Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s weekly celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a brand that’s bringing something new to the worlds of streetwear and fashion.
Designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin was born in Brussels and grew up in the Ivory Coast before moving to Paris at seven years old. After studying womenswear at Duperré in his adopted hometown, de Saint Sernin interned at Dior and Saint Laurent before joining Balmain, where he worked for two years before founding his LVMH Prize-nominated label in 2017.
“It was an interesting moment to be at Balmain, but at some point I felt a disconnect with the aesthetic there, so it just felt for me like it was better to move on," he says.
The designer has been influenced by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, whose candid portraits of the New York S&M scene were at the heart of the culture wars in the ’70s and ’80s. Some elements of that could be seen in de Saint Sernin's Spring/Summer 2018 collection, which featured slim-fit cropped leather tanks, pink and lavender tailoring, leather lace-up pants inspired by the cover to Christina Aguilera's Stripped, and bright yellow knits.
These designs, along with campaigns and runway shows that recall the ’90s supermodel era — only applied to men's clothing — have positioned Ludovic de Saint Sernin as one of the sexiest menswear labels out there right now.
"I thought that time [the era of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss et al] was a strong period of fashion in terms of womenswear," says de Saint Sernin. "Right now, menswear is having a similar moment, but they don't necessarily have those men supermodels. There has been a boy that got really famous for a moment but there hasn't been a group of supermodels for guys. I wanted to create that, reference those iconic heroes and transfer it into menswear."
The label is sometimes billed as unisex or genderless, and at Paris Fashion Week, pieces from the label's Spring/Summer 2019 and Fall/Winter 2019 collections were modeled by both men and women. It's less about the garments being deliberately "unisex" as more about just not caring. The message is simple: if it works, it works.
After a few years of logomania and luxury streetwear, there's a thirst for designs that liberate the wearer from the menswear status quo, and all the better if they offer respite from ironic "bad taste." De Saint Sernin's aesthetic is a return to artisanal luxury, albeit one charged with unapologetic sexuality.
Of course, sexiness is tricky to quantify, meaning different things to different people, and along with beauty and glamor, it's seldom given much attention in menswear — until now. "I wanted to do really fun and glamorous pieces for guys, too, because we also want to look amazing from time to time," de Saint Sernin explains.
Ludovic de Saint Sernin FW19 is a menagerie of fantasy: chest plates, long-sleeved polos with an aperture at the front, and heaps of sparkles via a collaboration with Swarovski. One of de Saint Sernin's signature pieces, a pair of lace-up leather eyelet briefs, achieved almost cult-like status when videos of the glittering crystal-covered underwear went viral.
The "million dollar eyelet briefs" were inspired by Swarovski's collaborations with Victoria's Secret on the lingerie label's annual Fantasy Bra. "Every year there's a special girl or angel that's wearing it on the runway and I was like, 'Why isn't there something like this for guys?'" de Saint Sernin says. "I thought it would only be fair to create that fantasy for guys, too."
De Saint Sernin's eyelet briefs are perhaps the most notable underwear item to appear in men's fashion since Tom Ford's Gucci era. "I think Willy Vanderperre picked it up and he shot it for Another Man [magazine], and then it was his exhibition in London and everyone got obsessed with it and it just became huge," says de Saint Sernin. "Since then, it's become a business of its own within the brand. It represents almost 40 percent of sales because, since then, I've done loads of different fabrics and materials and colors."
The space created by de Saint Sernin and his label signals a shift in what male customers want, and perhaps more importantly, how they want their clothes to make them feel. The Internet's Steve Lacy is becoming a low-key style icon and, as you can see above, the crystal mesh tank top is absolutely working for him.
For de Saint Sernin, all of this vindicates his decision to go it alone two years ago: "I mean, I just love it when I get someone telling me either through Instagram or in real life or at a party that they feel like there's finally someone that's representing them."