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Designer Dimitra Petsa, stylist Kate Iorga, make-up Mattie White, nails Sylvie MacmillanPhotography Nick Hadfield

Dipetsa’s second collection explores the sexuality of the maternal body

The Water Broke is the second chapter of Dimitra Petsa’s WETNESS project

What goes through your mind when you see a pregnant body. What associations, thoughts, feelings, emotions are conjured up for you in that moment? Are they ones of purity? Or sexualisation? The Virgin Mary or the MILF category of Pornhub? 

This is the question designer Dimitra Petsa is exploring with her latest collection, The Water Broke, the second chapter in her Wetness project which takes as its themes bodily fluids, femininity, maternity, and the malleability of the female form. “The female body constantly changes,” says Petsa. “Its physical form is very fluid, depending on where you are on your cycle your breasts can go up two sizes, your body and your face get swollen and then later it all goes down. We have this elasticity and malleability of body.”    

Wanting to explore this fluctuating corporeality as well as the ways the maternal body has existed in patriarchal imaginings, Petsa designed a collection that allows for the shape-shifting female body and celebrates the myriad bodily fluids it produces, from breast milk to vaginal discharge. 

For the accompanying lookbook, the designer worked with an almost entirely female team in a shoot that teases out the eroticism of motherhood and feminine sexuality through a female gaze.

Why did you decide to focus on the maternal body? What message did you want to convey with your depiction of the maternal body and motherhood?

Dimitra Petsa: I was thinking a lot about the maternal water, the womb, the idea of mother, the malleability of the female body and experience. My first project ‘Wetness’ was based a lot on the present and my current experience with bodily fluids. With ‘The Water Broke’ project I wanted to look more backwards and inwards. The research of this project was focused a lot on female archetypes, the Virgin, the Mother, the Whore, the Bride, the Witch, the Goddess. I think ultimately this manifested into the biggest focus being the pregnant body because it is the most in-between of all these terms and also addressed a lot of points in my research.

I was very interested in the sexuality of a pregnant woman and was looking a lot into ecstatic births which is when a woman experiences pleasure or even an orgasm while giving birth which is obviously the complete opposite of what we know from popular culture (the screaming, the horrid experience). 

But I also wanted to point out that the female body constantly changes, its physical form is very fluid, depending on where you are on your cycle your breasts can go up two sizes, your body and your face get swollen and then later it all goes down. We have this elasticity and malleability of body, which is very close to pregnancy in a way but it is defined totally different in the patriarchal society. One is romanticised and the other is hidden. If you are going to perceive bodily fluctuation and fertility in a mystical/religious way it should be the miracle of birth and the miracle of the menstrual cycle.

If I could fit it into one message I wanted to convey in regards to motherhood is that we should embrace all the different sides of our shared female body today and not censor our own experience. The pregnant body is not suddenly pleasure-less.

The sharp nails stand out against the softness of the colours, fabrics and bodies of the women. What went into the decision to have these claw-like nails?

Dimitra Petsa: The nails came out of conversations with Sylvie (Macmillan) on what each garment meant and my research. She really captured nuances of the concept and brought them out. For example, in the picture where Lily is wearing an open embroidered dress revealing her pregnant belly she has natural nails but the last two are super long and round. This reflected the uneven body, the roundness, the possibility of growth, the malleability of the female body but then also its hardness. 

Claws’ contrasting the softness was also an element that Jess (Hag Stone) brought out in the concept. When we were developing the jewellery for this collection, she saw a lot the animalistic part of the body, especially in birth and in depictions of female archetypes which is a big part of what “The Water Broke” project is about.

What is it about fluids that interests you so much? Why do you think they have such an association with femininity to you?

Dimitra Petsa: I think for me rethinking my bodily fluids was my journey of growing up and rethinking how I perceive my body. I always felt very connected to the sea so I think what drew me to focus so much on bodily fluids is that I saw them as an expression of the sea in me and the female body in general.

I think they are very associated with the female experience, they have the aspect of shame, self-pleasure, the strive for control and hopefully the inevitable surrender. And also in a more physical sense, we are made of water and we are constantly wet. Sweat, vaginal fluids (which are constant), period blood, tears, breast milk, etc. We try so much to hide them and it is self-inflicting punishment, it’s shame for our body, shame for our experience which is very closely tied in with the word femininity.

How did the hair and make-up complement and enhance your designs? And help tell the story you wanted to tell?

Dimitra Petsa: Make-up, which was done by Mattie White, was based on the skin flush while giving birth and the skin flush when you have sex. That’s why you can see in a few pictures the redness on the chest. We focused a lot on mixing all these archetypes, the post-coital glow and the virginal blushed cheeks. I think the makeup really tells its own story of that fluidity between the archetypes and expressed the concept on its own. 

Hair wise we chose to go with really straight cut lines, which contrasted the roundness and the softness of the garments and the body. This was connected to the corsets in the collection that push one breast in imposing a straight line while the other breast spills out. 

Everything in this photoshoot had its own reason for being there which reflects a lot how I work when I create a collection of garments it is rarely about purely aesthetics. I like the idea that you can see a collection of images again and again and notice these different things like reading a poem.

What do you hope people take away about womanhood from these images?

Dimitra Petsa: I hope each person can take something different, I think there is only so much you can do about communicating a very specific idea and I never strive for that. I try to create work that is meaningful to the people I work with and myself. But I always really want women looking at it to feel something and if nothing else I hope that people can appreciate its beauty.  

Designer Dimitra Petsa, photographer Nick Hadfield, stylist Kate Iorga, make-up Mattie White, nails Sylvie Macmillan, set designers Ellie Koslowsky & Clara Boulard, jewellery designer Hag Stone, models Louise Earwaker, Alina Stashinova, Jade o Belle & Lilja Hronn