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The New American Sexy

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Models oozing out of office chairs at Rachel Comey.Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images.

That was the message of the Luar show, too, with its sweatsuits and pearl-tux stripe trousers and different riffs on a huge oyster earring with swooping loops of pearls that I could see taking off like a Telfar bag. One imagines Lopez has stores like Nordstrom as well as Dover Street Market in mind. It’s striking to see Lopez as suddenly so of the moment, since he actually had a big hand in creating it. He’s relaunched and reworked his brand a handful of times over the past decade, but his constant is avant-garde toughness, plus a background in ballroom culture that prefigures the now industry-wide obsession with community. His fingerprints are all over Riccardo Tisci and Matthew Williams’s work, and many young designers (particularly of the Depop Couture school) seem to toil gratefully in his shadow. It’s like what Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground: only 10,000 people bought their first record, but every single one of them started a band. Everyone was cheering for the looks, and Lopez received a standing ovation, which felt a far cry from the stone-faced editors who clap politely for designers who, I don’t know, show in Manhattan or whatever. It’s true that not enough has changed in fashion since the twin reckonings of the pandemic and the protests of 2020, but there has been a power shift. Genuinely out-there designers like Lopez and Telfar Clemens have figured out how to make their clothing highly wearable without sacrificing that hungry madness. Lopez knows people want great pants, a fancy coat, a spiffy loafer. And what’s more, for those who are nuts for fashion but on a RealReal budget, he (like Clemens) knows that that customer doesn’t just want a t-shirt anymore—they want a talisman of a brand, something that shows they really give a fuck about what that designer has to say. For the Luar customer—or the Collina Strada customer, or even the Bode customer—wearing a designer is like a linkup, a cosign. And Lopez’s customers, as the incredible audience demonstrated, are some of the greatest personal stylists in New York, most of whom have only one very demanding client: themselves.

A leather coat at Luar.Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.
A look from Luar.Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.
A model walks the runway for Luar.Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images.

Spiritually in the middle of all this is Eckhaus Latta, who showed one of their best collections ever at their usual stomping grounds, on the street outside the bar Honey’s in Bushwick. There was a Helmut Lang zaddy-crispiness to their going-out tops, cut-out shirts, snap-knits (like perverted Agnes B cardigans), and see-through pants. And while they’ve done the sexy thing before, those collections were “cozier,” as Zoe Latta put it after the show. (I think a lot about Paloma Elsesser in a clingy knit dress in the Fall 2020 show, for example). This collection was almost slick, the fabrics harder and the horniness less doe-eyed. But of course, you can just pull on those swishy green transparent trousers and yank that holey turtleneck over your head and never think about what you’re wearing for the rest of the day. (Passersby may end up daydreaming about your exposed upper ribs or the black briefs visible under your pants, of course.)

Eckhaus Latta.Courtesy of Eckhaus Latta.
Eckhaus Latta.Courtesy of Eckhaus Latta.
Eckhaus Latta.Courtesy of Eckhaus Latta.

Clothing has not been sexy for a long time, for reasons I’ve written about before (prompted by the must-follow American designer Eli Russell Linnetz): Me Too; a new era of photographers; probably the rise of dating apps, which turned sex into a technological phenomenon that helped pave the way for the monetized platforms like OnlyFans that allow a subscriber to cut out the whole “dating” formality. And in fact, fashion has long been the opposite of sexy: it’s been camp. Leading up to and following the 2019 Costume Institute show on the topic, camp overtook American fashion in mass media—the red carpet, the Instagram fit pic and the brands that are practically native to the app—as the ruling order of the day. Everything was big, brash, yelling.

Interestingly, I think this new sexiness comes not in reaction to that—though it’s certainly more visually pleasing—but as an evolution of it. It comes from the same font of identity politics-driven self-expression, from the same desperate, pleading desire to be recognized and permitted to exist, to be your own wild self: you will see me, I must feel seen. But if our long national camp nightmare was a defensive pose dressed as an outrageous offensive strategy, this new sexiness is much more about freedom, nonchalance, and best of all, desire. (Frank Ocean, our sage of fashion who works months if not years ahead of the rest of the world, wore sleek nylon Prada to that Met Gala, tossing shade at the very idea of camp: refusing to be demeaned by a silly costume. Naturally, he’s now releasing his own take on those anoraks with Prada through his line Homer.) The moment is characterized by a vanity that purrs for tactility—see the long coats at Luar, buckled at the chest. You can imagine one on a Bergdorfs shopper at Art Basel, crisply layered over a Prada shift, or on a kid at a nightclub, no shirt underneath, a dance floor hookup sliding their hand under the belt.

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