“Nothing is more beautiful than a naked body”, assured Yves Saint Laurent, who will have spent his life dressing it. But to do it without covering it up, without hiding it, rethinking the language of the body in the era of the sexual revolution with soft, light, sometimes transparent fabrics: lace, tulle, muslin, organdi, Cigaline. It is with this semi-transparent synthetic material, developed by a Lyon silk factory, that he created in 1968 a blouse revealing the chest of the wearer.
Combined with one of the first tuxedo sets consisting of a jacket and Bermuda shorts, this blouse caused a scandal and launched the fashion baptized by the American press “See-Through”, ” see through “. Thus is born the Nude-look characteristic of Yves Saint Laurent (which will be the subject of an exhibition this summer at the City of Lace and Fashion in Calais called “Yves Saint Laurent: Transparencies”) and whose emblematic piece remains the Nude Dress, a dress entirely in transparent muslin belted with ostrich feathers.
A year earlier, in 1967, the French couturier had already designed Catherine Deneuve’s wardrobe for Buñuel’s film beautiful day. The actress plays Séverine, a young bourgeois wife who only finds pleasure in the brothel where she prostitutes herself from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Adapted from a novel by Joseph Kessel, the film is presented by its co-screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière, as “a very rare object in the history of cinema: an exploration of what Freud called the ‘dark continent’, female eroticism”…
If several outfits worn by the actress in the film have since become cult (from the vinyl trench coat to the sober black dress with ivory satin collar and cuffs), there is one that is rather sacrilegious. At the heart of the film, indeed, engaged by an old duke with a singular fantasy, Séverine takes her place in a coffin, her naked body enveloped, from head to toe, in an immense transparent black veil.
The motif has always inspired artists: painters, of course, demonstrating their virtuosity by depicting almost imperceptible veils on the faces of the virgins, but also sculptors. How to make the transparency of a textile with marble? From Antiquity, the Greeks developed the technique of wet draping. If men or gods exhibit themselves in athletic nudity, the female body is covered, its imperfection or its incompleteness (if we follow Aristotle) requiring this artifice. Way, also, to indicate a prohibition while circumventing it. Because the fabric, by revealing what it is supposed to hide, reveals much more than if the figure were naked.
In this regard, there is an unforgettable one: the life-size woman in white marble from the Sansevero chapel in Naples. Petrified in an ample movement, it seems entirely covered with a muslin embracing its forms with pleasure. The garland of flowers emphasizing her lower abdomen, her breasts hanging on the veil, her half-closed eyes… If there are different interpretations, more or less mystical, of this masterpiece by the Venetian sculptor Antonio Corradini, the erotic charge is required from the outset. This is, however, strangely, an allegory of modesty.