First it was this article from Susie Lau at Stylebubble (aka queen I have followed since I was 12) and then it was Christopher Kane’s sex-obsessed, erotic kitch A/W18 show that really got me thinking about sexy time in fashion. Sex is so intrinsically part of fashion that sometimes we even forget it’s there. For instance, it’s pretty ironic that it took Kane to plaster copulating couples and sexy words on his garments to rouse an actual conversation about sex’s place in fashion, because it’s there every season. The #MeToo campaign has brought the sex conversation to the forefront of everyone’s minds but Kane’s show, for me, marked a more subtle irony than just a contribution to this wider movement of questioning sex’s place in our culture. And it’s meant to be this way, as Zoe Williams remarks in her Guardian Article on the subject “[fashion’s] messages arrive in layers and contradictions, over time, and its most interesting minds are often not very interested in verbally articulating ideas whose visual impact is charged by their ambiguity”. But I can’t help but try and pick apart Kane’s show as it unearths some lost truths about fashion’s (and human’s) relationship with the idea of sex. His collection was supposed to spark conversation – so here I am, chattin about it.
His first few looks of the show were that of an armoured, aggressive female form. Jackets made from impliable leather and broad shoulders encapsulated a feeling of defensive strength. And yet then Kane undressed his models throughout the show telling a story of female sexualities as he went. From obviously sexualised see-through lace mini-dresses I half expected to see in “da club” on a Friday night through to Sunday morning’s silky pyjamas. He moved through to high neck tube dresses, oversized knits and nude slips.
The wide variety of looks that were shown in his collection made reference to dressing and sex through every decade. Like fashion’s own Bill Bryson, Kane gives us a small history of nearly everthing… to do with women’s fashion and sex. From victoriana lace and brocade (suffragist movement?) to eighties power dress-esque coats and suits right through to marabou trimmed dresses – a nod to the voluptuous glamour of 50s and 60s film stars. The metropolitan museum even states “no object better epitomises the sex-kitten glamour of the 1950s than the marabou mule”. But with every twist and turn through sex’s sartorial history, Kane places his references into the context of 2018, with a-symetrical cuts and horizontal slashes in the garments depicting, quite literally, our own present deconstruction of these symbols of sexuality. As Jonathan Anderson said in a vogue interview once, British designers “love nostalgia but we also love to destroy it.”
Kane’s deconstruction of garments and his elusive references to female fashion’s sexual history allows him to open up a space and conversation about what clothing means to women today. His message is one of unapologetic sexual freedom, as illustrated by the re-occurring illustration of the “Joy of Sex”, that is the most memorable motif of the show. In that image he encapsulates the whole collection: reflecting on women’s sexual history in the present moment, mindful of those that paved the way before us and knowing that in this 21st century moment, a woman’s sexuality is a little bit of anything they want it to be – whether that’s powerful, strong shoulders, kinky lace or marabou trimmed slip. An intrinsically optimistic collection that stands as a reminder that a woman’s sexuality is forever present in dress and is something to have fun with. Fashion is fun. And under all the scrutiny of sex in our culture currently, its a playful reminder to keep sex, sexuality and sexual expression fun and present. Kane is not undermining the seriousness of the necessary and overdue movements that are occurring in the entertainment and fashion industries and on a wider scale, but his collection is a reminder for women everywhere that sex and fashion does not have to be loaded with the restrictive cultural jargon its carried for decades, but that it also has the power to change the world.0