Fashion is having a novelty naked-apron moment. This week Kylie Jenner posted a selfie in which she wears a bikini featuring two gasp-inducing, photo-realistic nipples by Jean Paul Gaultier X Lotta Volkova (predictably, it went viral). Then Iggy Azalea celebrated her birthday wearing, well, not exactly her birthday suit, but it wasn’t far off: a second-skin “nude dress” by the Barcelona-based designer Sergio Castaño Peña, making her appear completely bare, save a small pair of knickers.
Trompe l’oeil nudity is having a moment. Last month at the Billboard Music Awards Jenner wore a Balmain maxi bodycon dress photo-printed with a near-naked body. Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus wore the London designer Sinead Gorey’s “naked” top and matching leggings to meet fans backstage in Bogotá, Colombia, and Bella Hadid and Maisie Williams have posed in “topless” tops by Y/Project.
“These women have a better sense of humour than I thought,” says Jessica Morgan of the celebrity fashion website Go Fug Yourself. “The [looks] are very funny and entertaining. Given that Instagram is so uptight about female nipples, I think Kylie had to be being a little cheeky.”
As always, fashion has been here before, first with Vivienne Westwood’s rebellious “Tits” T-shirt in the 1970s (which is worn in the new Pistol TV series), and in 1996 with Gaultier shaking the establishment with dresses overprinted with lifesize nudes. Given fashion’s current obsession with the 1990s, the Gaultier revival is not surprising – the designer Glenn Martens has also dipped into the French fashion veteran’s archives for his Y/Project collection, as worn by Bella Hadid.
Yet never has the trompe l’oeil nudity look proliferated like this before. It’s even an option for men this season, with torso-print tops by Jonathan Anderson, and Martens offering the full-frontal – though that’s yet to have its red-carpet moment.
Of course you can intellectualise it – Westwood’s “Tits” was a feminist statement, and Vogue called Balmain’s naked dress “the ultimate metaphor of physical obsessions caused by the madness of social media”. But something else is going on here.
“I didn’t have feminism in mind when designing it,” says 25-year-old Gorey. “It’s a statement – I guess it’s that punk attitude of like, ‘We don’t give a fuck.’ If I want to wear something that looks like my naked body, I can.”
Gorey, who has sold more than 300 units of her “naked” clothes via the surprisingly middle-of-the-road House of Fraser, as well as Flannels and Ssense, says people – including herself – mainly wear them for partying. (She adds that Jenner’s stylist has requested the look.)
“It’s a young generation thing – my parents don’t get it. They’re like, ‘Who’s going to wear that?’ But we’ve been locked down for two years with no festivals, no raves, no partying, no dating. Everyone now is just living their life how they want. They’re desperate to wear these crazy looks that get you noticed – the more attention the better.”
And how does the general public respond? “You get a few dodgy looks on the tube,” says Gorey, “Like, ‘What is that girl wearing? She looks mental.’” At parties though, “I get so many girls coming up to me saying, ‘Oh my God. I love that top.’”
Men are more circumspect, apparently. “They don’t know where to look; they find it too much.”