The cover of Billie Eilish in the British edition of Vogue has become the image with the highest number of likes in a matter of hours. And it is already known that in these times virality does not necessarily have to do with adherence, but with controversy. The artist had stated on several occasions that she did not let third parties take care of her image, and that she dressed in a neutral way (which does not mean anodyne) to avoid sexualization and criticism of her body. Now, however, she posed in a corset and stockings emulating a 1950s pin up. Many criticized that Eilish had sold herself to the ‘system’ (that is, she had managed to enter the wheel of image imposed by third parties); Others praised this new chapter, seeing in it the singer’s appropriation of her own body and the story she communicates through it. The truth is that the publication has reiterated several times that it was she who chose how she wanted to appear, and the singer herself affirms in the internal interview that this was a strategy to “turn around prejudice and see it as something empowering. Suddenly if you show your skin you are a hypocrite, or even an easy girl », He said. The question, in any case, and beyond the real motivations of the photo shoot, is that it confirms, and in a viral way, a fact that has been gradually brewing in fashion for some time: sex returns to sell, although in another way.
Collections prior to the pandemic were already pointing out ways: for the first time in five or six years, skin was shown, transparencies were given prominence or classic lingerie was thrown. The current situation has done the rest: according to the Lyst data platform, one of the most sought after designers in the last quarter is the semi-unknown Nensi dojaka, which focuses its proposals on transparencies, lingerie dresses and ‘flossing’, that is, the art of knowing how to tie ties to the body, something like a soft ‘bondage’. The platform also speaks of a rebound of the corset, the miniskirt or even the vinyl garments. Although if we want a more mainstream confirmation, we must look for it in Gucci: Alessandro Michele has been approaching the concept of sexuality from different angles for several seasons (his latest pre-pandemic collection, in fact, included messages such as ‘Orgasmique’ in the garments) but this time, In addition to his hack of Balenciaga, there was another protagonist in the collection: Tom Ford, the king of chic porn, the Midas of sex as a claim. Michele recovers (and reformulates) some of his greatest successes at Gucci and, in case it wasn’t clear enough, turns the house-brand harnesses and riding gear into something close to fetishism. Close, because the interpretations are plural. That is precisely what it is about.
It is logical that sex is the claim in a world that is longing for physical contact, union and escape from imposed loneliness. But the unwritten law that sex sells exists in fashion, and in advertising in general, almost from its birth. As the art critic John Berger explained in the classic ‘Ways of Looking’: “Men look at women and women see themselves through the male gaze.” Teaching to sell by appealing to basic emotions, and dressing to satisfy that desire, a mixture that fashion exploited for a long time, with a special emphasis on the turn of the century. Tom Ford, then at Gucci, boxed with the idea of sexuality and campaigns that explicitly appealed to eroticism; Calvin Klein sold jeans through naked bodies disguised as natural (or with a very young Brooke Shields crying out: ‘there is nothing between me and my Calvins’); even casual clothing firms, such as Abercrombie and Fitch, used the claim of the perfect body, while American Apparel became the great brand of essentials through sexually explicit campaigns. A dangerous spiral was entered that made sex, objectification and controversy converge. Sessions that explicitly alluded to rape, provocative images, nudes to sell collections … until the arrival of social networks and #metoo put an end to the marketing of sex.
The allegations of sexual harassment against Dov Charney, owner of American Apparel, ended first in dismissal and later in bankruptcy; Abercrombie changed the torsos for much more natural scenes, Calvin Klein began to communicate through young artists and / or activists for the diversity of gender and race. Tom Ford declared that that era had already passed «It has already been done. Now it’s time for something else ». Even the Victoria’s Secret star, the great catwalk of the perfect flesh and body was fading to make Fenty start to shine, Rihanna’s lingerie line pioneer of what has been called ‘new sexy’, diverse women and comfortable on your skin.
During the last five years the image of women in fashion has been changing, to a great extent, because they have reached positions of artistic direction in large houses; canceling in some way the masculine gaze on feminine design and opting for other criteria when creating collections. The fear of a new controversy and the rise of feminism have done the rest so that the objectification was subverting itself to the empowerment. No pre-made beauty ideas or erotic claims. The few discourses of ‘sexy’ in recent years have been aimed at the appropriation of the body, the object woman whose sexuality belongs to her.
That is why the new sex marketing in 2021 appeals to desire and emotion but from another prism, between activism and naturalness: Jacquemus’ campaign this spring, ‘L’amour’ shows several couples touching and kissing from one perspective intimate, that of Koche to three models, men and women, naked and surrounded by the house team (clothing), as if it were the moment before a clothing test; in Sandro they play at hinting at an intimate party between a group of young people and they ‘sneak in’ in moments of passion of real couples. There are no perfect bodies, no object women. Editd, the consultancy that predicts trends through big data, talks about the return of sexy clothes, and argues that the main reason is that the pandemic has made us see sex and affective relationships as an important part of self-care, but they also point out that this is a generational issue. «The youngest have broken the standards of beauty. Today, sexy is much more inclusive », they say, and illustrate the rebound of this trend with the return of the corset in the spring collections (Y / Project, Alberta Ferretti, Blumarine …) or of the insinuated or visible underwear (Gauchere, Victoria Beckham, Dolce & Gabbana …). Curiously, the notalgia for the first two thousand, what in fashion is called the Y2K trend, have made icons of the golden age of ‘porn chic’ return, such as the very low-waisted pants, the back necklines that reveal the Thong or bralettes, but their translation to the present is not done in perfect bodies or with the sole intention of pleasing the male gaze, but to reinforce one’s own. In fact, another Editd report details the new lingerie market, pointing out that brands that traditionally appealed to eroticism in their more classic version, such as Agent Provocateur or Victoria’s Secret itself, have expanded sizes and opted for more comfortable pieces. “And during this year the offer has become something much more inclusive and diverse. In fact, searches for unisex underwear have grown, “they say. Sex has returned to sell fashion, but fashion, fortunately, is no longer the same as it was twenty years ago.