These are not thorns among the roses; they are poses with the posies
Nicolas Ghesquière (left) on the cover of the latest issue of T magazine and a fashion spread (right) in a September issue of The Guardian
By Ray Zhang
I first notice this a couple of years ago in Hangzhou’s Xihu (西湖 or West lake). Beneath the low cherry blossom trees during that spring day, the men—among themselves or with their female companion(s)—would pose with the flowers, often pulling down a branch, or two, of the clustered blooms to frame their fair or weather-beaten faces for photographs. There was something incongruent about the scene, which, against the conventional beauty of the lake and the yemen (爷们 or menfolk, but really means machismo) attitudes, seemed atypical. Some might even say aberrant.
I would not have guessed that what I saw was a foretaste of things to come. Cut to the present, when the woke do not concern themselves with gender that is binary, flowers and men in a photographic composition are no longer a curiosity. Nicolas Ghesquière appearing among blooms on the cover of the latest edition of T magazine (top left) and a September fashion report in The Guardian (top right) attest to this cultural shift. Men among flowers may even be more acceptable than those in skirts.
Popular culture is strangely limiting in its apportioning of what genders need, or can be aligned with. Frankly, I do not know when flowers are considered feminine (or feminising) although I have some impression that men have always not minded just a spot of flowers—the boutonniere a vivid example. Yet, there still seems to be an undercurrent of a boys-do-not-play-with-Barbie moment when it comes to guys seen with flowers. Even when I hold a bunch of pussy willows (very un-floral blooms) on my way home in the MRT train after the CNY fair in Chinatown (yes, an annual ritual), I will always get people looking at me as if I am clutching something as flashy as peonies. Encouragingly, cultural expectations, like fashion trends, do change. And men might now be more excepting of being associated with bouquets that go beyond just the giving of them.
I also remember, apart from what I saw in Hangzhou, a 2018 BBC Travel report on the “flower men” of the Asir province in southern Arabian Peninsula. Male members of the Qathan tribe wear a crown that comprises flowers, herbs, and grasses as part of their traditional costumes and these can be as pretty, but no less masculine, as a Christian Tortu centerpiece, yet it is not known that they are a threat to their masculinity. Tribal culture far more unbias than our modern mores?
Many things once considered threatening to masculinity are, of course, becoming exoteric and public consumption is on an all-time high. But I do wonder if this trend in photographing males among flowers has anything to do with the Beyoncé/Tyler Mitchell-for-Vogue effect. Are guys taking the cue from Queen Bey? Or have we finally allowed the blooms of bigotry to wither and fade?
Photos: (left) Pieter Hugo/T magazine; (right) David Newby/The Guardian