namilia, the berlin brand deifying justin bieber and taking down donald trump
The German fashion label’s rebellious and irreverent take on sexuality turns men into objects and playthings.
For its first show at New York Fashion Week, Berlin-based label Namilia went balls out. Models wore glittery penis-shaped bras (also known as "dickinis"), and oversized, safety-pinned patches that depicted Trump in a golden shower and other compromising positions. "This season was [about] reversing the patriarchal concept of sexualizing and objectifying women by turning the male into sexual playthings," says Nan Li, who co-founded Namilia with Emilia Pfohl in 2015. Their spring/summer 2017 collection, "You're Just a Toy", also combined hardcore fetish-wear, provocative slogans and NSFW visuals in order to emphasize the power of female eroticism. "We use fashion as our visual platform to discuss and express our own beliefs, conflicts and dreams," explains Li, who also worked with Kanye West on Yeezy Season 4. "It's not just about the aesthetic factor, which has become the main driving force for most designers, but what counts more for us is the message we want to tell with our pieces." The pieces in this collection also broach the obsessiveness of extreme fandom, reimagining Justin Bieber as both God and Jesus on the cross. In one look, a model donned a leather crown, tulle hoodie dress and white ruffled train, which featured the Bieb's head superimposed on a classical painting of Adam and Eve. "We like to use humor in our work to trigger a thought process in the audience," Li explains in the following interview. "Our work deals with serious themes regarding gender issues and patriarchy, but I think that it is sometimes even more effective and aggressive to present it in a fun way with a wink."
What was the starting point for this collection and what was it about?
The starting point this season was reversing the patriarchal concept of sexualizing and objectifying women by turning the male into sexual playthings. We also looked at contrasting ideas of female power, for example, the classic dominatrix and BDSM visuals, and the obsessive power of teenage fandom, to create a new form of alpha girl gang. As pop culture has always been a main focus for us, we chose the most relevant and contemporary male idols of pop culture and turned them into sex objects trapped in our clothes.
Why does celebrity and pop culture play such a large role in your work?
When I was 16 years old, I spent an entire year as part of a student exchange program with a Mormon family in Las Vegas. I think you can imagine how insane that experience was. Since then, I would say I am just really obsessed with pop culture, as it doesn't really exist to that extent in Europe. Topics like mass media, celebrity culture and fandom have become a main inspiration pool for our work. For example, just look at Justin Bieber or Kanye West fans, who completely objectify their idols into subjects of desire and elevate them to a god-like level. In the collection, we're using this energy in an ironic, fun way and turning those boys into sexual playthings trapped in the clothes.
I love how you were able to successfully merge and reimagine fetish with bridal with papal… How and why did you decide to mix these different styles?
For us, all of these different references are an ironic and exaggerated representation of different categories of femininity from a patriarchal view. The virgin bridal, the nun and the dominatrix are all extremely contradicting images, and by combining these we wanted to create an absurd taboo and break with the rules of western society, creating a rebellious and irreverent type of sensuality. All of these topics also are a mirror of the level of obsession and intensity of fandom in western pop culture, which is definitely comparable to that of a religious group or cult.
How did the collection celebrate feminine eroticism? Why are sex and bondage references so often seen in your clothes?
In our collections, we use eroticism in such an exaggerated way as an attack on all the preconceptions and gender issues related to the way women "should" present themselves. Looking back on history, female sensuality has been mostly used in an oppressing and negative way towards women, and imagery conveying success and intelligence [is seen as] masculine and patriarchal. One of the examples that we like to use is that last year when the Pirelli calendar shot by Annie Leibovitz came out, it stated, "this year we want to celebrate women for their achievements and not their physical appearance," and they shot them all dressed up in shirts and suits, which I felt was such a step backwards. What is this supposed to tell young girls? That you can only be treated seriously if you are dressed up as a man, and that showing your sensual side makes you a bimbo? That's why we wanted this collection to be even more aggressive than our past work. To really liberate female sensuality and to celebrate it in an empowering way.
The dickini is amazing. How and why did you come up with the design?
The penis bra is for sure one of our iconic pieces, I would say. We came up with it during our first collection where we used the phallus symbol as deco elements throughout it. It was about deflating the probably most-sacred symbol of manhood by turning it into something cute and glittery. At first, it seemed to be impossible to wear two glittery dicks on your chest in a sexy and feminine way, and as designers, it was challenging to turn this brutal message into a desirable piece of clothing, but I think it worked out quite well. It's so simple and so wrong at the same time. I think the penis bra is probably our core message projected into one single, super easy garment.
While your work is based on serious themes like sexual empowerment, there is often humor mixed in. Why is it important to fold in fun?
For us as fashion designers, we take our responsibility and work absolutely seriously but instead of pointing our finger at someone, we like to use humor in our work to trigger a thought process in the audience. As you said, our work deals with serious themes regarding gender issues and patriarchy, but I think that it is sometimes even more effective and aggressive to present it in a fun way with a wink.
Are you both Beliebers?
Yes, of course!
Text Zio Baritaux
Photography Mikey Asanin