When I first started writing about men’s fashion, I was thrown a bone: “tailored, sharp, slick, masculine, classic, timeless”. Adjectives that I soon learnt were indeed thrown around when describing menswear, so much you can almost play a game of mad-libs with them.

That’s why it was particularly invigorating for Spring/Summer 2020 to see on the men’s catwalks a newfound appreciation of the male form and the (until now) elusive quality of sex appeal. With subtle solidarity, it seems designers have chosen to propose a new sensuality for men. In a nutshell: No more boring suits, it’s time to bring some heat.

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The foremost designer of this movement is Ludovic de Saint Sernin, a 28-year-old Frenchman who is barely two seasons into showing on the official Paris Fashion Week schedule. Saint Sernin cut his teeth previously at Balmain, where he might have picked up on the house’s signature of French savoir-faire and sexually charged designs. He has since carried that over to his eponymous label, creating a uniquely erotic and stylish voice.

Menswear designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin

One of his earliest pieces to go viral were a pair of skimpy leather briefs with eyelet detailing.
The leather is lambskin, the briefs demand dry cleaning and the intent is clear. Sex sells, after all. In his latest Spring/Summer 2020 collection, the designer opened his show with a sheer, unlined organza suit spritzed with Evian water to accentuate the transparency and clinginess of the fabric. There were salacious showpieces like a faux towel fashioned from knit fabric worn dangerously low on a model’s waist, and a pair of bumsters – covered in Swarovski crystals – so heavy it kept sliding down the model’s rear.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin Spring/Summer 2020 Collection

Scandalous perhaps, but it is a pleasant shock to see sexuality so plainly proposed for men.
The premise is that fashion – and, widely, society – has long been driven by the male gaze.
The weight of sexual objectification has been borne by women. Men, by virtue of their position in this imbalance of power, have not had to fight to claim their bodies and sexualities. That has left masculinity to stagnate, in its definitions and forms of expression. We are limited by these narrow ideas of what man should and can be.

The weight of sexual objectification has been borne by women. Men, by virtue of their position in this imbalance of power, have not had to fight to claim their bodies and sexualities. That has left masculinity to stagnate, in its definitions and forms of expression.

That is all changing these days, thanks to the contemporary feminist movement. Toxic masculinity is being actively challenged, LGBTQ communities are having their time in the sun and the male segment of the fashion business is booming. Ripe conditions for a little revolution.

Dior Men Spring/Summer 2020 Collection

Kim Jones, the designer of menswear at Dior, has taken full advantage of the times. The objective of his most recent collection seemed to be to chip away at the rigid constraints of masculinity to find new beauty. It is not my metaphor, it is his: the main feature of the runway set was giant cement letters spelling “Dior”, with chunks chipped off to reveal pink crystals.

Jones built on his tailleur oblique, a soft suiting silhouette adapted from the archives of the house that he is establishing as a signature. This season saw lighter fabrics that had flow and swing and elegant sashes in diffused gradients of colour trailing behind.

The house’s iconic newspaper print, from John Galliano’s haute couture collection in 2000, was reissued – a modern twist, considering the print used to be applied to hyper sexy bias-cut dresses for women. Dior’s Parisian ateliers were employed to create cloud-like undulations of colour from pleated georgette, applied on tops cut from sheer organza.

Sheer genius at Dior Men.

Transparency, as should be clear now, is one way that designers are liberating the male body and introducing sensuality. This was one of the shorthands that Dries Van Noten used in his Spring men’s collection – perhaps his sexiest so far.

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The concept was a mish-mash of masculine archetypes woven with a homoerotic slant referenced from the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The result was a visual treat that dissected and reconstructed masculine tropes. Among them, libertines with blousy shirts worn open to the navel, fans of kink with leather tank tops with a zipper running down a side, modern dandies combining mesh vests, pinstriped trousers and a mischievous flash of colourful underwear waistband.

Transparency – seen here at Dries Van Noten – is one way that designers are liberating the male body and introducing sensuality. Photo: Showbit.com

These are expressions of a new male sexuality that fashion is embracing and edging towards.
The longstanding ideal, however, remains the hyper masculine Adonis – muscular, tall and sharp-jawed. In contemporary culture, this concept of male beauty was perhaps cemented when Calvin Klein cast Mark Wahlberg as the face and body of his underwear line.

Even as high fashion designers propose elements of femininity and sensuality for men, their clothes are still modelled on the tall, skinny and young default of the industry.

It’s an ideal that feels impossible to escape. Even as high fashion designers propose elements of femininity and sensuality for men, their clothes are still modelled on the tall, skinny and young default of the industry. The women are far more advanced here, with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show – what used to be a longstanding institution of female objectification – being cancelled this year. The brand has been rightly called out for its harmful attitude towards women (their core customers) and the disenfranchisement consumers experience when such a narrow, unrealistic beauty standard is imposed.

Dries Van Noten Spring/Summer 2020 Collection

The takeaway might be that there are many ways to be a man today, which includes a more healthy understanding and appreciation of male bodies. Fashion should make you feel good and many women will attest to the self-confidence that can come with wearing sexy lingerie or clothing. It’s about time the guys wise up to this simple pleasure – sexual desire is, after all, perfectly human.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.