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

Although it bucked the men’s wear trend in favor of graceful, apocalyptic tatters, Rodarte came down squarely on the side of powerful women with its stunningspring show. According to Laura Mulleavy, who designs the line alongside her sister, Kate, the beauty look was informed by the haunting, end-of-days story the duo was weaving with the clothes: “There’s a girl who’s lost in the desert, and the only place she can find for refuge is this abandoned house. And all that’s in it is tattered wallpaper and a worn-out quilt—anything that would actually be a material that she’d put her clothing together out of. So it was all ragged and ruined. And then she crawls into a cave, spontaneously combusts and becomes a California condor.”



As anyone in fashion will tell you, you had to be there. Literally. Courtside seating at Rodarte is one of the hottest tickets in town. Where else would you see such an unlikely beauty icon—a hideous bird that’s on the verge of extinction—be translated by hairstylist Odile Gilbert and makeup artist James Kaliardos into some of the most compelling beauty looks of the entire season? Think locks scraped off the face and shrouded in wool, warrior-esque tribal art snaking around bare arms and tough-as-nails black cherry lips.


“For the lips, James and Kate and I always envisioned an East L.A. girl—someone who has a slightly tougher attitude toward everything,” Mulleavy notes. “When you’re creating a show, you have to think about beauty as a way to take people to new places. That’s the really exciting thing about even the lipstick tone you choose. It really lets people believe something.”


If looking tough—via either Rodarte’s shredded tunics and tribal tattoos or a razor-sharp Dolce suit, slicked hair and bright lips—serves as visual shorthand for female confidence, economic independence can help women move the needle from aspiration to reality. Whether borne of fiscal necessity or genuine career lust, women are staking their claim on the job market in record numbers. According to recent stats from The Economist, females now account for more than half of the global workforce—a fact the magazine hails as “one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years.”


In the ramp-up to this seismic shift, traditional societal roles have gradually flip-flopped. “One very strong movement of recent years is the feminization of men and the masculinization of women,” says Choong W. Park, a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and an expert on consumer behavior. “We used to think that men needed to be very strong, but now society is more appreciative of their soft and sensitive side. Now that women are competing with men for jobs, we tend to admire those who are more independent and very active.”


While it’s ostensibly easier for women to latch on to male trappings (i.e., any of the chic men’s wear looks served up for spring) than vice versa, Park points to the co-opting of facials, plastic surgery and earrings by men as support for his theory that we’re drifting toward a type of nebulous gender neutrality. “Androgyny is the tidal wave of the future,” he says. “I don’t think this is a fad. It’s a sustainable movement.”


Page is in full agreement that the new sexy is here to stay. Not every woman will embrace a shift away from overt girliness, he says, but plenty will. “If you’re a woman who enjoys all the stuff—all the bits and bobs, the lash extensions, the nails—you’re not going to give that up,” he concedes. “But what this whole new direction suggests to me is simplicity and modernity. And that is incredibly glamorous.”


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