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Nudity is the garment’s best friend

by Maria Foka, 1 March 2018

  If there is something utterly unique about each and every one of us, that is our body. The texture and the tone of our skin, the freckles, the birthmarks, the growth of hair on us, the smell emitted through our pores, our bone structure, our bust-waist-hip ratio, our pimples, our teeth, the scars from our childhood, the way we talk and walk, the color of our eyes. Therefore everyone is, from birth and without even trying, one of a kind (and that degrades slightly the words of Coco Chanel: ‘’In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different’’, because, frankly, this isn’t a matter of choice or effort.) That way, in combination with someone’s personality and characteristics, we unequivocally result in a very specific, monadic individual. All that, keeping in mind that this individual is still naked, stripped of everything extra to how she/he was born.

Lotte van Raatle, Body

  Nowadays, we use clothing not only for its functional purposes but mainly as a way of expressing ourselves. We build a look that compliments us and the feature(s) of our body or face we want to emphasize that particular day. We pick the color and the structure depending on our daily mood. We choose the way we would like to come across – not only to our peers but to ourselves too. I strongly believe that the best way to achieve this goal is by using our naked body as the point of reference and work from the inside-out to dress it. There is a lot of data concerning the perception of nudity in fashion, design, and photography, that proves that point. In Helmut Newton’s ’Big Nudes’, the artist celebrates the power, self-confidence, authenticity, uniqueness, and fierceness that reeks of a(ny) naked woman, only uplifted by a set of heels. It would be merely heretic to try to cover these women up–but even in that case,  their bodies would compliment the clothes, not vice versa.

Helmut Newton, Nudes, 1981

  The naked form is an inspiration to artists all around the world. Unfortunately, it is often hyper-sexualized and linked immediately to sex. That happens because nudity, by virtue of its absence in everyday culture, is still taboo in the sense that those who violate the norm are aware that they are doing so. Thus, the focus is shifted from the point being made to a woman’s or man’s erotic dimension. There is a difference between erotica and pornography, and I think that it has been made clear by Salvador Dali’s collaboration with Playboy Magazine and photographer Pompeo Posar. Dali in this bizarre photo-shoot merges naked women in his surreal universe as part of nature’s creations that they are.

Salvador Dali for Playboy Magazine, 1973

Salvador Dali by Pompeo Posar,  1973

  In a combination of art and fashion, slurring over those who are in disbelief that fashion is not art, in Guy Bourdin’s ‘Nudes Wearing Charles Jourdan Shoes’, the naked body praises a pair of shoes. I am often drawn to the thought that some items are supposed to be the star of the show. They are dreamt of, thought out, designed and created to be the one thing that brings out all the qualities that need to be shown off. Using anything more than a naked body would simply be redundant.

  The person who presented the most valid counter-argument, was Nan Kempner, a New York City socialite, fashion editor and massive couture clothing collector. In 1966, at a time when the perception of women wearing pants was considered off-kilter and inappropriate, Yves Saint Laurent introduced the world to ‘Le Smoking’, a tuxedo-style suit that quickly became the epitome of femininity and power dressing. It was undoubtedly photographer Helmut Newton who made ‘Le Smoking’ iconic; his extraordinary capacity to imbue his subjects with a potent sexuality that was reaching new heights, when married to the enigma of the YSL tuxedo created a new visual stimuli, and Nan was one of the first to sport it. In 1968, when told by the maître de ‘La Côte Basque’ that she couldn’t possibly dine in a pair of trousers (never mind that those trousers were half of YSL’s first le smoking), Kempner promptly dropped them and proceeded to dine solely in the jacket, exemplifying – in the words of Saint Laurent – the true spirit of a modern woman.


Guy Bourdin, ‘Nudes wearing Charles Jourdan shoes’, 1965

nan show

Nan Kempner at an Yves Saint Laurent show, 1974

  Alexander McQueen, throughout his career, but especially at the 1995 collection ‘’The Birds’’ or the 1997 collection, “It’s a Jungle Out There,” brought a strong case of body modification, by playing with it, stretching and extruding it from its natural form to an un-natural, nonhuman creation. He presented the human body imbued with the power that an armor brings; his clothes protected the wearers, provoked and inspired fear in the inspectors. The nudity was nonchalant to him, but at the same time crucial, because in order for his creations to work as protection and security for women, he had to make sure that the bewilderment caused by nudity was present. There are many ways to celebrate the naked human body, apart from the absence of clothing. Designers tend to use structures, textiles, and place garments strategically that contradict the human form, in order to praise it. If we imagine a universe in which the optical stimulus is the first tool that someone possesses for the analysis of his perception of reality, and the viewer has no idea whatsoever what a body looks like, that contradiction created by the garments creates a mystery around the shape of it. In essence, the designer urges the viewer to be suspicious of his primary experience of acquiring knowledge through vision and reinvent the world, beginning with the human form.