ARTICLE WYATT ALLGEIER
Jean Genet: thief, homosexual, traitor, bastard, poet. These were the monikers with which the writer embellished his persona. In a larger cultural context, Genet's writings would provide inspiration across the arts. His first novel, written during one of his many stints in prison, entitled Our Lady of the Flowers, influenced figureheads from Sartre to John Waters (his muse and prima diva, Divine, took her namesake from the tragic protagonist of Our Lady).
A tale of one prisoner's imaginary world of drag queens, pimps, thieves, murderers, and betrayal, this novel shocked its Parisian readers in 1943, the year it was published. It was Genet's ability to adorn his abased and impoverished characters with the sensual accouterments of the aristocracy that lifted his work from mere pornography to artesian literature. A pairing of violence and luxury, criminality and saintliness, brutality and glamour defines the work and provides certain ambiguity, which remains deeply moving and disturbing to this day.
Reminders of this fact were on full display, 70 years later, in S/S ’14 menswear collections. Sinister, tough masculinity aligned with vulnerable, sumptuous imagery—a trope Genet lifted to the level of poetry—could be seen walking down the runways of Paris and Milan. In Haider Ackerman, Ann Demeulemeester, Alexander McQueen, and Prada one could sense Genet's saintly criminals emerging.
From the jailbird stripes of Demeulemeester's ensembles bursts forth an image of Genet isolated in a prison cell. Haider Ackerman's satin-draped, tattooed toughs (Genet adored sailors and their tattoos in another of his novels, Querelle) could all stand in for the snarling pimps for whom the "girl queens" go wild. Sarah Burton's Alexander McQueen collection is constructed of fabrics tied to the French Decadents: lace, brocade, and silks. These garments would be stolen by Genet's destitute-yet-discerning homosexuals in a heartbeat. A black knit tank top, perfectly deconstructed to reveal delicate roses, encapsulates the depraved beauty of Our Lady of the Flowers to a tee.The sinister flowers incorporated into Prada's spring sweaters contain the beauty and brutality of Genet's favorite flowers: male genitalia. Blossoming and thorny simultaneously, Prada's prints beg the question: Will this provide pleasure or pain—or both?
Take a look through the slideshow, pick-up Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers, and be transported to a glamorous underworld of beauty and horror.
ANN DEMEULEMEESTER, HAIDER ACKERMANN AND ALEXANDER MCQUEEN IMAGES COURTESY OF THE DESIGNERS