Fashion, Film, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 22/09/11: The New Sexy

The film ‘The Night Porter’ changed the face of sexy forever.  Up until then, sexy was about apple-cheeked roundness, a gust of wind blowing up a skirt, the painted-on pout, wearing pink to make the boys wink and wearing a bikini to make them turn slightly pinker.

For those not in the know, 1974’s The Night Porter is a film in which Charlotte Rampling plays a concentration camp survivor who, several years after the end of World War Two, falls back into a sadomasochistic relationship with a Nazi guard.

Until The Night Porter, the particular strain of sexiness that involved leather, restriction, sharpness and severity had been regarded as deviant, risky, even evil.  Sexuality suddenly took a turn from being reasonable, if unspoken, to something almost pathological.  The norms of what was sexy took a turn away from centre-field.  Sexy is now a fetish.

Poster mock-up from Movie Goods

Fast forward a decade or three and the gates of sexy dressing have opened wide.  Anything goes, as long as there’s less of it.  That is why Marc Jacob’s obvious homage to The Night Porter for Louis Vuitton is a breath of Gitanes and musk-soaked air (this is a good thing).

The ability of a woman to be sexy is something we could argue over for years, because there are as many types of sexy as there are moments in a year.  One’s mans dominatrix is another man’s poison.  But, and this is a big but, there will always be a proscribed way of dressing sexily.

Today’s acceptable kind of sexy is the Italian ‘molto sexy’ of Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana, all loud prints, dark tans and large everything; big lips, big hair, big breasts, long legs and big diamonds.  This can look good on a speedboat at the Venice Film Festival, not so much on the girls from The Only Way Is Essex.

The fetish look is anathema to the Italians.  It’ll be no surprise that The Night Porter was censored in Italy on release.

Thandie Newton in Louis Vuitton A/W '12 for Louis Vuitton Double Exposure via

On the catwalk, the fetish look translated to sheer, brazen chiffon shirts, mannish suspenders, spike heels, gold handcuff bangles, leather trenchcoats with little on underneath and alarmingly SS-ish officers caps

Is this trend going to catch on?  The ‘molto sexy’ look is easy to opt into – the alternative is adopting the fetish look a little too wholeheartedly and resembling a) a dominatrix b) a masochist or c) a fascist or d) a bit of an eejit.

It’s hard to adopt a trend that is essentially taboo.  So far, it hasn’t been picked up by the high street despite the best efforts of several magazines. However, certain elements of the fetish look have been adopted – leather pencil skirts and mannish tailoring for example.

Are we all just prudes?  I don’t think so.  You can love a film and yet not want to wear it’s costumes, just as you can love a catwalk collection and still not want to wear it yourself.  Fashion trends are all about how your wear them and with fetish, there’s no real wiggle room for an individual slant.  With fetish, you go hard or go home.  Home is where i’ll be, with a cup of tea and a biscuit, watching The Night Porter and NOT worrying about how I’m going to fit into that rubber dress tomorrow.

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2 thoughts on “Licentiate Column 22/09/11: The New Sexy

  1. Chantelle says:

    Really loved this piece! I had never really thought about the concept of acceptable sexuality in terms of fashion but its a really interesting idea!

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