that the industry was lacking a conversation about style.”
HommeGirls, which launched in June 2019, tapped into a changing movement for the industry. There has been a blurring of gender lines on the runway as a growing number of brands, including Gucci, JW Anderson and Salvatore Ferragamo, opt to show menswear and womenswear together. There has also been an increase in the launch of menswear arms by traditionally feminine brands— recent converts include Jacquemus, Gabriela Hearst and Sies Marjan. Grace Wales Bonner began her career as a menswear designer, but her impeccable tailoring has found a large audience with women, and American label Eckhaus Latta is staging gender-neutral fashion shows, the latest in a cohort of gender-neutral brands.
Another dramatic shift has been fashion’s obvious favouring of practical, functional clothing. It seems that as women climb the corporate ladder, occupy more seats in parliament, manage larger companies and assume more leadership positions, they’re looking for the well-made, unfussy fashion enjoyed by their male counterparts. “I think we’re in a moment when we’re asking a lot of important questions,” Panichgul says. “Why do men have uniforms and women not? Why do women wear clothes where they [are expected to] have to attract men? Why can’t women decide for themselves how they want to be perceived?” Recently launched brands such as Peter Do, Commission, Low Classic and Deveaux have all found success in a relatively short period offering modern iterations of uniform-style dressing for women.
Jacket; shorts, Bottega Veneta. Singlet; shorts (worn underneath), stylist's own. Shoes, Converse. Necklace, Cartier
Panichgul says this kind of uniform dressing is ubiquitous among fashion creatives. “It has always been an interesting contradiction in the fashion industry that the women who style beautiful images for ad campaigns and editorials—images that are so feminine and artistic and over the top—tend to love and wear menswear,” he says. “So many of the women I know—stylists, editors and photographers—all wear some variation on a simple daily uniform and these often include menswear pieces. I’m surprised there wasn’t a publication that catered to this idea.”
HommeGirls seems to have come at the exact right moment. Its second issue—featuring a now-viral Cass Bird-lensed image of Christy Turlington wearing an “I ♥ HOT MOMS” tee—launched shortly after the S/S 2020 season wrapped. The shows had an underlying message of simplicity and minimalism, perhaps a response to the growing sustainability crisis and a desire to limit mindless consumption. Menswear-skewed staples appeared front and centre, be it ’80s-style power suits at Chloé and Proenza Schouler, precision-cut tailoring at The Row or the return of the oh-so-functional loafer at Louis Vuitton and Fendi. Under Hedi Slimane, CELINE is offering fashion pieces that border on unisex. At a preview opening of its new Collins Street boutique in Melbourne, menswear and womenswear sat on different floors, but the tenets of each—perfect blue jeans, flat combat boots and oversize blazers—feel the same.
Panichgul is adding to the mix with a limited selection of HommeGirls-branded fashion pieces: Repurposed men’s blazers and two variations of an oversize men’s shirt. They’re far from a cynical merchandising cash grab. Each blazer was hand-picked by Panichgul from thrift and vintage stores, then reupholstered and retailored to create the perfect fit. The shirts are a collaboration with cultish New York retailer Kith and are made at a menswear factory in Italy. Capsule collections will complement stories in the magazine on an ongoing basis. For example, the Christy Turlington shoot focused on blazers, so HommeGirls launched a line of tailored jackets. “The idea is that maybe in the future, we’ll do a story on corduroy or suede and then we’ll offer pieces to match. It’s a good extension of the brand,” Panichgul says.
“Everything needs to have a bespoke quality,” says the designer, who relaunched his eponymous label at a more accessible price point in September. “Whatever I’m making, I want it to be made beautifully.”
Jacket; jumper; jeans; shoes, CELINE by Hedi Slimane. Shirt, Bassike.
Photographed by Victoria Zschommler. Styled by Caroline Tran
Model: Sara de Clercq/ Vivien's Models Hair: Rory Rice/Lion Artist Management Makeup: Filomena Natoli/ Vivien's Creative
VICTORIA ZSCHOMMLER IS REPRESENTED BY ARTBOXBLACK