Subversions of Sexuality at New York Fashion Week

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Hood By Air S/S16
Hood By Air S/S16Photography by Evan Schreiber, Courtesy of Dazed Digital

We examine the most transgressively titillating moments of the season thus far, from Givenchy to Nicopanda

"What is the new sex?" asked Nicola Formichetti after his S/S16 Nicopanda presentation at New York Fashion Week. "Femininity? Masuculinity? Is it being genderless? For me, it's whatever you want to explore." This question, of sex and sexuality, seems to be the one on everyone's lips at New York Fashion Week; from the continued prevalence of androgyny to Alexander Wang's leather corsetry; Hood By Air's fetishistic bindings to Givenchy's delicately sensual nightwear teamed with masculine blazers. During a time where gender is (literally) making headlines – from Call me Caitlin to Hari Nef et al for &OtherStories, sex and sexuality have been challenged and celebrated in an astounding number of collections. New York has become the world's playground for Judith Butler-style performativity – alongside an exhibition of fishnet stockings and mesh – and here, we examine some of our favourites.

"At Nicopanda, everything and anything can happen," stated Formichetti, whose approach to casting has famously celebrated diversity (he styled the video for Lady Gaga's anthem of empowerment, Born This Way in 2011, subverted gender tropes on the cover of Dazed back in March 2013 and cast androgyny to front his Diesel Reboot campaign in S/S14). "This season, I was interesting in exploring a romantic view of youth, inspired by Pasolini, David Hamilton and Inez & Vinoodh. It was different worlds colliding; street punks meeting girly ballerinas." 

And, with boys in tutus worn under wet-look black bombers or pink mesh t-shirts; girls dressed as angry lolitas or the prettiest princesses, it was both brilliantly beautiful and ragingly rebellious. Whether suspender belts made visible by sheer tulle, or fetish-style macintoshes in shining black, there was a transparent message of sexuality made visible – but it was agendered and, like Formichetti himself said, everything was "all mixed up."

Hood By Air
If anyone knows how to transgress a boundary, it's Hood By Air – a label who have made a name for themselves by challenging cultural oppressions with a furious glee. For S/S16, they took their parodies of appropriation down a different route, softening their aesthetic with Pepto Bismol pinks, schoolgirl kilts and some fabulously consumable handbags (their straps cuffing wrists), while maintaining the subversion for which they have become renowned.

As Reba Maybury explained of their disrupted school uniforms, "The collection is telling us it's good to be angry; it's good to misbehave; get in trouble. That's what the clothes are about, fucking up your school uniform, breaking the rules." And with crotchless skirts made of creamy beige satins, (entirely) backless dresses with corsetry strings and logo-emblazoned rubber bondage encasing the arms of the men, it was a take on discipline – the sort which starts at school, and seems to go on indefinitely – that was simultaneously sexy and severe.

Taking a more sensual approach to seduction was Givenchy; a show which Riccardo Tisci proclaimed was "all about love." Silk nightdresses fell from shoulders, asymettric cutouts skimmed collarbones – and, with plenty of the pieces worn under tuxedo jackets, as Emily Cronin explained "they produced an effect somehow both kittenish and dominant." Intricate lacework, flourishes of feathers; the show was an 87-strong series of romantic beauty – but one which, in parts, permeated the gender binary for a collection that spoke to a freedom beyond its multi-cultural overtones.

Last season, 18-year-old Vejas Kruszewksi presented fetishisation of femininity on a diverse selection of models, with girls including trans model Hari Nef standing alongside andrognyous boys. This wasn't a group assembled to latch on to the new trend for fashion's newly-progressive approach to gender, but instead was formed out of Vejas' own friendship group; “It didn’t matter if it was a boy, a girl or a trans girl – it was about their persona,” he told Dazed editor-in-chief Isabella Burley after the show.

This season, he took a quieter approach to the topic of sex and gender: girls gently caressed eachother's bodies while wearing dresses that almost appeared an homage to Meadham Kirchoff's final offering, the androdgyny of his models merely one aspect of a multi-faceted collection. Layered tops and deconstructed shirt-dresses were cut to fall from shoulders; it all felt graceful and peaceful – an Edenic slumber party where one's sexuality could be explored.

Alexander Wang
Fishnet tops were in abundance at Alexander Wang's 10-year anniversary collection, which threw its gaze back over a decade of streetwear chic. However, perhaps even more impressive than the army of iconic models walking down the runway was the afterparty which was decorated to look like a red lit, seedy strip club – complete with antibacterial spray (for the poledancers, of course) decorated with Alexander Wang's face, and performances by Ludacris and Lil Wayne. After a collection that featured structured leather corsetry and tops chained onto the bodies of its models, it was a fitting finale for a show that more than alluded to tough-girl sexuality.