Sex sells. Duh. But in fashion, it does so much more than that in the hands of the right designers. It makes us think, and not just of tits and arse and general getting nakedness. Few designers work with sex like Miuccia Prada, whose universe revolves around the thought-provoking friction between desire and distaste. Attending one of her shows is like having your brain rewired: she always challenges conventional notions of good/bad, pretty/ugly and cool/uncool, making you sit up and question established ideas of what’s ‘sexy’.
Yesterday, Prada’s AW14 womenswear show made a strong case for intelligent perversion. Titled Act II, it picked up where her subversive ugly-chic men’s suiting left off in January, as the girls stalked the dimly lit runway in streetwalker shearling coats dyed red or sickly yellow and sheer slip dresses that didn’t expose traditionally sexy little knickers but instead revealed much less obvious printed Y-fronts.
Vulgarity and elegance were put head to head with powerful results, underpinned by Prada’s references to the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder as she quoted The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant from 1972, the story of a sadomasochistic love triangle between three women. The film’s fluffy shag pile carpet was echoed in a red goat hair dress which – despite showing no skin whatsoever – was ultra-seedy and seemed like the sartorial equivalent of Object (Le Déjeuner en fourrure), Méret Oppenheim’s naughty fur-covered teacup, saucer and spoon.
Sleaze with maximum substance is definitely making the rounds. As the world declares war on Internet pornography (hi, UK censorship!) and the wicked ways of homosexuality and freedom of expression (hi, Russia!), it is interesting to watch the AW14 womenswear season unfold. So far, we haven’t seen much in the way of in your face, defiant sexuality but rather a much more clever, underhanded play at sex and perversion that puts women firmly in the seat of power.
Case in point, Marques’Almeida’s collection: here, slinky silk and massive fake furs slid off naked shoulders, but the deshabille was contrasted with a tomboyish cool that seemed disinterested in engaging the male gaze. Instead, the designers played with sensuality in a framework of the everyday, like oversize denim and baggy trousers, elevating the banal to the beautiful.
What seems to be playing out right now is a knowing and slightly dodgy kind of industrial sexy, epitomised by someone like Christopher Kane, master of challenging so-called bad taste. This season, he had set his sights on those deeply unattractive plastic shoe covers you see in hospitals and food factories and subsequently conjured waterproof black nylon dresses and coats lined with exquisite cream mink, shown alongside riffs on the dissonance between soft shearling and kinky, wipe-clean PVC.
Will this idea of perverted sexuality stall when we get to Paris? It seems unlikely, considering the Miu Miu show always transfers similar feelings from Milan, but through an adolescent lens. Then again, by the time we get to next season Miuccia will have us re-thinking sex all over again.