How Queer Became Chic

As any fool knows, fashion is a constant cycle. And yet, our short memories tend to forget this. 20 years after the advent of porno chic, fashion is once again flirting with risqué images - but this time with a strong gender-fluid influence.
Insert link
Photo: Rui Palma.

As any fool knows, fashion is a constant cycle. And yet, our short memories tend to forget this. Take porno chic for instance. Launched in a blaze of scandal in the mid-Nineties by Tom Ford at Gucci with the help of a certain Carine Roitfeld, it caused shockwaves throughout the fashion world, reaching as far as the venerable house of Dior and its then artistic director, John Galliano. The campaign for the Dior Addict fragrance, shot in 2000 by Nick Knight, featured the perfume bottle slipped into the model’s G-string. 

G is for for Gucci

Of course, Tom Ford went way further, with the now-legendary pubic hair shaved into a G for Gucci or a female arse slapped by a male model (in those days, alas, no-one had yet envisaged the opposite), and far less politically-correct images. As a result, brands were quick to milk the trend, with cosmetics brand Sisley literally featuring a model with her hands on a cow’s teats, squirting full-fat into her mouth. American Apparel hired porn stars for its campaigns and even Dolce & Gabanna featured well-oiled naked hunks in every image. Tom Ford himself kept the concept for his own brand, perching fragrance bottles between boobs, thighs and even buttocks. Planet fashion finally called time on a trend which had reach its limit, and the second decade of the 21st Century marked a return to a mormon-like decency. 

Yet in 2017, almost 20 years later, the cycle has shifted again and sex once again sells. Of course, it’s less full-frontal and direct, but still. Though Tom Ford himself excited in 2004, and Alessandra Facchinetti, John Ray and Frida Giannini did their best to cover up the heritage of the embarrassing Texan at Gucci, there was no counting on Alessandro Michele’s arrival in January 2015 with a self-confessed “exuberant and romantic” style. Which translates concretely as a campaign for the new Guilty fragrance featuring Jared Leto naked in a bathtub with a model holding another’s hand. In effect, we’ve moved on to threesomes. 

The new Movida

To be more precise, Michele’s style for Gucci is more “Bohemian Seventies” (where Ford’s was purely Seventies), and his men are very androgynous. In the campaigns and films, women appear to lead the way, which is a major (positive) change. The (fashion) world would have difficulty today accepting Tom Ford-style campaigns in which men dominated women. In Michele’s universe, there are often two girls facing a less muscled, less oiled and more made-up guy. 

This vision of masculinity is also evident in the new Spanish fashion house on everyone’s lips: Palomo Spain. The name of the latest collection, “Sexual Objects” sets the tone, and the images confirm the impression: male models caked in make-up are adorned with veils, pearls and leopard print that even Catherine Deneuve would reject as too showy. However, they are surrounded with far more masculine, naked men, surrounding them in a threatening manner. In other words, Alejandro Gomez Palomo’s uber-queer aesthetic is linked to the remains of a Tom Ford style porno chic. As if Palomo was paying hommage to Tom Ford’s more traditional gay imagery by injecting into it the recent developments in society, namely the emergence of radical queer movements. 

At Palomo Spain as in Michele’s Gucci collections, another key point is the extreme thinness of the male models. The last Parisian men’s shows featured rake-thin models, the chubbiest of whom could barely have weighed 45kg. A recent Gucci campaign hits the nail on the head with an image of a guy removing a sweater to reveal skin and ribs.  Fashion had already flirted with this type of body image during the heroic chic years, followed by Raf Simonsand Hedi Slimane imposing a stick-thin silhouette for their own male models. But today’s images seem to reach new heights as they reveal the body rather than dressing it. 

Queer chic footwear

And what do these skeletal boys wear on their feet? Socks and sandals, or course! French hip-hop band Alrima picked up on this odd streetwear trend with their song “Claquettes chaussettes”, reflecting on a new hybrid imagery worthy of the most unlikely Grindr scenarios, since a number of Parisian banlieue tycoons have opted to fork out for Michele’s flowery pool sandals for Gucci. 

This new queer-chic rather than porno chic aesthetic is also evident in the work of Flemish designer Glenn Martens for Y/Project, winner of this year’s Andam. Over the past four years, Martens is one of the few to have been able to impose entire collections of decadent unisex streetwear: tracksuits feature shoulder pads, football scarves display portraits of Henry VIII or Bonaparte. The designer doesn’t balk at sending corsets or bloomers worthy of a musketeer at a BDSM party down the catwalk. A kinky exploration of fetichism that is reminiscent of the imagery used by Demna Gvasalia at Vetements and Balenciaga – if the fashion world refers to him as “God”, the more appropriate term might be “Devil” due to his penchant for spandex, killer heels, or his reinvention of the Ikea bag as a harness. 

Martens and Gvasalia have also launched an evolution in terms of casting with their choice of street-cast models, from radical shaven-headed lesbians next to whom Cara Delevigne looks as homely as Céline Dion to tattooed, pierced and customized creatures upon which even the most observant onlooker would have difficulty pinning a gender or race. The queer decade has left its mark.