It is at once arresting and jarring to encounter the ways in which society's reading of women's bodies (particularly women's breasts) are often enveloped by a male, pornographic eye. This eye, historically, has been both damaging and derogatory.
However, Celeste Arendse, the designer behind Cape Town-based fashion label Selfi, is choosing to celebrate women's breasts - to reclaim them and expose them in a tellingly abstract, poignant, and raw manner: through clothing that celebrates and imitates art.
"Breasts of Desire," Selfi's SS16 collection, pulls its inspiration from two prominent 20th century artists: Picasso and Matisse.
Picasso pioneered Cubism, an avant-grade art movement punctuated by abstracted works where the subjects (and objects) are analyzed from different perspectives, disassembled, and then reassembled (think of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon). Matisse was a leader of Fauvism, an art movement that revisited a painterly style (erring from Impressionism) with attention to dynamic colors and abstracted subjects.
Arendse's collection takes these artists' renditions of the female body and reimagines them on moss crepe (a crisp material with an intentionally crinkled appearance) through the digital printing of abstract images of breasts. The result? Stunning apparel - wearable works of art - that reveal women's breasts in a way that isn't sexualized.
According to Arendse,
With this collection I wanted to focus on the areas of women’s bodies that I feel are being portrayed in derogatory ways and in ways that are more pornographic than beautiful. I wanted to make women’s bodies appear beautiful.
The collection features a white top featuring thick black lines that nods to Matisse, and a dress featuring blocks of color and abstract forms that nods to Picasso.
The inspiration is present, forward, and articulate. And we're listening closely.
Design Indaba, like most, believes "It’s easy to read the breast prints on the garments as feminist statement about body positivity." But in her interview with the publication, "Arendse gently opposes this: not because she isn’t a feminist, but because she doesn’t want to box her work in – 'What if I have penises in the next collection?' she asks."
I think in terms of direction, what I want is my brand to always express itself, however it may be inspired that season. I don’t want to be confined to any colour, prints, shape or silhouette.
In a world where women's bodies are perpetually policed, where the slightest hint of an areola in an Instagram photo is reported and removed for abuse and violation (and now, cue Janelle Monae's "you cannot police me, so get off my areola" line from "Yoga"), it is empowering to see Arendse portray women's bodies - women's breasts - through clothing influenced by art, clothing telling a story about the beauty of breasts, clothing that speaks louder than words.