Christopher Kane has long been obsessed with sex. And, rather than shy away from his favoured subject in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the current mood sees him relax into the theme – perhaps more than ever. “Since the beginning, I have found [sex] fundamental to our idea of women; women with their own power who create their own worlds and are in charge of them,” writes Kane in the show notes for his A/W18 collection. So, from the repressed, patent-clad and rubber glove-wearing housewife of S/S18 comes the sensuous, bush-baring and The Joy of Sex-reading woman for A/W18. Repurposing illustrations from the radical 70s book, Kane plunders erotic references outside of his expected remit.
The connotations are careful. When the groundbreaking manual was released in 1972, it wasn’t long off the back of obscenity trials against satirical Australian magazine OZ (it had published a highly sexualised parody of Rupert Bear the previous year – it lost) and Penguin (for its 1959 publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – they won, thanks to its artistic merits). The book – an inclusive, “gourmet guide” to the mutual joys of liberal, loving and exploratory sex written by Dr Alex Comfort – had to strike a cautious balance between fearlessness and inoffensiveness and so employed the illustrations of artist Chris Foss. The book and its numerous later editions, as well as the sequel, More Joy of Sex, was welcomed – though Playboy found it a little too hairy for its liking – and has since sold over ten million copies.
“They’re both a textbook study and a sensuous display of line drawing, almost in ‘coffee table book’ form that’s both weird and really everyday. All of which always intrigues me,” the designer explains. The fascination makes perfect sense: Kane’s transmogrification of the quotidian underpins his approach to sexiness. Wipe-clean vinyls, doily lace, mohair cardigans, rips, tears and half-fastened clothing, schoolgirl pleats, cable-tie fastenings, mop fringe and broderie anglaise have appeared over the years, some repeatedly, and each offering a twist on seduction. As Kane wrote for AnOther Magazine S/S18: “With my fur collection people were saying, ‘My God Christopher, why have you done leather with floral embroidery?’ I said, ‘Because it’s super kinky. It’s the Women’s Institute sitting around embroidering and sharing explicit details about their sex lives.’”
His trademark twists were present and correct. Kane rotated and cropped Foss’ soft and sensual images of couples in the throes of passion, placing the woman at the forefront of the image and prioritising her pleasure. The muted nude pieces were offset by tacky touches of pink and red marabou trim – the stuff of sex shops and 50s pin-up clichés – conflating notions of power and performance, the carnal and the contrived. Prim, puff-sleeved sweaters were emblazoned with ‘Special’ and ‘More Joy’ in the book’s title font and teamed with barely there lace skirts; there were crystal cage dresses and deconstructed silk pyjamas in a grannyish floral, somewhat dishevelled by strips of trailing black lace. Black leather abounded, as per, as did zips, in varying states of undone – another play on power, in their purposeful state of undress.
Kane simultaneously delved further into the duality of femininity that delights him, and tapped into the mood of the moment – all the while bringing the joy back into sexiness, lest we forget its importance amid all the conversations and coverage.