Sex is a Place: Leather by MELISSA TOFTON SS-16

London-based designer MELISSA TOFTON speaks with 032c’s Marc Goehring on the occassion of her SS-16 Lookbook:

MARC GOEHRING: The first thing that came up in my mind, when I saw your lookbook was “sex.” But what kind of sex is it?

MELISSA TOFTON: Ironically, this collection was supposed to be a step outside of my comfort zone, exploring new territories in design in so many ways—from the choice of delicate fabrics, through to sourcing particular pony-skin leather that needed to feel a particular way on the skin. I designed almost blind, feeling my way through a more tactile approach and gingerly trying to stay as far away from “sexy” as possible. But of course, hiding your truth in design is totally impossible. At its core, this kind of sex is a feeling, the kind which makes you feel courageous without denying vulnerability. It’s a dance between fantasy and reality, discreet yet strong. Clothes should feel sexy and sumptuous — not just look sexy.

50 Shades of Grey or Nymphomaniac?

I’m so glad that I can talk about Nymphomaniac, as I was so giddy about this film and just wouldn’t bloody shut up about it when it first came out.Sexuality—particularly the reputation of nymphomania—has been well overdue for a facelift. And Lars von Trier did this so perfectly. This, in my opinion, is a great step towards helping people to understand the pathology of nymphomania, along with political angst that’s necessary to help people understand that fetishism needs to be far more inclusive. I’m so glad to live in a society now where films like this can be mainstream—where sexual “deviance” and freedom can be completely individual and authentic. So many people hated it, didn’t they? But really, I just think that’s indicative of all of the people who watched it expecting to get hard or something. Put simply, there are those who see sex as an act, and then there are those who put it to greater use. Sex isn’t something you do, it’s somewhere you go.

Leather has so many strong connotations—from luxury goods to bondage gear. What fascinates you about leather, and how do you go about making it your own?

Leather is at once so resilient yet totally delicate and vulnerable. I see the use of leather as a means of armor—as a form of protection and provocation. Sometimes it’s interesting to wear it and test reactions, because some people find it so confrontational. Some designers have actively chosen to use leather as a form of transgression. It’s symbol of subversion, but at times of social status. If we’re harking back to aboriginal origins of wearing leather, it invokes a feeling of power and it is so indomitable. But its key function for me is the feeling. The first time you shroud your skin in good leather—or bind it, even—there’s just nothing else like it. It’s also a second skin. Naked, but better.

Your Studio is based in London, and most of the production is in the UK. What draws you to London?

In fact, all of the production is in the UK, more specifically in my little workshop in North London. Everything is crafted by me and one of my amazing assistants. I have such a bipolar relationship with London. It feels like I’ve been trying to leave for years, but there’s no denying how integral it is to be here as a designer. London is like a lover that fucks you, ignores you for weeks on end, and then throws some pennies at you every now and then to make sure you can at least keep on living. It totally owns you, but there’s plenty of reasons to never leave. After trying my hand at fleeing to Berlin, which will always be my second lover, I’ve decided to use London to its full advantage by surrounding myself with inspiring, abundant people.

What’s next for the brand?

So much is happening at the moment—a collaboration with my dear friend and ceramicist Adele Brydges creating erotic implements, and a lingerie collaboration with LaFilleDo in Belgium. As a designer of a brand, I feel somewhere in between an artist and a product developer, so I feel a responsibility to focus on making a direct reflection of the change i want to see in the world. I hope for a more inclusive, non-binary, and transgressive from of sexual expression. Sexuality is core to our existence. So why not make a meal out of it, right?

Photography: Katja Mayer

Model: Stoya

Set Design: Miguel Bento

Stylist: Anna Pesonen

Hair: Louis Chewy at THE BOOK AGENCY

Make Up: Liz Daxauer at CAREN

Manicurist: Lindsay Mcintosh at PREMIER

Design: Studio-Baron

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