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Does Sex Still Sell?


Collage of Hermes SS20, Gucci SS20 and Tom Ford Gucci Campaign SS03

In Rick Owens’ words: “clothes are fundamentally about sex”. Or rather, the self-expression component of fashion clothing almost definitely leans towards it. But if it’s true that the sex matrix is a leitmotiv for the fashion system and sales indexes, it can take many forms that say a lot about the sign of the times and the evolution of our society. Working in a separate way from seasonal trends, the sexuality crave in fashion will always have an audience.

The question is: is this audience interested in generating a non-conformist, daring wave like in the past, when sex took the form of outrageous looks aimed at generating an “outrage!” reaction among the prudish façade of society, or is it evolving towards embracing a more subtle, non-vulgar exaltation of a type of sexuality and femininity that can be part of our everyday life?

If in the past seasons, sex in fashion was often synonym of latex, leather, leopard print and bondage references, designers are now playing with a more minimalist version of sensuality: geometric figures sculpting and exalting the forms, a see-through approach rather than a “bare it all” mood and, most importantly, a look back to designs from the 90s, with Gianni Versace leading the way for inspiration and reminding us all of his ideal woman, which is the epitome of an audacious, never vulgar femininity.

Hermes Collection SS20 Ready To Wear

As fashion is glancing towards a more minimalist approach, sex is also turning to its purest, almost raw representation, unadorned from excessive aesthetic constructions and constrictions. Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski at Hermes saw sexuality in a leather apron matched to bare skin: the simplicity of this mannish look was the designer’s ideal of purest sexuality.

Alessandro Michele instead, introduced the world to a romanced idea of sexuality which, despite being interpreted by mistresses characters carrying whips, was subtle and left space for imagination to take over.

Gucci Collection SS20 Ready To Wear

What Tom Ford did for Gucci and the world in the early 2000s, was demolishing a taboo and teaching us all that sex is an important aspect of the human nature, a beautiful component that needs to be celebrated. But if the pubic hair reproduction of the Gucci monogram generated mixed feelings and worked on a marketing point of view at the time, today’s audience has seen it all and is not ashamed by raw and unfiltered sexuality.


In times where little is left to the imagination and audiences are openly acquainted with all forms of sexuality, a step back to subtlety playing around the unspoken and lingering on a more intellectual, introspective and even romanced interpretation of sex might be key to winning an insatiable consumer audience that is tired of craving for sensationalism and is slowly rediscovering the simplicity and purity of flawed human nature.

So, does sex still sell? The answer is yes. It is in the human nature to look for it in every aspect of life, including fashion. It is up to designers to decipher its evolving power over the decades and interpret their own unrestrained, unfiltered version that best fits a certain sign of the times.



Words by Beatrice Buschittari

Graphics by Katie Janes


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