You couldn't miss Boy George, being pushed along with the crowd fighting its way to seats for the Bodymap show in a tent behind the Commonwealth Institute this weekend.
Wearing a shaggy black wig and dressed all in black -- except for a pair of turquoise Lurex fingerless gloves -- he slipped into a reserved seat and began chatting with his friend Marilyn, another popular English rock star, his face partially hidden behind his program. But once the show began, he was quiet and attentive, his head occasionally bobbing to the mix of rock and pop music.
Boy George was not only the show's star guest but also its guiding spirit. From behind the clothing racks in view of the audience at one end of the tent, the models skipped, danced and posed down the runway -- men and women, kids and grandmothers, wearing miniskirts, maxiskirts and shorts, bathing suits that looked like wrestling costumes, sweaters that buttoned back and front, ruffled tops, platform shoes, wide hip belts, cutout patterned tights and tube tops, and bras painted to look like eyes, with eyelash fringe. Both men and women wore bald caps or frizzy wigs and decorated their bodies with shiny decals.
It was the ultimate in cross-dressing, a popular theme with young designers here and the far-out extension of the androgynous style that has caught on so feverishly everywhere this fall. And it was another expression of men wearing women's clothes, seen before in Paris in the designs of Jean Paul Gaultier.
In fact, Marilyn -- whose real name is Peter Robinson -- was photographed in the London Sunday Times Magazine wearing Gaultier clothes. "There are no such things as women's clothes or men's clothes," he told the Times. "Whoever criticized Coco Chanel for putting girls into pants?"
Boy George loved the Bodymap show. "I've never worn Bodymap before, but I want every piece," he said. "Did I inspire it? I don't know. Maybe I did. Why not?"
Asked when he started wearing skirts, Boy George replied, "I don't wear a skirt."
Asked when he began wearing dresses, he said, "I don't wear a dress."
Asked, finally, to describe what he was wearing, he explained, "Neither a skirt nor a dress."
Cross-dressing also proved popular among many of the buyers and press who arrived here this weekend from Italy, fresh from the fashion shows in Milan. After the current round of London collections, they will go next week to Paris and finally to New York, scouting fresh ideas for spring.
"It's fabulous. It is new and directional. It is today and the future," said an excited Terry Melville, fashion director of Macy's, after the Bodymap show. "It is the 1960s again and unisex, but it is much more. And it is a rebellion again by young people expressing how they want to be and act."
Cross-dressing doesn't surprise Melville. "It is happening already in New York. Maybe not during the day, but in the clubs, like here. For the moment only kids will dress like that." Modified versions will catch on eventually, Melville insisted.
Most designers don't take the cross-dressing concept to the extremes of bras and garter belts for men, as have Bodymap designers Stevie Stewart and David Holah. In the collections of Betty Jackson and Wendy Dagworthy, two of the most successful shown so far, both male and female models wore identical oversized shirts, jackets, pants and shorts, all in the same fabric though appropriately scaled in size. The male models never wore skirts, or the shirts that were so big they wound up as dresses, but often the huge shirts, only partially tucked in and hanging well below the jackets, had the effect of tunics over trousers.
"Women have been stealing men's clothes forever. It is only a small jump to make to go the other way," said Jackson, who added that it would "take a bop on the head before most men got out of their boring clothes. But it is a natural progression."
Jackson said that she began adjusting the proportions of her designs for men when it became clear that they were buying her clothes. "Men are not less sexual in clothes like these," said the designer who will be honored in Dallas at the British Fortnight promotion later this month. "Why should one have to express one's sexuality by showing breasts or legs or whatever? Surely it comes through personality and how one presents oneself. Some people can be sexually arousing tied from shoulder to knees with a paper bag -- it comes from the personality, not the clothes."
At London's Olympia exhibition hall, where more than 250 designers were showing their wares to buyers, recent art school graduate John Galliano was wearing a long shirt that poked out from under his jacket so that it looked like a skirt. And jewelry designer Monty Don was wearing chunky drop earrings of fake rubies and pearls as he and his wife worked with buyers.
"Today is like the 1960s, except people are less hung up on sexual differences," he said. "Even the most spaced-out hippie in the 1960s was a chauvinist."
Don remembered the first time he wore one small, plain gold ring in his ear. "I got beaten up. I remember it well. But today you can wear a glittery earring and no one will touch you," said the designer, who has made a collection of jewelry for Boy George to wear on his next American tour. "Men are wearing things that were once considered feminine without feeling they are challenging their masculinity or femininity."
Bodymap designers Holah and Stewart didn't start out to design bras and skirts to be worn by men, said Stewart. "We went to a photo session and didn't have enough women models, so we put the skirts on men. It looked so well that we decided to show it that way on the catwalk runway ." Then she added, "We designed them for women, but we like to see men wear them."
The Bodymap collection, which was presented while the film "Barbarella" and a video of a fat lady singing were shown without sound on huge screens over the heads of the audience, was inspired by the Barbie doll, the designers said.
"I love Barbie. She is glamorous and nice. She's been a heroine to us all. I like her cuteness," said Holah.
And cuteness applies to both men and women. "Of course it makes a difference what sex you are. But this is only an expression of freedom and individualism. Boy George did it, and that really opened everyone's mind to it. You can be masculine in a skirt depending on your upbringing," Holah said, quickly putting his hand over his mouth. "I hope my daddy doesn't hear me say that."
Stewart's mother was one of the models in the show. "I loved the way they used the old mothers and the kids. It was brilliant. My favorite models were the old ladies," said Boy George, who apparently knew Stevie Stewart and her family when they were both much younger.
But many in the audience were not as enthusiastic as he. "I think we'll pass on this one," said Karen Pedro, fashion director of Gimbel's Pittsburgh, who said she had platinum hair long before Boy George.
Some buyers were offended by the show. Said an executive of a New York-based store that has a branch in Washington, who asked not to be identified, "The clothes show such anger they are difficult to look at."
Mark Richards, a former president of a division of Calvin Klein jeans who has started a company to make the Bodymap clothes in America, thinks there is something in the collection for everyone. "We'll find the items and make them and place them in various departments for men and women and juniors to buy," he said. Just because the male models wore ruffled baby-doll tops and skirts, Richards doesn't expect to sell them to American men, and he doesn't plan to wear skirts himself.
But then neither does David Holah, who seemed astonished at the suggestion. "I imagine they'd be a bit drafty," he said, laughing.