In the age of #MeToo, it feels like anything overtly sexy has become taboo and creatives have to rethink the old adage “sex sells” because everyone is so quick to judge it as being exploitative. The pendulum has swung back from the liberation – and feminism, let’s not forget – of the sexual revolution. Where does that leave fashion? Redemption, Y/Project, Afterhomework, and Mugler all offer a vision of sexy that is not exploitative or trashy, but rather sophisticated and empowering.
For the SS20 show, Bebe Moratti at Redemption was inspired by the Summer of Love, the protest music, the artists’ call to action for positive change. His form of rebellion is through sustainable practices and materials, such as recycled Lycra, organic cotton, recycled denim, sustainable silk, plant-based vegan leather. Redemption was founded on the premise of giving 50% of the profits to charity and minimizing the environmental impact and carbon footprint. “Rebellion through elegance” is “the pillar upon which Redemption has been built.” And the collection was certainly that: elegant, refined and – undeniably sexy.
Statuesque Grecian goddesses in expertly draped and ruched gowns that were not much more than diaphonous whiffs of satin, silk georgette, or crepon gently wafted down the runway in gladiator stilettos, cuffed knee-high boots and strappy sandals. The tailored pieces were refreshingly not part of the fashion frenzy over oversized shoulders and outrageous silhouettes. Rather, they exuded a quiet luxe through elaborate beading and embellishment that doesn’t have to scream for attention because it knows its own value.
Without setting out to make a sexy collection – as a huge music fan, his mood board is 90% historical rock-n-roll references – Moratti muses that the raw power and the sexuality that rock stars have, that attitude, might have seeped into the collection because, “When I look at those pictures and I go to every concert, I feel it in my gut. I think sexy is that: when you look at something and you feel it with your gut.”
Asked about his idea of a powerful woman, he said: “She’s a smart woman, first of all. When I think of the Redemption woman, she’s a woman that cares. She’s a woman that has a lot of self-confidence, not in the way she looks, but self-confidence in her thoughts and her values and what she believes in, and she’s ready to stand up for it, to fight for it. I think that’s sexy. It’s powerful and that’s what inspires us.”
Glenn Martens of Y/Project has a signature aesthetic that keeps his cult following in mad, pushy droves, as evidenced by the scene at the Pont Alexandre III before the show. The master of bending and distorting celebrates versatility as a means of individual expression, reinterpreting classics with an idiosyncratic twist. This even manifested in the music to the show, a classic Strauss soundtrack that was progressively warped and transmuted in a way that was not just a remix but another animal altogether – a sexy, modern beast. While we overheard some people commenting on the repetition of certain elements from previous seasons, we believe it is important and smart in the long run to develop a cohesive design language and build on the brand’s heritage. It’s very post-modern to be self-referential and play with codes.
Like the music, the variations on a theme played out live on the clothes themselves, where top layers of tulle created visual effects of shifting colors and shapes in motion. What also came through with movement were strategically placed slashes in the clothing that flashed skin in unexpected places. This was incredibly sexy, as were the legs for miles confidently striding in dresses slit to the waist.
Martens envisions the Y/Project woman as “a multi-faceted woman, a woman who wears a classic-not-so-classic cardigan/skirt combination with a gold chain bag at day, and a revealing split dress at night.” In this age of non-traditional roles and lifestyles and freedom of self-expression, that versatility speaks to a lot of people.
Founded in 2014 by 15-year old high school student Pierre Kaczmarek with graphic t-shirts created with friends after school and on the weekends, Afterhomework has evolved over the last few years as his girlfriend Elena Mottola joined him as creative partner in 2016. As he professed himself, “I was very young when I started, and the brand grew up with me. You change so much when you’re a teenager, so of course the aesthetic changed a lot, and very fast.”
We are happy to see her influence on him and the collection, as evidenced in the SS20 show full of light, pretty, playful, sexy pieces that are incredibly well cut and smartly tailored. Everyday materials are given a flirtatious twist, engendering innovative new silhouettes and volumes. Ms. Mottola’s background as a stylist also shows in the details, such as knee-high hosiery that is at once coy and also saucy. And who knew cloth napkins could be so provocative, deceptively casually flopped on the head yet evoking the fantasy of the sexy French maid. They’re allowed because they’re French and she’s a woman, confident and unapologetic in her sexuality. As Maurice Chevalier famously sang, “Thank heavens for little girls/they grow up in the most delightful way!”
This collection is dressier than their more streetwear past, having been inspired by a midsummer night’s heatwave dream of elegant young people by the pool at a private party at a mansion, and we think it is heading in the right direction. This is one cute design duo we are delighted to watch grow up and wish all the best for.
Mugler is a heritage brand known for outlandish fetish, fantasy, futuristic femme fatales. The iconic corset for Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour was groundbreaking in making underwear outerwear, and all the big pop stars such as Beyonce, Cardi B, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, have turned to Mugler since for spectacular, iconic looks (think the “wet couture dress” or “birth of Venus” dress). Thierry Mugler is the godfather of the exaggerated shoulders that everyone is doing nowadays, the corset and the hourglass silhouette. He was also ahead of his time in his diverse casting, outfitting David Bowie and thinking gender-fluid before it became the catch phrase it is now.
Casey Cadwallader, who has hit the ground running since taking over the banner in 2018, makes a bold statement for the SS20 collection: “Urgent and uninhibited, the Mugler collection for Spring Summer 2020 ignites a bold discourse of human sexuality in our hypermodernist world.” He doesn’t shy away from the house legacy of audacious sexuality, channeling the brand’s sculptural quality and silhouettes while using new technologies to liberate the wearer with a more supple and forgiving garment. This is not obvious to the viewer, which might contribute to the impression that there’s nothing new.
What was new, however: the groundbreaking sexy looks worn by the male or transgender models. This is hot because it completely reframes the perception of what is sexy and truly breaks out of the box of binary gender roles. Cadwallader is not bringing sexy back, he’s bringing sexy forward.