Fashion

Nothing to Hide

Tim Blanks on how the fashion world is baring it all—and loving it



 

Tim Blanks


 
Tim Blanks

Nothing to Hide
Tim Blanks on how the fashion world is baring it all—and loving it

“It’s annoying,” said the redoubtable New York Times critic Cathy Horyn, as yet another entirely sheer dress passed us on the Marni catwalk, revealing bare flesh and Bridget Jones–like big pants underneath.

Annoying! Where once a nipple glimpsed through a chiffon blouse on Yves Saint Laurent’s catwalk was enough to ignite a firestorm of shock—never mind being the kind of social signal a commentator like Horyn would have a field day with—transparency is now a mere irritant. Sheer familiarity has bred contempt (pun intended).

Derek Lam


 
Derek Lam

Derek Lam

And, yet, transparency is the trend that will not die. The Spring ’09 shows passed by in an orgy of suggestively bared flesh. In New York, YSL buff Marc Jacobs revived that chiffon top, Francisco Costa showed a see-through mac at Calvin Klein and even the decorous Derek Lam bared a model’s breasts. The nipple count was through the roof in London, with airy fabrics (un)veiling the mannequins in show after show. And Milan continued the trend, from the sparkling diaphanousness of Giorgio Armani to Roberto Cavalli’s entirely see-through gowns. Paris? From Gareth Pugh on the first day to Louis Vuitton on the last, it was a flasher’s fantasy.

After a while, I began to find the spectacle mesmerizing. Eye-catching, definitely, but also futile. There isn’t a retailer who’ll tell you they buy see-through looks the way they’re shown on the catwalk. “They’ll ship with slips”—if I had a dime for every time I’ve been told that, I’d have…oh, at least a dollar by now. So why show such sheer and unsellable looks in the first place?

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Yves Saint Laurent


 
Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent

“It’s all about marketing,” Vanessa Friedman of the Financial Times told me. “Front page of the paper.” Not strictly true. When Peggy Moffitt coyly modeled Rudi Gernreich’s topless bathing suit in Life magazine in the ’60s, bluestockings raged like it was the end of civilization as we know it. Now young model Tallulah Adeyemi unabashedly strolled down Vivienne Westwood’s Red Label catwalk in London in a gold skirt and little else, and it didn’t rate a single mention, let alone a photograph. And the English media aren’t even as hidebound as the American media with regard to what they might put on the cover of a “family” publication.

Let’s free-associate. Maybe transparency = social comment. A deliberate statement about personal liberation? A response—in America, at least—to the perceived restrictions of the Bush era? Or maybe it’s just because we’re living in an age where every aspect of everyone’s lives is inordinately public (which may explain why so many dresses for the new season are as interesting from the back as the front—it’s a 360-degree world now that there are gizmos photographing us from every possible direction), so transparent clothing hints at nothing to hide.

Roberto Cavalli


 
Roberto Cavalli

Roberto Cavalli

But if fashion reflects its times—how often can I say that without sounding like a cracked record?—this particular moment has inescapable echoes of other moments in history: the jazz age, for instance, when people wildly partied their way into the oblivion of the Great Depression. We certainly saw the fringes of ’20s flappers at the Spring ’09 shows, but not everyone knows that a certain amount of public nudity was also a signature of the shockaholic jazz babies.

Significantly, bondage and androgyny—two other endlessly recycled trends—popped up for Spring ’09. It’s enough to make me think that, ultimately, a see-through blouse, a bondage harness and a man-tailored jacket are like the hackneyed plot devices in a soap opera—deliberately designed to evoke a knee-jerk response that heaves us over the rough spots into the next plotline. Fall ’09, anyone?

Runway photography, Anthea Simms; Editor, Elio Iannacci.

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