No longer confined to just dirty magazines and lewd Paris Hilton style boudoir tapes, sex is being used to sell everything from fashion, film and art to music – and hey, this is nothing new. For decades rockstars have used risqué fashion to sell records – Elvis terrified the oldies in the ’50s wearing skinny drainpipe jeans to set off his suggestive swagger, Jim Morrisson won the girls over with spray-on leather trousers and tussled hair in the ’60s, Glam rocking all-girl band The Runaways singer Cherie “Cherry Bomb” Currie rocked the crowds in nothing but raunchy lingerie in the ’70s and Madonna got her point across with conical brassiere and enduring obsession with all things erotic from the ’80s through to today. Now a new league of pop stars are unleashing the power of fetish fashion.
Pop queens Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and even pre-pubescent singer Willow Smith are getting their fetish on, sporting harnesses and fetish-inspired pieces by designers including Bliss Lau and Zana Bayne. Even London high-street favourite Topshop is mass-producing fetish-inspired accessories, but contrary to popular belief, this is all rather old-hat – Vivienne Westwood was perfecting her Victoriana-meets-bondage wear back in the late ’70s when it really was underground. Westwood’s London boutique, co-owned by music maven Malcolm McLaren, was straight-forwardly called SEX (an ingenious way to capitalise on the punk-shock value of the wares within). Actual bondage and fetish gear was on sale, as well as preliminary Westwood designs, snapped up by their subversive punk patrons – the most famous of which were Seminal punk band, The Sex Pistols, a group helmed by the legendary Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and born out of their affiliation with the store, the band name itself serving initially as a guerilla rock’n’roll advertisement.
Westwood’s deft reworking of the Victorian corset and severe bodice was revolutionary – to reference the Victorian age, an era of repression and perpetual mourning, and sex it up with suggestive flashes of skin, high hemlines and daring necklines was something that had not been seen outside of the realms of pornography. And it wasn’t just rebellious punks buying into the provocative attire – Westwood’s unique aesthetic found willing audiences worldwide over in the decades to follow, and ignited an ongoing trend starting on the street with gritty, style-savvy punk youth like Sid Vicious, John Lydon and Siouxsie Sioux and soon moving into the league of couture. By the mid ’80s, high fashion was fetish all over, advertising and magazine shoots were rife with severe tailoring and sleek, synthetic materials designed to appear as a second skin.
Today, the punk vibe may have vanished from fetish with more and more sexed-up starlets looking like they stepped out of Playboy – but hail Viv Westwood for originally introducing sex to high fashion, we salute you.
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