Ludovic de Saint Sernin Spring Summer 19 Campaign "Summertime Sadness". Photography Brett Lloyd.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin Spring Summer 19 Campaign "Summertime Sadness". Photography Brett Lloyd.

Musings on Masculinity: Ludovic de Saint Sernin

by Henry Wolff

 

The most refined form of sexual attractiveness … consists in going against the grain of one’s sex.

—  Susan Sontag (1)

Fashion is intimately bound to our representation of self. It is the external nonverbal conduit for communicating identity; a haven for the manifestations of gender performativity and an arena for challenging these constructs. Fashion’s collisions of masculinity, femininity, sexuality and taste generate more than aesthetic beauty, but can reveal shifts in cultural attitudes and upend gender constructs.

Within the history of fashion, womenswear has had iconic ventures into masculinity, but until recently menswear has largely remained untouched, committed to promoting and upholding masculine misnomers. This is especially prevalent within the field of men’s ready-to-wear fashion. Whilst in recent years there have been significant investments by larger brands, such as Zara and H&M, into gender neutral design: these profit driven forays into gender malleability have proven unable to comprehend gender expression and the diversity of gender identity, often defaulting to outdated tropes. As J. Arico reveals, within fashion there is a strange conformity that “defaults to a culturally male articulation of style”.(2) He notes that:

“Most of the time when clothes are marketed as “gender neutral,” they are still predominantly designed with our overwhelming understanding of masculine, since it is socially acceptable for women to wear men’s clothes in our society, but not the reverse”.(3)

Held hostage by these rigid social constructs, menswear has resisted evolving to become more recognisably feminine. However, amongst a set of contemporary menswear brands, who are currently redefining our image of masculinity, there is one particularly evocative designer — Ludovic de Saint Sernin.

L-R: Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 14. Photography Winter Vanderbrink / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 1. Photography Pascal Gambarte / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 22. Photography Winter Vanderbrink / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 21. Photography Pascal Gambarte.

L-R: Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 14. Photography Winter Vanderbrink / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 1. Photography Pascal Gambarte / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 22. Photography Winter Vanderbrink / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 21. Photography Pascal Gambarte.

Young bodies adorned with suggestive allusions to gender’s malleability: boys in cowled and beaded tops, strapless streamlined bodices and clothes with annotations to stereotypically feminine silhouettes. De Saint Sernin’s minimalistic ready-to-wear designs display a coalescence of masculinity, femininity, sensuality, youth, kink and desire. This crucible generates a more fluid image of gender, questioning what authority fashion has in defining sex and constructing divisions. De Saint Sernin’s image of menswear could be read as an evocative articulation of Susan Sontag’s belief that “what is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine”;(4) prompting us to recognise not only fashion’s relationship to gender expression, but also what generative potentials are lost in the denial of gender fluidity. Whilst it would be remiss not to recognise that the De Saint Sernin world can be perceived as much a gender fluid utopia as it can a queer wet dream, by walking the tender line between voyeurism and a celebration of the mutability of gender, these collections prompt viewers to contemplate the constructs that we readily partake in and perform.

The diversity of gender identities insists that brands comprehend gender expression and continue to confront fashion’s default position surrounding masculinity. We need more brands like Ludovic de Saint Sernin, who corrupt these masculine hang-ups and invite us into a gender malleable dream — asking us whether these musings on masculinity and gender fluidity can exist within our general social consciousness.


L-R: Eyelet flare pants SS18 in Vogue Italia. Photography Katie Burdon / Full look 3 AW18 in ANSINTH. Photography Fabien Kruszelnicki / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 22. Photography Pascal Gambarte / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 20. Photography Winter Vanderbrink.

L-R: Eyelet flare pants SS18 in Vogue Italia. Photography Katie Burdon / Full look 3 AW18 in ANSINTH. Photography Fabien Kruszelnicki / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 22. Photography Pascal Gambarte / Collection Automne Hiver 19 Look 20. Photography Winter Vanderbrink.

 

  1. S. Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’, in S. Sontag, Against Interpretation, and other essays, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux,1966. p. 4.

  2. J. Arico, ‘Fashion’s “Gender Neutral” Collections Are Not All That Neutral’, The Fashion Law, 11 May 2017

  3. ibid

  4. S. Sontag, ‘Notes on Camp’, in S. Sontag, Against Interpretation, and other essays, New York, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux,1966. p. 4.

Bibliography


Henry Wolff is an arts administrator and emerging writer in Adelaide, South Australia with experience across fashion design, textile print design, styling and graphic design for local, national and international brands.

Issue 18: GENDER, March 2019.