The Collina Strada devore-velvet dress and dangly vintage star earrings are purely girlish. The man-spread — augmented by a mustache and beard shadow — is aggressively masculine. With this jarring image (above), the American Colombian photographer Ruven Afanador insists that the viewer contend with what it means to choose to be feminine or masculine, or something in between, in a world that is far less binary than science has claimed.
Ever since British designer Jonathan Anderson began showing gender-bending menswear collections in London in 2012, fashion has been musing on notions of binary dressing rules. These days it is often challenging to discern the gender of models on fashion runways. Young, flat-chested men in Gucci blouses look much like young, flat-chested women in Gucci blouses.
This is not androgyny, which has always been mainly focused on women wearing traditionally masculine clothes that obscure or neutralize gender. Androgyny is the absence of sex. Afanador’s daring characters in these photos, styled by Bernat Buscato, flaunt sex.
A model named Kyle dons a crown with a single feather and a hoodie festooned with crystals. Her black-gloved fingers are laden with rings, and she wears a crystal choker at her neck. She is camp, but it’s punk-street camp, which is a new sort of mash-up that goes hand in hand with modern notions of you-be-you wokeness.
Afanador’s photos take pleasure in the collision of expectations that occurs when a man dons a frayed houndstooth jacket and skirt from Gypsy Sport and a pert pair of slingback pumps. The fit isn’t perfect — the jacket seams stretch to allow buttoning — but that is surely part of the point.
Men, unlike women, until recently have not been afforded the luxury of crossing the gender divide in fashion, but they are marching toward the border. Our eyes are still adjusting. Ultimately, someday, maybe binary gender rules won’t really matter. Wear what you momentarily feel inside.
Ruven Afanador is an internationally renowned photographer. Christina Binkley is an award-winning fashion and culture journalist in Los Angeles.
Fashion Editor: Bernat Buscato. Hair: Felix Fischer. Makeup: Paco Blancas. Casting: Maurilio Carnino for MTC Casting. Styling Assistant: Frank Cooney. Photo Editor: Dudley M. Brooks. Design and Development: Emma Kumer