Monday 27th May

| BY Paul Toner

Gay is Okay: Introducing Fashion’s New Homoerotic Frontier

Chema Diaz Bandido AW19, shot by Pedro Batalha

Fashion has always been a bit gay. Or has it? With queer men helming the top positions at most luxury fashion houses, you’d think a definitive sense of gayness would be at an unprecedented high in both campaign imagery and design outlook. Though the menswear outings that parade down the catwalks may appear campy at times (Donatella Versace, I’m looking at you), fashion’s homoerotica has always been, well, quite straight. It ties in with that idea of perving at the oiled torsos plastered on underwear packaging. You can fantasise all you wish about these hyper-masculine demigods, but deep down you know your glare would never meet theirs. This lust of yours is a one-sided affair.

The homoerotic evolution has continuously been punctured with straight man fetishism. Old Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch ads depicting pouty pale boys in a slight embrace have come to define gay-fueled fashion photography, without including actual queer men. It’s a curse that has bulldozed through to more contemporary times. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a massive fan of Alasdair McLellan’s photography and the first one to admit I’m guilty of getting all dreamy eyed over the Northern boys with buzzcuts that dominate his shoots. But do these images read as genuinely queer or a working class, “bit of common rough” fantasy? It’s often difficult to decipher.

Things seem to be looking up though, as the industry becomes peppered with creatives who are moving the conversation forward. Imagery created by the likes of Kito Muñoz feels more aligned with the stylings of Bruce LaBruce than Webber. Muñoz’s images are sweat-soaked, peeping holes into underground queer fetishes; laden with skimpy fashions and plenty of ass grabbing. In terms of designers, Paris-based Ludovic de Saint Sernin carries the ability to extract immense sex appeal from the most demure of silhouettes.

Ludovic de Saint Sernin AW19

Silk jockstraps, low-slung leather trousers and satin suits (worn commando, of course) saunter down his catwalks.“As a gay designer, I think it is really important to represent my community and also educate people (including myself!) on queer history,” says Ludovic. “A lot of fashion brands have gay creative directors but they don’t necessarily specifically target a queer audience. As a young brand, and quite niche still I can allow myself to give visibility to what speaks to me on a personal level and I feel like my fans relate to that so much more.”

His work is an openly queer pursuit of pleasure. Though minimal, his designs still retain a potent eroticism – spearheaded by his @ludovicdesaintserninx Instagram account, where fans pose in their LdSS underwear. “[Robert] Mapplethorpe was an inspiration here, he had a portfolio titled XYZ ( X for sex, Y for floral still lifes and Z for male nudes). Also Madonna had done this amazing book called Sex which I love, it was, and probably still is so controversial,” he explains. “The idea for @ludovicdesaintserninx is that it is more than just an Instagram account. It celebrates sex, love and freedom. I post imagery that we create specifically for the brand featuring mostly male models in the underwear and swimwear, or simply nude.”

Sean Ford in Ludovic de Saint Sernin

The designer also dabbles in masturbation cinematography; appointing Matt Lambert to shoot his Ludovic de Saint Sernin branded sex toys. Porn stars Sean Ford and Joey Mills are filmed amid self-fun, all whilst clad in Ludovic eyelet underwear. And it all makes sense. Ford’s pillowy lips and Mills’ bedroom eyes have been a fixture in the bedroom fantasies of queer boys internationally, carrying that intimate relationship with their audience that feels personable.

London based designer Chema Diaz forays into the murky terrain of queer fetish and traditional gay tribes. What inspires him? “Leather pigs, scally chavs and Miami Beach escorts in the 1990s,” he admits over email. “It is very important to me to be honest with my brand. So for me being explicitly queer is just me being explicitly me.” Chema’s off-schedule LFW debut BANDIDO wasn’t just hot, it was horny. Bondage saddles and slogan crop tops bearing “VERON DADDY” and “IM A SLAVE FOR U”, walked alongside scantily clad nun outfits and a balaclava made from the designer’s ex boyfriend’s Nike socks.

Chema Diaz Bandido AW19, shot by Ben Cole

Both Chema and Ludovic are cut from the same cloth. The designers share more in common than just an affinity for bums, dicks and jockstraps. The result of their work is a study of queer lust and desire. Fetish, sleaze and nudity have become constant bedfellows in their work – they know what gets queer boys off and gets them spending their cash. “Sex sells. That’s the way it is,” says Chema. “As queer identities and bodies are increasingly being more accepted this is reflected on their imagery. At the end of the day it has to do with money more than anything else – If a brand wants to appeal to get the gay money, they’ll get us horny.”

@ludovicdesaintsernin / @iamchemadiaz