In 1997, when Stella McCartney landed the role of creative director at Chloé just two years out of fashion school, the fashion world assumed it was because of her celebrity.
Karl Lagerfeld famously went on the record denouncing his 25-year-old successor at Chloé. “I think they should have taken a big name,” he sniffed. “They did, but in music, not fashion. Let’s hope she’s as gifted as her father.”
With that sentiment, the King of Fashion set McCartney up for failure: at 25, Paul McCartney was already recognized as one of the most famous and talented musicians in the world, and still is today.
But it didn’t take long for Stella McCartney to demonstrate her talent as a designer and establish her renown well beyond her father’s legacy, forcing Lagerfeld and the rest of the fashion elite to eat their words.
By the mid-aughts, Stella McCartney was respected in her own right on the international stage. Today, her name is synonymous with an ever-expanding global fashion brand.
Indeed, McCartney announced on Thursday the launch of her first menswear collection, which will debut in London on November 10 alongside her Spring 2017, see-now-buy-immediately women’s line.
The Stella McCartney men’s line will hit stores in early December and “will take a modern approach to menswear, encouraging seasonless wardrobing, while adhering to the brand’s responsible and sustainable ethics,” according to a statement from the brand.
Like her womenswear, long known for its leather- and fur-free creations, the new men’s line will also be “vegetarian”. (On Friday, a brand spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the designer would not comment further at this time.)
The announcement came fittingly amidst the Pitti Uomo menswear trade fair madness in Florence, though rumors of McCartney’s plans to expand with a men’s line have been swirling for months.
Speaking to the New York Times, the designer’s insistence that “the desire to marry the Stella woman to a man has been inside me since the very beginning” may come as a surprise to fans of her early, girlish collections at Chloé.
McCartney has frequently cited her mother as inspiration for the label, and stressed the importance of “being a woman designing for women” in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. “Fashion is psychology, so there’s a whole holistic sense of self that I’m thinking about when I’m designing,” she added.
But impeccable tailoring was a McCartney signature from the get-go (after graduating from Central Saint Martins in London, she trained on Savile Row with the tailor Edward Sexton), and she was one of the first designers to mix masculine trousers and jackets with lacy, feminine pieces—a look that is now ubiquitous in womenswear.
If womenswear has evolved in the 20 years since McCartney started her career, luxury menswear today is almost unrecognizable from what it was in the 1990s. Both womenswear and menswear are more gender fluid, but the most buzzed-about menswear collections today (Yeezy by Kanye West and Vetements, to name a few) have eschewed traditional suiting for streetwear.
Indeed, the news of McCartney’s men’s line comes amid a larger boom for menswear in luxury fashion in retail in recent years. In the past five years, sales of luxury menswear have grown almost twice as fast as sales of womenswear.
Federico Marchetti, CEO of the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group, recently told the New York Times that menswear is “taking more and more share of the market, but, increasingly, by using the same tactics as women’s wear.”
A men’s line seems like the next logical step in brand expansion given how much Stella McCartney has grown in the past ten years: in addition to her womenswear label, she’s done children’s clothing; fragrances; sportswear and fast-fashion collaborations; and, come July, a new line of swimwear.
The brand aesthetic seems poised to seamlessly cross genders. "Stella McCartney has successfully achieved maintaining her ideals for sustainable and sophisticated fashion for women and children," Tom Kalenderian, General Merchandise Manager of menswear at Barneys, told The Daily Beast. She has been described as a “paradox” by her longtime friend Andrea Barron, in a 2011 interview with the New York Times’ Cathy Horyn: “She is as male as she is female. She’s as feminine as she is strong…She’s got balls, but she’s gentle.”
Plenty of other formidable designers have pulled off the transition from womenswear to menswear and vice versa. Miuccia Prada has had as much of a hand in designing the menswear collections as she has in designing womenswear, and has recently taken to sending Prada-clad male models down the runway during her womenswear shows.
“I think to people, not gender,” she told Vogue.com. “I think the combination is more real. It is more today. Otherwise it looks like we are in classes, in the time of my grandfather, women divided from men. The shows divided are so unreal, and I think that it is when you put them together you get a sense of what is meaningful.”
Similarly, Thom Browne made a name for himself with menswear but has crossed over into womenswear with ease and aplomb.
“I approach my men’s and women’s [collections] the same way so I don’t find that much of a challenge,” he told The Daily Beast in an email. “The only challenge for me is coming up with something original because there has been so much done already for women’s. It’s important for me to stay true to a specific point of view, and this is also the reason why I approach my men’s and women’s the same way.”
McCartney has displayed her knack for menswear in the past: she dressed both her husband and father for the 2011 Met Gala, and has designed custom pieces for Guy Ritchie and David Bowie.
But where McCartney has been most consistent is in designing clothes that reflect her own personal style: at once feminine and tomboyish, soft and structured.
If our current obsession with clothes that could be worn by both genders in any indication, the Stella McCartney aesthetic will translate brilliantly into a men’s line.