MORE SEX, MORE JOY
IN A DECADE DEFINED by MODEST DRESSING, FASHION IS REDISCOVERING THE POWER of SEX APPEAL. BUT AS KENYA HUNT REVEALS, THE TREND IS not QUITE WHAT YOU THINK
“THE EFFECT WAS MORE CHIC THAN TARTY. ELEGANT, not DESPERATE. and VERY, VERY HOT”
WHEN EXACTLY DID SEX GO OUT OF
FASHION? For decades, it was the rage: Helmut Newton’s black-and-white erotica, Azzedine Alaïa’s second-skin dresses, Calvin Klein’s bum-hugging denim, Gianni Versace’s graphic ‘I’m-rich-bitch’ bodysuits, Manolo Blahnik’s razor-sharp Carrie (Bradshaw) stilettos, Riccardo Tisci’s infamous naked dresses for Givenchy – the list goes on. The goal: to look expensive and like you were juggling as many lovers as possible. Then, somewhere in the past ten years, the carnal got a bit lost.
The Phoebe Philo chapter began at Céline, defined by a now-iconic mix of effortlessness and restraint, and our definition of sexy evolved. It was no longer short, sheer and tight, but midilength, high-necked and oversized. In a word, concealing. Sex was reduced to a cliché, the stuff of red carpets and poor imagination. Years later, The New York Times would declare ‘modest’ dressing the decade’s most defining trend. And a wave of feminist outrage over sexual assault and workplace inequality put the nail in the coffin of the freakum dress and fuck-me pump.
Or did it? During the AW18 shows, skin was on show (and sex surely being had) in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Simon Porte Jacquemus showed slinky dresses with cut-outs and waist-cinching jackets meant to celebrate the woman’s body, rather than conceal it. At Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello, who is no stranger to the subject, used all the tropes: skyscraper heels, high hemlines and a lot of leather. There were evening dresses with necklines that traced elaborate shapes across the chest, and Eighties-style mini dresses in a garden’s worth of colourways. The effect was more chic than tarty. Elegant, not desperate. And very, very hot. ‘The Georgian designers stand out for me; Situationalist and Materiel create sexy pieces that feel more vintage couture than tacky disco. I also love how Halpern embraces glamour with his built-in corset dresses,’ says Ida Petersson, women’s buying director of Browns Fashion.
At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s take on sex had a soignée quality, though with less leg on show. Her breezy dresses came with naveldeep necklines and cut-outs revealing the hips. Not that this was a parade of flesh – quite the opposite. Her looks were fluid and layered, which threw the nude moments into sharp relief. ‘I think the fashion customer was weary of hoodies and tees, so embracing the hourglass shape was a welcome change,’ says Petersson. Could it be that sex is back?
Some of 2O18’s most memorable popculture moments are tied to it. Revisit Timothée Chalamet manhandling a peach in Call Me By
Your Name. Google Beyoncé and Jay-Z lying in apparent post-coital heat for their OTR II tour promo. And let’s not forget Rihanna in a bustier and garter belts for the launch of her lingerie line Savage x Fenty. Or Ariana Grande licking a lollipop while eyeing boyfriend Pete Davidson like he’s a 6’2” snack, causing the internet to coin the term ‘Big Dick Energy’ (Davidson apparently has it).
This year has given us a multitude of heavy topics to sober the mood – data breaches, pay gaps, sex crimes, environmental tragedies – but you can’t deny that sex (a healthy antidote to the angst instigated by the above?) is on our collective brain. Maybe because many stopped having it: there’s been a 14% decline in sexual activity in adults over the past ten years. The problem? Mostly it’s our smartphones. It’s hard to feel the urge to get it on when you’ve been binge-scrolling cute cats, yet fashion is making the case for you to do just that.
Even Instagram is revealing a changing tide. See Courrèges art director Lolita Jacobs’ much-reposted wedding to creative director Jean-Baptiste Talbourdet-Napoleone. Rather than wear a gown, she chose the tiniest shirt dress known to woman. It was Jane-Birkin-circa1968 short. It was a moment. ‘Only the French can get away with this dress,’ one commenter said. But the Brits are getting in on it, too – see Alexa Chung’s barely-there shorts at the London Pride parade this summer, or influencers Susie Bubble, Tamu McPherson and Camille Charrière’s increasing penchant for clothing that reveals, rather than swathes. ‘I think the wellness movement has a lot to do with it,’ says McPherson. ‘People are taking care of their bodies and feeling great about them.’
How to wear sexy fashion? Dress against type. If you go short, wear flats or trainers. If you’re doing sheer, try an opaque under-layer that offers just the right amount of coverage. The cool is in the contrast. ‘McQueen, Balmain and Saint Laurent are great at designing fitted blazers – a great choice for someone who doesn’t want too much flesh on display,’ says Petersson.
So is the age of modest dressing over? Hardly. The autumn runways were still rife with the long and roomy. But for those days when you want to switch things up a little and embrace your inner bombshell, you’ll certainly have plenty to choose from.
“HOW to WEAR SEXY FASHION? DRESS AGAINST TYPE. THE COOL is IN THE CONTRAST”
MODEST, ME? The Leggy Black Dressmakes a comeback, on the catwalkand off DARE TO BARE Alberta Ferretti and Ashley Williams’ sheer shirts make clever layering pieces. Wear under a tuxedo jacket for eveningPOWER OF TWOThe classic pairing of redand black remains – it’s the styling that’schanged
COLD SHOULDER For a more subtle way to show skin,look to the half sleeves at Isabel Marant and halter dresses atDavid Koma LIGHT AS RAIN The classic trench coat gets a slick, provocative rework in the hands of David Koma and Tibi
THE MASTER Saint Laurent hasalways been synonymous withsex, and that legacy lives on under AnthonyVaccarello GO GRAPHIC ChristopherKane’s orgasmic lovers epitomise themood