Courtesy of Di Petsa and Xtos

This film is a sexy and spiritual ode to the wet look dress

A collaboration between London designer Di Petsa and producer Xtos, 'Self Birth' is a sensual insight into the FKA twigs-favourite's world.

by Mahoro Seward
09 September 2020, 1:39pm

Courtesy of Di Petsa and Xtos

You’ve seen one of Di Petsa diaphanous, sensually draped gowns somewhere before. The ‘Wet Look’ dress, delicately hand-stitched to create a trompe l’oeil of wetted fabric clinging to the body, has become the go-to-garment for brides in the know and celebrity pregnancy reveals -- i.e. Gigi Hadid and Nikki Minaj. FKA twigs and Kylie Jenner are fans, too, as are the latter’s three OG Kardashian Klan half-sisters, who, just yesterday, sported jewel-tone satin versions in a post on Kim’s Instagram.

Their hearts were all one by the brand’s nuanced, earnest assessment and celebration of an eternal, feminine essence, seen through a contemporary, watery lens. “The whole brand is based on The Wetness Project, which is about how the way that we treat our bodily fluids is very connected to how we treat oceans and water at large,” Dimitra, its namesake founder, explains. It’s an interest of hers that dates back to her days as a performance art student, during which she staged a piece in which she wet herself on a rush-hour metro in her hometown, Athens. She then headed to London to study at Central Saint Martins, birthing the cult favourite ‘Wet Look’ dress in her 2018 MA collection.

Di Petsa and Xtos 'Self Birth' SS21 Film Still

Since then, she’s slowly but steadily pushed the horizons of her practice, assiduously developing its signatures rather than kowtow to industry-imposed expectations to reinvent the wheel every six months. “When you're trying so hard to create a whole new concept, you don't delve as deep as you should in the concepts, she says, “and it promotes this process of creating something and throwing it away, which I'm really not attracted to.”

Her AW20 presentation back in February -- which also marked the brand’s debut on the official London Fashion Week schedule -- was a rounded-out testament to the ethics of her brand. A sensuous Delphic ritual, it saw a group of women commune to luxuriate in the delights of the flesh -- its moisture, its supple touch. “We were looking at the relationships of maternal bodies to birth and sexuality,” she explains, “how the female body and the femme experience, in general, is something that's very boxed up -- you know, if you're a mother, you're not sexual; if you're sexual, you're a whore. It was about these female archetypes and how they still play into culture today.”

Di Petsa and Xtos 'Self Birth' SS21 Film Still

Her plans for SS21 were to continue this IRL performative exploration of female sensuality, this time reflecting on “rebirth, this idea of creating a new self, and coming into close contact with who you are on a more physical and primal level.” ‘Were’ of course, is the operative term here. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a total rethink regarding how they’d present their work. Just as it was for conglomerate-backed houses and other independent designers alike, fashion film was the default option.

Dimitra, a designer typically reliant on live performance as a means of communicating her work, felt oddly set for the task. “It's funny, because, in a way, I feel like I was already prepared for something like this,” she says, citing the 360-degree approach she takes to working as a saving grace. “As I'm developing the clothes, I'm also developing the new movement, the new performance directions and the music and soundscapes.”

Di Petsa and Xtos 'Self Birth' SS21 Film Still

For the latter aspects, she already had a collaboration partner in mind -- her good friend Xtos, a producer and musician based, like her, between London and Athens. “By the time that it we found out it was going to be a digital presentation, we just translated what we were going to do,” she says.

The end result, titled ‘Self Birth’ is a breathtaking visual siren-song. In the waters of a clouded bay of an island of their native Greece, an appropriately-distanced cast emerge like Aphrodites from the waves to a tinkling lute melody and a breathy siren song. It’s a scene as old as time, restaged in the here and now. “I was looking a lot into ancient Greek rituals and the idea that at various times the year, you would rebirth yourself, essentially. There are lots of references to classical antiquity, but updated for the modern-day,” says Dimitra. “I used stones like lapis lazuli, amethyst, quartz, stones, which are traditionally used for healing in ancient Greek rituals -- this was also something Xtos and I discussed for the music”

Di Petsa and Xtos 'Self Birth' SS21 Film Still

“This was quite different to the rest of my work, which is quite political in a different sense, and it's more pop. There's always a beat, and there are elements of dance music,” Xtos says. “Collaborating with Dimitra, I wanted to create more of a classical sound, the intention was for it to sound sort of like a female choir. After the first chorus, each voice does its own thing -- it's quite chaotic, but I think that also reflects the concept of rebirth and healing.”

It all makes for a striking audiovisual picture, but to mistake it for the typical fashion all-bells-and-whistles extroversion, however, would be to miss the mark. “Our original title was ‘I Am My Own Mother,’ which was very much about self-love, self mothering, self-birth. It was actually very individualistic in a way,” Dimitra says. “I think that's also very reflected in the performance and the lyrics Xtos wrote. They're very personal, in a way.”

“It's like kind of letting go of the baggage of the world, and going into the water that will nurture you,” Xtos echoes. “It's like returning into the womb, so that you are able to be reborn and face the world again.”

Keen to discover more of Di Petsa’s world? Head here.

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Dimitra Petsa