Fashion is at one with a "reinvented" sexy

September 2022

Interview with Serge CARREIRA (Fashion and luxury specialist & lecturer at Sciences Po), by Thomas ZYLBERLMAN (Stylist & Trend Expert at Carlin Creative Trend Bureau), with Alexandra HOSTIER (Fashion Editor) and Stéphanie LU (Head of Social Media Communication)

SKIMS X Kim Kardashian

Thomas Zylberman - Stylist and Trends Expert at Carlin Creative : Hello Serge ! We are here to talk about the hottest topic of the moment, the "new sexy", this return of the sexy that seems to be a crucial equation for the future of fashion... (and therefore of all humanity, it goes without saying) (laughs) . To begin with, the terminology "new sexy" implies that there is obviously an "old sexy". How can this renewal be distinguished ? I had for example spontaneously the impression while seeing the last spring summer 22 collections, that there was a big difference between the "sexiness" of the Italian labels like Dolce & Gabbana and Versace and that of Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Coperni or Ester Manas.

Ester Manas / Coperni

It seems that politically, the Milanese sexy is not quite the same as the new Parisian sexy. Did you also have this strange impression while watching the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show that Italian society seems rather impervious to the big questions that cross our society nowadays?

Blumarine / Dolce & Gabbana

Serge Carreira - Specialist in fashion and luxury and lecturer at Sciences Po: There are two different dimensions. The Italian brands as we know them are part of a tradition, that of a glamorous femininity. It is an imaginary and iconographic image associated with an idea of sensuality, of a somewhat ostentatious sexiness. What we observe, currently, particularly on the Parisian catwalks, is rather a real reflection on the body, a body which, moreover, is not necessarily stereotyped, which emancipates me from the codes. Ludovic de Saint Sernin, for example, questions gender and plays on a certain ambiguity. Ester Manas is interested in different kinds of morphologies. The objective of these creators is to assume a different body, which leaves the stereotypes, which does not prevent it from being, at the same time, a body of desire. This was, by the way, the title of Ludovic de Saint Sernin's collection.

T.Z : By the way, to bounce back on Ludovic de Saint Sernin : don't you have to be very informed to understand his approach ? If you just see one of his dresses with tight lacing, you could say that it is simply a "sexy" dress. But Ludovic de Saint Sernin started with a very queer aesthetic, taking feminine stereotypes and transposing them onto men and now transposing them onto women. It's still a rather intellectualized approach. Is it noticeable on the product itself? Or is it likely that a customer will buy it out of context, completely ignoring its approach?

Ludovic de Saint Sernin

S.C: It is always a possibility indeed. Nevertheless, I think that new affinities are being created between customers and brands, especially through social networks. It is more difficult for a customer to fall for a model without being informed beforehand. Beyond the concept, it's the designer's universe that matters a lot. There is sensuality in Ludovic de Saint Sernin's work because the world he draws his inspiration from is the world of the night. A world of freedom where one expresses values and commitments with his body. This is reflected in his creations, but also in the attitude, visuals and representations that are associated with the brand. Of course, a customer may buy a Ludovic de Saint Sernin or Victor Weinsanto dress simply because he or she finds it beautiful. But generally, there will be, in addition, this will to share the commitments and the universe of the designer.

T.Z: Precisely, in terms of commitment, it seems that there is now a sexy that intersects with this notion of empowerment, this desire to take back the power. I think for example of Ester Manas with this idea of representing a body which is not filiform, very far from the bodies that we see on the Dolce & Gabbana catwalks. Doesn't this new sexy intersect with this notion of empowerment, in an almost militant way?

SC: It seems to me that sexy has become a way to assert oneself. It is therefore also part of an empowerment process. In a way, it is to consider that the body in itself is militant and that the clothing which will come to make body with this morphology, will be also significant. Thus, it becomes itself militant. This is what we see, for example, with the silhouettes created by Casey Cadwallader at Mugler for the singer Yseult during the Victoires de la musique.

Yseult - Photo Stéphane Cardinale x Vogue France / Cadwallader & Yseult - Photo François Quillacq

We are really in this idea of a body which expresses itself, of a body which assumes itself. There is a will to shake up the existing standards, to be in a step of freedom.

Alexandra Hostier - Fashion Editor: This also echoes the censorship practiced on Instagram when people are nude. An image of a curvy person will be more easily censored than one of a thin or skinny person because the former will be more easily flagged and classified by Instagram as pornography (because there is more visible flesh). With her work, Ester Manas precisely wanted to show that fat bodies, far from being vulgar or shocking, can be seen as sexy.

Ester Manas

T.Z: There is indeed a kind of prudishness on the networks, imposed on Instagram because of moderation techniques and algorithms. This also raises questions about nudity, and in particular about the difference in treatment between male and female nudity for example. It makes me think that for some time, we notice that in fashion photo editorials, if we want to show a bustier, we might as well shoot it on a male model. And apparently 17 years old, if possible. The result is that we no longer know if the bustier itself is sexy or if it becomes something else entirely. It's amazing to see today how a male cast makes your collection become political, even if the pieces are not.

S.C: It's probably a bit more complex. It is the fact of considering that the fashion can be for all the kinds. As we can observe, the youngest generation has very different models and referentials. They manipulate all these codes. It is imperative to take into consideration these new aspirations. What is interesting is to see how these corsets and bustiers that were seen for a long time as the pieces of constraint, "anti-liberation" and "anti-emancipation" are inviting themselves back into the locker room. Nevertheless, they become symbols of body affirmation.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin / Bilie Eilish Photo Craig McCdean for British Vogue

We can evoke the cover of British Vogue with Billie Eilish which made a lot of noise. In fact, what was considered a symbolic prison for women has been transformed into a symbol of freedom. The fact of revealing her body is a certain expression of power and freedom. For a long time, it was thought that it was by hiding the body, by covering it with multiple layers, that one affirmed it. Nowadays, we are at the antipodes of this fashion of the 80s with its broad shoulders, its XXL jackets and its technical materials. It is by revealing its morphology, by showing its forms, that one can be oneself, without social constraints.

T.Z : This is what some young Parisian brands claim. I think for example of Marcia which is a label whose photoshoots can seem very first degree or aggressive, with the exhibition of body, garter belts etc.. But in fact, we are in a feminine universe in which there is, through a certain reappropriation of codes, a real notion of taking back power, a declaration: "I am not in submission or reproduction of clichés but I am in the affirmation of myself". These constraints of sexy are experienced as a space of freedom.


S.C: Absolutely. They are not part of the same man/woman relationship. If we keep in mind the iconography of the post-World War II period until the porno chic of the 2000s, we had the image of a sensual woman wanting to attract a man's attention. It was a classic register of seduction, even submission in some clichés. Today, it is a free body, liberated, which expresses itself. It can express desires, or not. The freedom is not in the fact of hiding but on the contrary in the deliberate choice to reveal itself, such as one wishes it. It is the notion of choice that is essential from now on.

T.Z : There is another part of the sexy that we have crossed with the Y2K phenomenon. This return of the fashion of the 2000s with the sexy decomplexed to the Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. A renewed love that declares the Blumarine collection for example, with a post-2000 aesthetic quite flashy. It is another sexy, cagole, chic, and funny, as a kind of revival, a new vintage. A post-2000 sexy that announces the return of the low waist, the thong that protrudes and the small vest too short, which Jacquemus has also well seized. We are on an aesthetic that is finally almost a little kitsch, "tacky".

A.H: This aesthetic is undoubtedly developing. We can observe the return to the forefront of the scene of iconic personalities who embodied the sexy of the early 2000s. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton are all in a phase of reappropriating their image, their stories and their bodies. They are becoming modern "girl bosses" whereas they were previously perceived as simple pop culture bimbos. Perhaps we should see a parallel between the evolution of their stories, their lives that become synonymous with empowerment and the revival of this post-2000 sexy that they embodied?

Nicole Richie & Paris Hiltton - credit Bestimage - Fame Pictures / Blumarine

S.C: It is, more globally, an American cultural phenomenon, a very "L.A" attitude. This post-2000 aesthetic, a bit vulgar, reflects more a relaxed way of being than a real political commitment. The essence of this style, as well as the "cagole" style, is a "comfortable naturalness", which is linked to a desire to please and to value oneself. We remain in an era of "pleasing", as demonstrated by the exposure of everyone on social networks. Moreover, we are coming out of a phase during which the bodies were locked up, literally, during confinements. The aspiration to comfort remains. But at the end of this period, there is a desire to live again with this body, to express oneself and to feel fully, again, the glance of the others on its body. The resumption of parties for which people prepare themselves and put on more make-up illustrates this phenomenon. We have the impression of rediscovering certain things, of reliving first times, which is strange and rare at the scale of a human life. We can make a parallel with the period following the first world conflict. We go from darkness to light, from a period where everything is blocked to a real moment of rediscovery with bodies that aspire to experience freedom and otherness again.

T.Z : It would be like a life impulse, to counteract the mortifying atmosphere of the pandemic and the withdrawal into oneself. An aspiration to want to share and enjoy, a desire for carefree living. But in a more concrete way, what are the codes of the new sexy? The short, for example, inevitably?

S.C: Not necessarily, when you see the work of Ester Manas, the collection of Chloé or the looks of Mugler by Casey Cadwallader. Spindles, bodysuits or ultra tight dresses complete this new sexy wardrobe. It's not necessarily the miniskirt. It's a more subtle approach. The concept is more morphological than sexual.

Stella Mccartney - Photo Alessandro Lucioni / Mugler

It's not necessarily the traditionally erotic areas - the chest or the hips - that are valued by these designers. It's really something that wraps the body, while revealing it. It is the body, more than the skin, that is revealed in these looks. There is obviously mini, even micro, if we think of Saint Laurent or Coperni. It is an idea that remains present of course. But the mini will rather, in this case, refer to an aesthetic "evening" glamorous, neo-disco.

T.Z: In contrast, the new sexy looks have a more sculptural, anatomically designed, contemporary cut that is less retro.

S.C: There are not necessarily retro references, indeed. These new sexy looks are also influenced by the world of sports and underwear by the choice of materials. Brands like Savage x Fenty or Kim Kardashian's lingerie line also contribute to the evolution of these codes. This is definitely a new phase in lingerie. It can be worn as a garment and vice versa.

T.Z: Would you put in this category Nensi Dojaka who worked on these corsets and transparency games, and made them something wearable in everyday life?

Nensi Dojaka

S.C: We are really in this approach to reveal what was traditionally hidden. We could observe this on the catwalks of the summer 2022 season, with pieces very close to the body.

T.Z: In this new sexy, there is also something a little more technical in the materials used, which are relatively high-performance and stretchy. You were talking about the influence of sport, I think also the influence of swimwear ... Compared to an "old sexy" where we were more on glamorous materials. We feel that this new sexy has something dynamic, healthy.

S.C: Absolutely, it's sexy but not sexual.

A.H: Active and no longer passive.

Chanel / SKIMS

S.C: We can see in these revealed bodies a kind of filiation with the work of Azzedine Alaïa for example. These designers share the idea of wanting to sculpt a body by glorifying it through clothing. It is a body that desires and not the others who desire the body.

A.H: Couldn't we consider the appearance of this new sexy of reappropriation of the body (notably of the women's body by the women) in fashion, as being linked to the societal censure of which the women's body was the object all last year? With for example the governmental discussions about what constituted a "republican" dress and therefore acceptable for young girls in high school. This remained, under the guise of "protecting" them from the possible dangers that revealing themselves too much would "provoke", a way of controlling their way of dressing (rather than educating the students as a whole, girls as well as boys, to mutual respect and consent). A control that we also found on the networks with the censorship of Instagram on fat bodies that we talked about earlier, and from which this new sexy seeks to emancipate itself, by reclaiming the bodies that society seeks to control. A trend that symbolizes a desire to regain power, tinged with a certain feminism finally.

T.Z: We see that the question of "sexy" is finally eminently political, beyond the simple fashion trend. You were talking earlier about Serge, about the chic porn of the 2000s. For the moment, with this new sexy we are very far from that, from the Mario Testino period, for example.

Photo Mario Testino 1997 Gucci

S.C: This new sexiness is visually represented in a very different way, especially in the advertising campaigns. There are few explicit sexual references. We are rather in the representation of the everyday life. A personality like Yseult, for example, is not at all in lascivious or sexual attitudes.

T.Z: Aren't there some companies that surf on a dangerous line? I think of Saint Laurent for example, whose advertising campaigns have been pinned down several times. It seems that there is a desire to be sulphurous and to play with fire.

S.C: Some houses, like Saint Laurent, are fundamentally provocative. It's part of their history, part of their DNA. But times are changing. Therefore, you have to know how to stay true to your identity while evolving your approach to adapt it to new looks. In a way, this sultry dimension is the essence of Saint Laurent. This has not, however, prevented the house from promoting, in a significant way, the emancipation of women. From the launch of Opium perfume to the visuals of Helmut Newton, Saint Laurent went from scandal to scandal. The designer was always looking to shake up conventions.

Saint Laurent - Photo Juergen Teller

T.Z: Anyway, can sexy be consensual?

A.H: We used to think that there was only one way to be sexy, but we are now being shown that there are many.

S.C: If the word "sexy" generally keeps a pejorative connotation and remains, very often, associated with a certain idea of vulgarity, it is a deeply subjective notion. What is interesting is to see how this pejorative dimension is diverted to show another one. Afterwards, should we call it sexy? Or affirmation? Or sensuality? Or morphology? But we have to remember that, at the base, in the current language, when we say that something is sexy, it is not to say something positive.

T.Z: But it seems that right now the word sexy is coming back into favor.

Stéphanie Lu - Head of Social Media Communication at Carlin Creative: We talk about "new sexy" and it's as if this revival takes away the original negativity of the word.

S.C : Finally, we could almost replace "body positive" by "sexy positive" (laughs).

T.Z : It's a good conclusion, we are well in the process of defining this new sexy which is neither suffered nor pejorative. A sexy valuing and emancipating.

Stella McCartney - Photo Christina Fragkou

Interviewer: Thomas Zylberman - Stylist & Trend Expert at Carlin Creative

Coordinator: Stéphanie Lu - Head of Social Media Communication at Carlin Creative

Alexandra Hostier
Fashion Editor

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