Why The Star Of Louis Vuitton’s Womenswear Campaign Is A 17-Year-Old Boy

CREDIT: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Jaden Smith, believer in the melancholiness of the ocean but doubter of his own reflection — “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real” — is the star of the Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear campaign.

The 17-year-old Smith (son of Will and Jada, brother of hair-whipping Willow) was just dubbed by GQ Magazine as one of the 20 most stylish men alive. In the images, shot by Bruce Weber and shared on Instagram by Louis Vuitton creative director Nicholas Ghesquiere, Smith is wearing a skirt.

In the press release from Louis Vuitton, Ghesquière said he chose Smith because “he 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.”

Smith wore a skirt to his prom, along with a black tuxedo jacket and fingerless white gloves. What’s the appeal? Smith recently told GQ that he likes “wearing super drapey things so I can feel as though I’m a super hero.” He’s tweeted and Instagrammed about buying “girl clothes, I mean, ‘clothes’” and has included skirts in the 2013 line of his label, MSFTSrep. Also, Smith wore a white Batman suit to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding, which would have been totally kosher except it’s such a faux pas to wear white to someone else’s wedding. What would be surprising, in the Jaden-Smith-style scene, would be if he modeled something ordinary and mainstream. So for Jaden, who speaks Jaden, indefinitely, the skirt is a low-key choice.

For the average teen, though, gender-fluid dressing can clash with rigid school dress codes, some of which regulate what attire is appropriate for girls but not boys and vice versa. One high school senior in North Carolina was booted from her prom for showing up in skinny jeans; boys have been reprimanded by school administrators for wearing makeup and carrying handbags.

Though rare, men-in-womenswear isn’t unprecedented in the fashion industry. Acne Studios cast a 12-year-old boy in its women’s campaign last fall. (That boy: Frasse Johansson, son of Acne creative director Jonny Johansson.) Marc Jacobs, known skirt enthusiast, put male model Cole Mohr in a dress in his Fall/Winter campaign back in 2008. Mohr was featured in both the menswear and womenswear campaigns for Marc by Marc Jacobs that season, which debuted in the July 2008 issue of Vogue.

This kind of guys-will-be-girls styling has, at times, been kindling for controversy: In 2011, a photo of J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons giving her son a hot-pink pedicure was trashed by Fox News and the Media Research Center, which deemed the ad “blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.” But years have passed — though, as Jaden surely remind us, “it’s proven that how time moves for you depends on where you are in the universe” — and attitudes about gender norms have shifted accordingly. The New York Times can use “they” as a singular pronoun, the White House can glow rainbow, the Pantone colors of the year can be Rose Quartz and Serenity — or, in layman’s terms, the faded pink and blue from the “Hotline Bling” video — as an invitation to “challenge some more traditional perceptions around color association,” which is to say, subvert the expectation that blue means boy and pink means girl.

Smith’s casting is also a step in a more diverse direction for an industry that, alas, is still overwhelmingly white. A study of 460 fashion print ads from 2015 found that 84.7 percent of models cast were white — approximately the same as in previous seasons — and only 4.4 percent of models cast were black.