Secrets do not last very long in fashion. Among lost secrets are bare ankles, calves and cleavages. Once they were hidden, tucked away in all sorts of materials, but through history they have been exposed – and today, they are known to every man and woman walking the streets. A shame? Perhaps. Secrets aren’t all bad, and nothing triggers curiosity and fantasy as much as a secret that you know is within your reach, but still escapes you. Fashion is, in that way, very much like a game of hide and seek, and what makes us play is our own curiosity. Whenever our curiosity is satisfied, the game is over. It is in other words, it is the balance of cleavage and not cleavage itself that gives pleasure. Going through the SS19 collections, it seems that secrets are making their way back. Silk wrapped around cores and necks, calves put into stockings and faces hidden away behind knitted balaclavas; skin is creeping back under the fabrics – and better yet, it’s doing it right in front of our noses.
Fashion’s re-veiling is hardly a coincidence, arriving as it does after several decades of hyper-sexualisation in practically every corner of society. It’s a natural and needed change of direction for fashion, which is can be understood as an eternal balancing game of showing and disguising. When bellybuttons in the 1940’s for the first time saw the light thanks to the bikini, and when knees premiered under the pencil skirts in the 1960’s, the excitement was extensive. Everyone was either thrilled or shocked, some both. The second sex had, until that point, been either an erotic fantasy or a stiff society doll, but never both, and the two seemed incompatible. Dressed in dresses with bottoms wider than door frames and waists narrow and perfectly fit for a man’s hand, women of the 17th century were like pieces of china: only to look at and never to touch. The corset realized the fantasy, gave it legs to walk on and arms to flutter with, but still the fantasy was far out of reach. The corset may have had many advantages, but many were of them only from a man’s perspective. There were hardly many women who felt themselves becoming more vivid or free whenever they laced themselves up. The corset is a great example of how fashion may be rebellious against the body, but only to certain social limits. It subjects to society the same way individuals do, but luckily, there are also noted cases of transgression and resistance. One of them were a French girl (hey, Chanel…) who later on dropped the corset and instead went into her husband’s wardrobe. As she stood there, hands in pockets and hips pushed triumphantly forward, she was undeniably irresistible. No doubt she had a waist, but the absence of it was disturbing. It was something else and that was the big success. Fashion is best when it doesn’t fit, and when it does, it stops being interesting.
It has been a while since such a revolutionary success in fashion, but the current season certainly shows signs of change. Many designers are seen to be layering (revolutionary for autumn…), but not in the usual way. Everything is either unzipped or unbuttoned to tune the mind in on sex – but underneath, you won’t find sex, but only a new and different layer. This season, the point isn’t to make us want to enclose our bodies, wrap them up and tuck them away, but to make us want to re-discover them by giving the impression that there is more than just the first layer.
Sex is being redefined and gender neutrality remains difficult for many square-schooled brains to comprehend. When designers dress their models according to their looks instead of their assumed sex or gender, we are forced to re-modulate our understanding of how bodies are sexualized in society. In London, Monse dressed the models in dresses and heavy sweatshirts with no regard to their assumed gender. In Milan, Gucci has for the past couple of years let the men’s ready-to-wear collections been infiltrated by romantic flower prints and silk laces – and in Finland, Nomen Nescio, a completely gender-neutral brand, is designed by husband and wife who firmly believe that humans are sexually equal and that that is who they are designing for, “We think ‘humans’”. Is gender-neutrality the end of sexual attraction? Hardly. Gender-neutrality is not about erasing or denying our gender, it’s about acknowledging its limits and neutralizing them. Gender is there, but we don’t have to always play by its rules.
The new landscape of sexuality and desire in fashion is tricky, but interesting – not unlike math. No one bothers to work with the easy equations or those who have already been solved. Sure, it is about getting an answer, the answer is what it all leads to, but once we got it, we move on. The answer is not the point, it is the process through which we get it. The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said, “pleasure disappoints, possibility never”. His whole life was spent thinking about possibilities, writing several theses about them. He didn’t try to unveil life’s secrets, but he did enjoy investigating them and imagining life’s (many) possible purposes. Imagine that there are more to us than just skin or imagine anything that is what it is about. Imagination. Possibility. Pleasure.
Words by Mathilde Nielsen