Sexy fashion is back post-pandemic. Look at Dua Lipa and Kim Kardashian

Chinese designer Rui Zhou with a model in one of her designs. The designer is one of many catering to women's desire to dress sexy post-pandemic in a way that is inclusive and subtle.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Something has been in the air this fashion season. Have you felt it? A shiver, goosebumps flashed across the skin?

If you’ve paid even the slightest bit of attention to the spring/summer catwalk shows, you’ll have noticed that sexiness is everywhere.

It’s there in cut-outs and crop tops, in miniskirts and body-con silhouettes.

It must be said, however, that all of this merely builds on a mood already there as we emerged from our cocoons and onto the dance floor – spied everywhere from Mugler’s body-framing catsuits to the slink of brands such as Christopher Esber and sheer, keyhole cut-out designs at emerging London brand Supriya Lele – not to mention Kim Kardashian’s show-stopping, fetish-like Balenciaga number for the Met Gala.

Still, ruminations on the body, sensuality and, frankly, getting physical, have proved a particularly potent inspiration this season.

But rather than being anything obvious or exclusionary, the best thing about seeing so many designers explore notions of sexiness has been the proof that there is no one way to do it – there’s a lid for every pot, as my grandmother used to say.

Looks from the Versace spring/summer 2022 show. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 
Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa in a look by Versace at its spring/summer 2022 show. PHOTO: Reuters

So sexiness at Versace might be its famous safety pins (worn by It-girl of the moment, singer Dua Lipa, who is often spied in scanty ensembles) and megawatt-glamorous chain mail.

At Prada, Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons explored concepts of sensuality by stripping back traditional modes of femininity such as brassieres and corsetry.

For Saint Laurent, Anthony Vaccarello was typically high-octane sexy, while at New York label Eckhaus Latta, sexiness was a celebration of bodies and all the different varieties of them.

A spring/summer 2022 look by Eckhaus Latta. PHOTO: Eckhaus Latta 

“It’s about feeling more free,” Zoe Latta, one half of the design duo behind the brand, told Vogue after the show. “Really feeling yourself, coming out of the past year-and-a-half and wanting to feel sexy and confident and free.”

Touch, freedom, fun – all things that have been in short supply these past 18 months. Of course we want to let our (sweaty!) hair down and make the most of what we have.

Celebrating the body, and flaunting it too, is something for which Albanian-born and London-based designer Nensi Dojaka has carved out a cult following with her cleverly constructed, slinky and sophisticated black dresses.

Designer Nensi Dojaka (right) with a model in one of her designs. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Earlier this year, Dojaka was awarded the prestigious LVMH Prize, given to the most exciting emerging fashion designers.

Dojaka made her hotly anticipated runway debut at London Fashion Week in September with a collection that expanded her viewpoint: One that is, at its heart, a love letter to the female form.

As she said when awarded the LVMH Prize: “I love female bodies, collarbones, the back. That’s why I do it. I had a dress that was selling a lot, everywhere – the little black dress that everyone had. Because we’re going out again.”

An appreciation of the body, imperfections included, underpins the form-fitting work of Shanghai-based designer Rui Zhou with her genderless brand Rui, too.

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Rui Zhou says the core values of her brand are “inclusivity, and the duality of beauty and imperfection”. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

This year, Zhou shared the Karl Lagerfeld prize, which is awarded alongside the LVMH Prize, with Colm Dillane of New York’s KidSuper and Lukhanyo Mdingi. She finds beauty in sometimes unexpected places.

“I didn’t start our brand based on a focus of sexiness, so I never struggle or try to create sexy pieces,” she says.

“The current cut-out design lives on as classic and signature, it also expresses that we all can find beauty in the imperfection, the unfinished, broken or even unloved.

“One of my customers told us she almost burst into tears when she put on our tank top, because she suddenly realised ‘beauty has always been there inside her own body’. We hope all our customers can understand the core values of the brand, that is inclusivity and the duality of beauty and imperfection.”

A look from the Dion Lee autumn/winter 2021 collection. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Sensuality, and how that plays differently for all, is something that Australian fashion designer Dion Lee, known for his laser-sharp tailoring, signature clean-line silhouettes and corsetry, explores too.

“My brand has always celebrated strength in individuality, and an intelligent sensuality delivered through exploring construction, textile manipulation and subversive details in the brand language,” he says.

“From the start of the creative process, I’m designing from that guiding principle rather than a separation of gender.”

Liane Wiggins, head of womenswear buying at luxury online retailer Matches Fashion, says there is new-found power in this celebration of form, and not just one version of it – something she says feels right for now.

A Maison Alaia outfit, available on Net-a-Porter. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

“Historically, there has always been a trend for embracing fashion following times of uncertainty,” she says.

“It has been exciting to see a celebration of femininity and a move towards a modern interpretation of power dressing.

“Our customers are definitely ready to celebrate the return to socialising and going out again. We are seeing a real uplift in these styles that are closer to the body, fitted and more [sexy] dresses that celebrate the female form.”

Wiggins lists Nensi Dojaka and Maximilian, both part of the retailer’s Innovators programme, as the emerging designers leading the way with this trend, as well as the likes of Rejina Pyo, Jacquemus and Proenza Schouler, “all of which are really embracing this strong, feminine trend we are seeing now”.

Looks from Prada’s spring/summer 2022 show. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Meanwhile, the mini-length skirts spotted everywhere this season are something Libby Page, senior market editor at online retailer Net-a-Porter, has been keeping an eye on, especially after so many seasons of the long-reigning midi-length hemline.

“Designers know we are ready to have fun and dress up again, whilst feeling feminine and confident, and they’re channelling this in a multitude of ways, from cut-out body-con dresses by the likes of Khaite and Maximilian to strappy asymmetric dresses from Christopher Esber and Dion Lee,” she says.

“We have also noticed shorter hemlines making a comeback via min skirts with matching jackets seen at Bottega Veneta, as well as mini skirts paired with sheer black tights at Saint Laurent – it’s a fun and surprisingly sexy take on how to style the mini.”

A dress from Lanvin, available on Net-a-Porter. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

If you’re hesitant to try the trend, Kate Benson, head of buying at The Outnet, says perhaps the most important thing is clocking how you feel in a “sexy” look – whatever that means to you.

“It’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin and embrace a trend how you feel best,” she says.

“Whether that’s wearing a miniskirt, body-con dress or super tight catsuit, you have to feel great in a piece to enjoy the look. This season’s trend has a real dressing-up-box feel to it; think Cabaret – feathers, faux fur, sequins and fringing. Have fun, make it theatrical as well as sexy!”

Figure-hugging looks from Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2022 show. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

Often the best part of a night out is the fun in getting dressed up for it and the promise it all holds.

Any romance novelist could tell you that the sexiest thing of all is anticipation – and haven’t we all learned the power of that?

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.