Showing posts with label jean-honoré fragonard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label jean-honoré fragonard. Show all posts

29 Sep 2019

French Knickers

Grammatically speaking, I'm not sure if the word French, as used within English, is a modifier, qualifier, or both. Either way, it often also serves as an erotic intensifier, as illustrated by the term French knickers, for example ...

Until the end of the 18th century, women didn't usually wear knickers - which is why the young man hiding in the bushes and spying on an elegant young woman on a swing in Fragonard's famous painting of 1767, gets more of an eyeful as he peeps up her skirt than a modern audience might appreciate.

Now, of course, knickers - or panties as Americans and pornographers like to call them - are a universal item of female undergarment and come in a wide variety of styles, colours, and fabrics.

However, in my view, the loveliest of all are French knickers, preferably ivory-coloured silk and with buttons at the side, but sans lace trimming or any other decorative element; the sort of knickers that Lady Chatterley might have worn in the 1920s and which her lover, Mellors, is keen to remove so that he might penetrate her quiescent body:

"She quivered as she felt his hand groping softly, yet with queer thwarted clumsiness, among her clothing [...] He drew down the thin silk [knickers], slowly, carefully, right down and over her feet."       
Although French knickers have never quite disappeared - and enjoyed something of a fashion revival in the 1970s and '80s, thanks to the designs of Janet Reger - most women today seem to prefer wearing snug-fitting cotton briefs, or hideous thongs.

This is unfortunate, because less material means more explosed flesh and more exposed flesh means diminished sexual excitement. In other words, Bernard Shaw was right - clothes arouse desire and lack of clothes tends to be fatal to our ardour. Passion not only ends in fashion, it begins with it too, as any philosopher on the catwalk can tell you, or as any young woman who wears vintage lingerie will also vouch.   


D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover and A Propos of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', ed. Michael Squires, (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 116. Attentive readers might recall that in his introductory essay to the novel written some months later, Lawrence condemns "brilliant young people" to whom sex means "lady's underclothing, and the fumbling therewith" [314-15]. This, he says, is a perverse form of savagery. But it's clearly one that Mellors isn't unacquainted with and later in the novel he will ask to keep Connie's flimsy silk nightie as an object with which to masturbate: "'I can put it atween my legs at night, for company.'" [249].  

There are two sister posts to this one that readers might find of interest: one on French kissing [click here] and one on French maids [click here]. 

16 Jul 2019

Mules 1: Sex Kitten Shoes

Wandler handmade pink and orange leather mules
with 3" contrast heel and pointed toe
Available at Harvey Nichols: click here

Say the word mules to some people and they'll think of heterotic donkey-horse hybrids that hugely impressed Darwin for - amongst other things - their intelligence, memory, and powers of muscular endurance

However, for those philosophers on the catwalk, such as myself, with a mildly fetishistic interest in the history of female fashion, the word refers, of course, to one of the loveliest of shoe designs and surely a staple of every well-dressed woman's wardrobe; from celebrated French beauty Mme. La Comtesse d'Olonne, to Candace Bushnell's fictional alter ego Carrie Bradshaw.       

Backless and usually (but not always) closed-toe, the mule in its modern form was originally worn only within the bedroom; easy to slip on and easy to slip off. But when members of the French court, including Mme. de Pompadour (official mistress to Louis XV) and Marie Antoinette (the last and most stylish Queen of France), began to wear them en dehors de la boudoir, it kickstarted a new trend that has been with us ever since.   

As a man who knows more about women's shoes than most others, Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik once said:

'When a woman wears mules she walks a bit differently. It's very sexy; she has to find her balance. Madame de Pompadour in her mules, walking around Versailles, click! click! click! Can you think of anything more exquisite?'


Perhaps because of their association with the bedroom - and the fact that that they always seem ready to slip off, leaving the foot exposed - mules have an inherent, playful eroticism. We see this, for example, in Fragonard's famous picture The Swing (1767), wherein a young beauty loses a shoe to the delight of her male spectators.   

But mules also figure prominently in the slightly darker corners of the porno-aesthetic imagination, as explored by artists such as Manet, for example in his scandalous painting of 1863 entitled Olympia, in which a confident young prostitute stares provocatively and without shame at the viewer, the nakedness of her flesh emphasised by a bootlace tied like a punk accessory around her neck and a pair of yellow silk mules, one of which she has casually kicked off.       

Finally, we must of course mention the so-called marabou mules of the 1950s, often made from plastic and decorated with feathers, as worn by sex-kittens everywhere (especially in America). In fact, as archivists at the Met Museum rightly say, no object better epitomises the trashy glamour of the time than the marabou mule.  

Amusingly, if you ever buy your groceries on Harold Hill, you'll notice young Essex girls wearing these fluffy symbols of feminine allure as they stroll round Iceland or buy coffee in Greggs.

See: Alice Newell-Hanson, 'In praise of mules, fashion's most perverse shoes', i-D (27 March 2017): click here to read online. 

See also a sister post to this one on mules as noble beasts of burden: click here

24 Apr 2018


Calvin Klein ad featuring Klara Kristen 
Photo by Harley Weir (2016)

As long as there are young women wearing short skirts and pretty underwear then the phenomenon of upskirting is not going to go away - even if you criminalise the activity, as is now proposed. All (heterosexual) men want to catch a glimpse upskirt or peek downblouse, be they 18th century French painters, like Fragonard, or 21st century voyeurs surreptitiously using a smart phone.

Without wishing to subscribe to the moral hysteria that surrounds this subject - and even though I'm not female - I can understand the objection to some prick taking an unauthorised photograph and then posting the image online or circulating it via social media. Everyone is surely entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy within a public space and not to be sexually harassed or humiliated.

Ultimately, however, I see this more as an ethical issue rather than a legal one. Or perhaps simply as a question of etiquette; one simply doesn't do this kind of thing in polite society. It's so rude! as a member of the Brodie Set would say.

The problem, of course, is that we don't live within polite society. We live, rather, within a pornified (or sexually liberated) culture where the recording, distribution, and consumption of images via sophisticated technology - including images that are intended to be obscene or provocative in nature - has become absolutely normalised.

Because I'm a bit old-fashioned, it seems to me to be bad manners to upskirt a stranger without their knowledge or consent. But ads such as the one shown above, featuring a picture by the young and highly acclaimed (female) photographer Harley Weir for Calvin Klein, clearly help construct a kinky code of conduct that encourages and endorses what at one time would have been branded as overtly deviant behaviour.

After the orgy, there's clearly a need for a new sexual ethos. But who could we possibly task to draw up such? I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable handing the job over to feminist academics such as Clare McGlynn and Erica Rackley, for example, who argue that upskirting belongs next to revenge porn on a continuum of image-based sexual abuse, reinforcing as it does a rape culture that fundamentally violates a woman's human rights.

As indicated earlier, I'm really not convinced that we need a more comprehensive politico-legal response to upskirting. I would really rather there were fewer laws, not more.

Nor - at the risk of minimising the nature and impact of upskirting - do I think it's helpful to encourage women who have had some creep take an illicit photo regard themselves as victim-survivors. To feel that your dignity has been stolen and self-worth destroyed simply because someone caught sight of your knickers (or even your genitalia) is, I would suggest, an overreaction.

And, finally, anyone who imagines for one moment that life and love can be made to unfold entirely within a framework (and safe space) of human rights is laughably mistaken: for life is tragic and love is deadly and we are all of us - whatever our gender - violated and humiliated on a daily basis by the evil genius of the world.


As far as I'm aware, there is still no specific law against upskirting in the UK, although, in 2010, Scotland broadened the definition of voyeurism to explicitly cover the non-consensual taking of images beneath clothing - presumably this included kilts - either for the perpetrator's sexual gratification, or in order to cause the victim harm or distress. It should be noted, however, that there have been successful prosecutions for upskirting in England and Wales under the common law offense of outraging public decency. One might have thought that this suggests there's no real need for further legislation, though if women like the Conservative MP Maria Miller (Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee) and Sarah Green (of the End Violence Against Women Coalition) are successful in their campaigning, then the horrific crime of upskirting will soon be on the statute books.

See: Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley, and Ruth Houghton, 'Beyond Revenge Porn: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse', in Feminist Legal Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 1 (April 2017), pp. 25-46: click here to read online.