I end every show with an editorial on one pressing and personal cultural topic. This week’s editorial discusses a new Louis Vuitton ad featuring Will Smith’s son Jaden wearing a skirt. I discuss the importance of self-expression and why it’s good to see the fashion industry pushing back against society’s binary gender norms. Watch the clip and read the transcript below:
Welcome back to So POPular! I’m Janet Mock. Fashion has always been one of the biggest signifiers we use to assume someone’s gender identity. If they’re wearing a suit and tie, male. If we see a dress, female. I know it’s basic but clothes help us categorize. Fashion like most things we purchase, from toys and deodorant to razors, are sold by gender. This binary signals people to stay in their lane. Every few seasons, fashion makes a statement when it comes to gender, inviting folk to step over to the other side of the runway.
Before publicly revealing her trans-ness, Andreja Pejic modeled for both mens and womenswear. And Casey Legler made history as the first woman signed exclusively as a male model. And of course fashion’s first openly trans supermodel – Lea T blazed trails from Givenchy to Redken. When the fashion business makes such gendered statements, I see it not as a political move to smash the binary but as a marketing strategy to make us pay attention so we buy things we can’t afford.
Commodification of trans-ness, much? Still, representation matters. And this week’s move by Louis Vuitton to place Jaden Smith – son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith –in its latest ad campaign is a beacon for gender fluidity. Not because he’s wearing a knee-length skirt – but because he wears skirts in real life, like at Coachella and his own prom.
The ad is not making up an image of him, it’s a reflection of who he is. The 17-year-old actor and rapper, who thanked Louis Vuitton “for the opportunity to impact this world,” flaunts his dreads, a metal embroidered top and leather jacket, straight off the runway of the fashion brand’s latest women’s show.
LV’s artistic director says that:
“Jaden represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender. Wearing a skirt comes as naturally to him as it would to a woman who, long ago, granted herself permission to wear a man’s trench or a tuxedo.”
What also stands out in the ad is Jaden’s skin color which restricts his expression but we can’t forget that his wealth and class privilege also grant him freedom. For years, we’ve witnessed wealthy black cisgender men cross the boundaries of black masculinity, from Dennis Rodman to the ever-fabulous EJ Johnson and now Jaden.
I give a resounding round of applause to all of them for their carefreeness but want to ensure that as we applaud celebs like Jaden for being themselves, we also ensure that we applaud those who are not as privileged, the ones who can’t fit sample sizes, the ones who strut in their heels and freakum leggings in poverty-stricken communities, the one who are viewed as pariahs and told that they are doing way too much.
Anytime a person dresses against code, they are making a political statement. We are not evolved to the point where gender-nonconformity does not garner notice. I do believe we are heading there, but our conversation about gender often still silences and misshapes those who are gender nonconforming, gender fluid, and non-binary. I wish we that when see Jaden’s ad we simply see a fly ass person in clothes…but we are not that progressive, yet, and yeah the world isn’t flat. What we see if we are truly looking at this image of Jaden Smith is a black boy who grew up in wealth wearing clothes reserved for rich white women.
This is the image I see…yet this image is, it really is filled with hope, one that frees other kids from the confines of others expectations, norms, assumptions and binaries, one that reflects the point of freedom that we’re aiming for, where maybe, just maybe, people will not only be able to wear whatever the hell they want but when people see them they do so without notice.
Watch all clips, conversations and interviews from “So POPular!” anytime. New episodes every Friday at 11am ET!