In recent seasons, the Versace womenswear show has been an all-out display and celebration of femininity – with Jennifer Lopez and supermodels populating the catwalk, breaking the internet in the process. The autumn/winter 2020 show, on Friday evening in Milan, seemed to continue on a theme. The screen over the catwalk projected a virtual audience made of different Donatella Versaces – the high priestess of the brand. This time, however, there was a difference. Once the screen faded to black, the show began – and it introduced men. This was the first time the brand has featured an equal number of men and women on the catwalk, moving towards the idea of dressing beyond gender.

In theory, anyway. There was some crossover in design – suiting for both men and women, and some more streetwear-influenced pieces including wide-leg trousers and bomber jackets that typically feature across the wardrobes of men and women. Both carried the handbags and wore preppy sweaters. But there was also some serious glamour, this is a Versace show after all. That might be with a crystal-studded shirt worn by a male model or a short chainmail strapless gown worn by Kendall Jenner, a male model in blazer and jeans worthy of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, or Gigi Hadid in a slinky slipdress. Across various different sections of the show, masculine and feminine archetypes were very much present.

At a press conference before the show, Donatella Versace did not begin by discussing the clothes. Instead, she spoke about what she referred to as “hate crimes, all over the world”, urging the assembled journalists to work against them. “We all have a voice and we must use it,” she said. Referring to the Hanau attack, in which nine people were killed in a shooting rampage by a suspected rightwing extremist, she said: “What happened in Germany, we need to act and we need to be fast.”

Moving to the collection, she explained that the introduction of men had come about because she wanted to “highlight the new generation does not care about gender, [for them] it is about having a point of view … What I tried to show in this collection is that sexuality comes from the brain first.”

While a show with both men’s and womenswear switches things up a bit in terms of visuals, it doesn’t quite reach the majesty and surprise of September’s show: Lopez in a version of the split-to-the-thigh tropical print dress she wore to the Grammies in 2000. Or the 2017 reunion of the supermodels Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Carla Bruni and Helena Christensen. Perhaps making the inclusion of menswear the story is less about buzz and more a commercial decision. Menswear continues to be a growing market for fashion. According to Euromonitor, men’s clothing sales will grow 1.9% in 2021 compared to 1.4% for womenswear. Logically, it’s time for men to share the stage with women.

Earlier this month, Capri Holdings, the group that has owned Versace since the end of 2018, revealed revenues across the group (which also owns Michael Kors and Jimmy Choo) had rrisen 9.2% to £1.22bn, with Versace’s sales of £150m ahead of expectations. Speaking to Vogue Business, Jessica Ramirez, a retail analyst at Jane Hali & Associates, said this was due to the brand connecting with younger consumers, adding, “the marketing of the brand has helped to create hype around its products.”

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