The Sexification of Fashion
THE SEXIFICATION OF FASHION
The tighter, the better; the shorter, the racier. Let’s face it, these days, less seems to be more. How to wear sexy new trends without looking ridiculous.
We’re not at liberty to divulge just who was trolling naughty stores for kinky fashions, but, shockingly, a famous face looking to spice up her leather leggings with a nipple tassel wasn’t the most scandalous occurrence in Paris. It seemed everyone had tapped into his or her erogenous zone, from Karl Lagerfeld ending his country-western Chanel show with a full-on haystack ménage à trois of models Freja Beha Erichsen, Lara Stone, and Baptiste Giabiconi to the endless banquette-hopping nights at the French capital’s late-night hot spots, like Le Baron and Le Montana. Before I excused myself from a late-night rager in a suite at the Ritz in Paris, I witnessed the debauchery firsthand when a certain fashion photographer started drawing a bath for himself and three male models.
To say that modern culture — in our wardrobes and beyond — has reached a sexual crescendo is not an overstatement. Lady Gaga flat-out refuses to wear pants, and Shakira calls herself a she wolf, writhing around a giant cage wearing a flesh-colored body stocking. Recently, the hemlines on Gossip Girl have crept even higher (which some thought impossible) and fabrics got more sheer. Sienna Miller even brought sexy to Broadway, not an arena exactly known for its provocative style choices, when she sported a teeny-tiny peekaboo Balmain minidress to the opening-night party for her play After Miss Julie.
The formerly prim and proper social set has also deflated its over-the-top eveningwear for something more sexified. Hedge funder Julie Macklowe used to be the girl in the room wearing the biggest, brightest, loudest dress (who can forget the paint-splattered Dolce & Gabbana with a circus-tent skirt she purchased for the Costume Institute Gala in New York two years ago?), but now she sports Jason Wu minidresses and Louis Vuitton’s over-the-knee boots. Same with social gadfly Lisa Maria Falcone, the brunette who swanned into society wearing not Oscar de la Renta or Carolina Herrera ball gowns but rather slashed metallic minidresses by Roberto Cavalli and Balenciaga.
The poster girl for Hollywood’s new sexuality is Megan Fox, a woman many wrote off a few years ago as a loose-lipped Angelina Jolie look-alike. In these lean times of sexual expression, however, she’s now box-office gold and the new face of Emporio Armani Underwear, a gig that she took over from Victoria Beckham and that reportedly paid her in the $2 million range after a bidding war with Versace.
The new modern sexuality has even made its way to Oprah Winfrey, who recently dedicated a whole show to the increased interest of women in pornographic materials. Discussing a woman’s right to shop at sex stores, Oprah announced that reportedly one in three people watching porn online is a woman. Perhaps the most shocking part of the episode was that porn star Jenna Jameson, sitting on the same chair as so many previous illustrious Winfrey guests, looked super stylish in a blue one-shouldered cocktail frock.
A woman tarting up her lifestyle, according to many, can be traced back to a very familiar recent event: the Great Recession. Simon Doonan of Barneys New York explains, “Sex always looms large during a recession. The 1970s were an economically depressed time, but it was also a time of wild shagadelic abandon!” He adds that in times of monetary uncertainty, the most basic act of sex isn’t expensive at all. “Maybe you can’t afford a new condo or a couture blouse,” he teases, “but hanky panky is free!” Estée Lauder executive John Demsey put it best. “When the going gets tough, the tough get sexy,” he told me at a party in Manhattan.
New York’s Upper East Side novelist Jill Kargman argues that a woman feeling a renewed sense of sexual energy and power in the light of the recession shouldn’t be surprising. “Since men’s egos are so wrapped up in their bank accounts, maybe their sex drive mirrors the Dow?” she wonders. “Perhaps women are trying to play into their fantasies more to lift spirits and electroshock them back from the dead? Maybe the excesses of the neo-Gilded Age numbed us all a bit and we’re trying to whip up — pun intended! — some excitement.”
“Why dress meekly when things look bleak?” the designer Antonio Berardi asks. He amped up the sexuality in his fashions, from a lace cutout dress Gwyneth Paltrow slithered into at a premiere in Paris to his collection of sheer-paneled pieces for spring. He agrees with Kargman that in this economy, it’s all about a sexual woman and says, “Every once in a while fashion is dictated not by trends but by the need to feel sexy, to be adored, and to be wanted. Now more so than ever it’s about playing the female card.”
As is typical of the fashion industry, the revolution is being broadcast on its runways. Alexander Wang’s entire spring collection could be described as a team of female football players as nymphomaniacs. Joining Wang’s corset and miniskirt brigade, which included Jasmine Di Milo, Temperley London, and of course Jean Paul Gaultier, was designer Christian Cota. “I like corsets because they’re the foundation and what’s closest to the body,” he says. “I wanted to strip it down to that, to just that sexual shape of a woman.”
What is good to remember, for anyone trying to DIY her own sexiness, is that one needn’t dress up like Rihanna, fashioning a top out of black barbed wire, as the singer does on her “Russian Roulette” CD cover. Instead of the heart-shaped glitter nipple pasties that were at Lindsay Lohan’s debut collection at Emanuel Ungaro, why not try an over-the-knee boot? It’s official: They’re not just for prostitutes anymore! Or do like Julia Restoin Roitfeld and Daisy Lowe have done and invest in some garters and thigh-high stockings. Girl-about-town Byrdie Bell thinks we’re in a completely new sexual climate: “I honestly think that if Janet Jackson’s boob poked out during the Super Bowl this year, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.” Hence her go-to piece this fall, a girdle that she wears as a skirt and whose garter clasps she affixes to boots or tights (not to mention her I-slept-at-his-house hair). “Yeah, that was a good find: $38 in the underwear bin at Star Struck Vintage on Greenwich Avenue,” she explains of the garment that is her trusted last-minute look.
Perhaps the biggest confirmation of these heightened sexualized times is Tom Ford’s impending return to designing a women’s clothing line. This is the man who shaved a Gucci logo into a model’s nether regions for a 2003 ad campaign and once asked, “Why do we think being a slut’s bad? Sluttiness is just a lot of freedom.”
Meanwhile, Berardi says, “Sexy is about enticing, showing just enough to stimulate the imagination. Erogenous zones are a good start: a glimpse of thigh, the collarbone, a little cleavage.” But he warns novices there’s a difference between that and overshooting one’s sexiness: “Slutty is just too much and totally wrong.” In other words, ladies, wear underwear!