Pretty Provocative: The New Sexy

As a new decade dawns, so, too, does a new beauty sensibility, one that celebrates a bold, strong, powerful vision of femininity.

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Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 02/12/2010


Cue the warrior women. At the dawn of the new decade, members of the fairer sex are on a power trip, toughening up the way they present themselves to the world and tossing traditional notions of “sexy” into the beauty abyss.



Emerging during the spring 2010 ready-to-wear collections in the U.S. and Europe, this new aesthetic—this of-the-moment spin on femininity—paired a cropped, boyish haircut; sculpted cheeks, and a muddied makeup palette with one of the few bona fide directions in fashion: men’s wear for women. At show after show, “the new sexy” powered down the catwalks in New York, London, Paris and Milan. To wit: Narciso Rodriguez, Ruffian, Christopher Kane, Versace, Givenchy and Dolce & Gabbana were just a few of the houses that put forth this powerful, don’t-mess-with-me vision of bold femininity.


Central to the season’s agenda were the rising runway stars who embody the look, including Tao Okamoto, Ranya Mordanova and this issue’s cover model, Iris Strubegger. [For more on Strubegger, see “Iris in Bloom.”]


These are the models over whom insiders are swooning, and for good reason: Collectively, they’re pushing the parameters of what it means to look confident and sexy, circa 2010. “It’s about strong faces, a sense of power,” says salon owner Sally Hershberger. “It’s a powerful look.”


Not merely an androgyny redux, the new sexy is a brilliant mash-up of boyishness and glamour. According to beauty gurus, it owes much to legendary women who aren’t afraid to pair a swipe of crimson lipstick with a tuxedo and a crisp white shirt. Makeup superstar Dick Page rattles off a tidy list of inspirations, from Coco Chanel, Lauren Hutton and Isabella Rossellini to Brit ubergallerist Sadie Coles. “She has a little boy’s haircut,” Page says of Coles, “and a chic way of dressing—a simple suit, nice blouse, a good loafer. It’s a bit Jil Sander–y, in a sense. She’s incredibly smart and very, very chic.”


In Page’s opinion, Strubegger and company recall the Nineties, when minimalist fashion ruled and artifice was roundly shunned. “These new girls who have this toughness—or at least this kind of apparent toughness—hark back to what I always think of as that Peter Lindbergh/Helmut Lang stable: Tatjana Patitz, Cordula Reyer, Lynn Koester,” he says. “Those were women who looked like they could really f–k you up.”


To make room for spring’s tougher beauty gestalt, obviously something had to go. And for the moment, it seems lush curls, pink lips and cheeks and any outward vestiges of girliness just aren’t cutting it as a way to soldier through a world rife with economic collapse, terrorism, climate change and all that other worrisome stuff.


“Through tough times, women are asserting their strength by ditching pretty pastels and girly hair,” says Linda Cantello, who notes that Giorgio Armani, for whom she now serves as international makeup artist, has long celebrated strong, confident women. “Wearing red lips and having short hair is the new cool,” Cantello says, “a badge of confidence in unsettling times.”


For Guido Palau, Redken creative consultant and the stylist who created the looks at Calvin Klein, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Lanvin and Balenciaga, among many others for spring, the shift to shorter hair was both inevitable and a refreshing change. “For so long, we’ve seen long hair,” he says. “It was only a matter of time before someone decided to cut all their hair off in rebellion. And it’s these kinds of rebellions that can seem quite liberating.”


Of course, not every model is chopping her hair off. (At least not yet.) So to that end, slick, scraped-back styles ruled on spring runways. At 3.1 Phillip Lim, for instance, coifs were clipped, rather charmingly, with barrettes. At Celine, sleek buns set the stage for sharp cheekbones, carved with neutral blush. For Versace, boyishness played out in a round of rockabilly, Elvis-esque pompadours. And when hair was left loose, as it was at Burberry, that undone vibe—manifested in the soft pink lips and those sculpted cheeks again, too—telegraphed a strong, “I’m too busy to endlessly fuss” message.


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