SHEER STRENGTH

How de­sign­ers are free­ing the nip­ple, one see-through dress at a time. BY JU­LIA SEIDL

ELLE (Canada) - - Letters -

af­ter Maria Grazia Chi­uri’s first haute­cou­ture col­lec­tion as Dior’s new cre­ative di­rec­tor ear­lier this year, it wasn’t the de­signer’s take on the house’s iconic Bar jacket or her “tux­edo” cu­lottes that caused a com­mo­tion. That hon­our went to Bella Ha­did, the face of Dior Makeup, who, at the show’s mas­quer­ade-themed af­ter­party at the Musée Rodin in Paris, cov­ered up her fa­mous vis­age with a glit­ter-en­crusted mask but left one par­tic­u­lar area al­most com­pletely bare: her nip­ples. Dressed in a sheer bustier­style Dior gown with noth­ing but a layer of gauze be­tween her breasts and the world, Ha­did put the “naked” in naked dress.

The su­per­model isn’t the first celebrity to flash a nip—or a hint of one. In the past few months alone, Zoë Kravitz, Scar­lett Jo­hans­son and Si­enna Miller have played peek­a­boob in sheer pieces by Coach, Alaïa and Dior, re­spec­tively. But per­haps the most vo­cal (and vis­i­ble) is Ken­dall Jen­ner, whose nip­ples are be­com­ing as fa­mous as her sis­ter Kim Kar­dashian’s pos­te­rior. Whether walk­ing the streets of New York City bra­less in a sheer black one­sie or skirt­ing In­sta­gram’s nip­ple ban by strate­gi­cally plac­ing a pair of pizza emo­jis over her girls, the model is trans­par­ent about her love of trans­parency. She ex­plained her en­thu­si­asm on her web­site last July: “It’s sexy, it’s com­fort­able and I’m cool with my breasts. That’s it!”

Celebri­ties of­ten have a dif­fer­ent fash­ion play­book, but judg­ing by the num­ber of nip­ple-boast­ing di­aphanous gowns and silky-sheer blouses float­ing down the spring run­ways, it seems that de­sign­ers are hop­ing their non­celebrity clients will also test drive the trend. At Bal­main, Olivier Rouste­ing proved that a high neck­line can be sen­sual when crafted from see-through silk chif­fon, while at Emilio Pucci, Mas­simo Gior­getti sent the mes­sage that sheer jer­sey gowns may come in robin’s egg blue and lemon yel­low but trans­par­ent is the colour of the sea­son (and next, if you take even a cur­sory look at the fall col­lec­tions). And at burgeoning New York-based la­bel Tome, silky black-and-

white plaid was styled both with and with­out modesty lay­ers un­der­neath. “We think that the woman’s body is beau­ti­ful and there’s no need to hide it,” says Ra­mon Martin, co-de­signer for Tome. “We like giv­ing her the op­tion to show as lit­tle or as much of her body as she wishes.”

It is, af­ter all, le­gal in both On­tario and Bri­tish Columbia for women to go top­less. Still, you’re more likely to spot a uni­corn on Bloor Street or Rob­son Street than a nip slip. Even a breast­feed­ing mother’s nip­ple can pro­voke strong re­ac­tions. “There is a stigma sur­round­ing the nip­ple and the fe­male ch­est...but [women] are part of the prob­lem: We’re ask­ing for per­mis­sion; stop ask­ing and just own it,” says Lina Esco, ac­tress and di­rec­tor of the 2014 film Free the Nip­ple, a semi-bi­o­graph­i­cal tale of a group of fe­male New York­ers who use top­less­ness as a Tro­jan Horse to prompt con­ver­sa­tions about gender equal­ity. The movie sparked the #FreeTheNip­ple cam­paign, a global fem­i­nist move­ment that helped spur Facebook to over­turn its no-tol­er­ance pol­icy re­gard­ing breast­feed­ing pic­tures. Rouste­ing ref­er­enced the free-thenip­ple move­ment as a sort of call to ac­tion af­ter his provoca­tive spring/sum­mer 2015 show, and—con­sciously or not—fash­ion de­sign­ers have been help­ing to nor­mal­ize the nip­ple, one gos­samer gown at a time.

“That’s our goal,” says Ryan Lobo, the other de­signer for Tome. The duo are us­ing much more than sheer to make that hap­pen. Their fall/win­ter 2017 col­lec­tion in­cluded a cropped blazer with con­i­cal nip­ples, jer­sey dresses with pairs of con­trast­ing cir­cles placed just so and jack­ets with fe­male-shaped curves seamed in. “We wanted to highlight the fe­male sil­hou­ette, par­tic­u­larly the breasts,” says Lobo. “It’s a lit­eral trans­la­tion of ‘Free the nip­ple’ and ‘My body, my choice.’ This idea that fe­male breasts are solely sex­ual ob­jects (while male breasts are not) and some­how ‘shame­ful’ has be­come in­grained in so­ci­ety.” That’s a sen­ti­ment Tome is hop­ing to change.

De­sign­ers are no strangers to us­ing the run­way to shake up so­cial norms. Be­fore Stella McCart­ney put the luxe fac­tor in faux leather, ve­gan-friendly fash­ion was em­braced mainly by PETA ac­tivists, not street­style stars. Pantsuits were still con­sid­ered a man’s uni­form un­til Saint Lau­rent brought his Le Smok­ing tuxedo to women’s clos­ets in 1966. And would so many women be will­ing to draw at­ten­tion to their abs if Alexan­der Wang hadn’t ush­ered in the crop­top trend with his ath­leisure-heavy spring/sum­mer 2010 col­lec­tion? “Over a hun­dred years ago, an­kles were con­sid­ered ob­scene; now we look back and laugh at it,” says Esco.

Does that mean that a pair of nip­ples may one day be as com­mon­place as a pair of kneecaps? Con­sider Eleonora Carisi, the Ital­ian fash­ion blog­ger who, in 2011, was snapped bra­less in a sheer Stella McCart­ney blouse in New York City by street-style pho­tog­ra­pher Mr. New­ton. Blog com­menters’ re­cep­tion of Carisi’s ensem­ble was gen­er­ally warm. And on the street? “No­body looked at me, for real,” says Carisi.

As with any move­ment, pub­lic sen­ti­ment of­ten moves two steps for­ward, one step back. Over a decade af­ter Nip­ple­gate be­came the most searched term in In­ter­net his­tory and Janet Jack­son was hounded into giv­ing a pub­lic apol­ogy for her Su­per Bowl nip slip (while Justin Tim­ber­lake’s role in the “wardrobe mal­func­tion” was barely ac­knowl­edged), the con­tro­versy over the nip­ple and the breast in gen­eral hasn’t com­pletely vanished. Emma Wat­son, an out­spo­ken women’s rights ac­tivist, was re­cently vil­i­fied for show­ing too much boob un­der her Burberry bolero in a photo shoot. The opin­ion be­hind the back­lash was that she couldn’t be a fem­i­nist and show off her body. But as the ac­tress so suc­cinctly put it: “I re­ally don’t know what my tits have to do with it.” It’s a com­ment worth keep­ing in mind as gauzy sheer pieces take up more per­ma­nent real es­tate in our clos­ets. And per­haps one day, when the nip­ple has truly been freed, we’ll be able to look back at this query and laugh at it. n

Ken­dall Jen­ner by­passed In­sta­gram’s nip­ple ban with pizza emo­jis; Bella Ha­did went to­tally sheer at the Dior cou­ture show af­ter­party.

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