It was Adam and the Ants song ‘Friends’ where I first heard the name of the British pop artist Allen Jones. The song was first officially released in 1981 as the B-side of ‘Ant Rap’ but earlier versions had been recorded for a 1978 John Peel session and during the sessions for the 1979 Dirk Wears White Sox album. The Dirk version was eventually released on the 1982 ‘Antmusic EP’ (and ended up being Adam and the Ants last single before Adam Ant went solo).
In two previous blogs, I have looked at both the psychology of Adam Ant and an in-depth look at all his songs about sexual fetishism and paraphilias (based on an academic article that I originally wrote for Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion). In one of those articles, I noted that Adam’s predisposition towards sex came not from musical influences but from figures in the 20th century art world. Adam Ant’s final year thesis was on sexual perversion and he was inspired by the iconographic images of Andy Warhol, the autoerotic paintings of Allen Jones, the neo-sadomasochistic fantasies of Hans Bellmer, and ‘sexpop’ travellers like Eduardo Paolozzi, Francis Bacon and Stanley Spencer. In 1977, Adam said:
“The S&M thing stems from (when) I was at College Art School, with John Ellis (of The Vibrators), and all the time I was at Art College I was very influenced by Allen Jones the artist. All my college work is pretty much like this, this is just a musical equivalent of what I was visually doing at college”
As a teenager I collected badges and the ones designed by Adam Ant were clearly indebted to Allen Jones’ interest in fetishism (you can check out the designs in more detail here). Others in the pop world noted this including Justine Frischmann of Elastica. In a Melody Maker article by Simon Reynolds, Frischmann noted that Adam Ant “epitomised the brilliantly elegant side of punk, using all that Allen Jones type imagery like that table which was a woman on all fours with a glass top on her back. All his paintings were developed from Fifties porn – lots of airbrushed women in black leather. The Antz used a lot of that imagery. On one level, it’s very titillating, but it’s also very pop. So we’re gonna make the next album S & M, with us all in black leather. Actually, I think Madonna‘s ruined that for everyone, ruined the concept of pervy sex forever”.
Jones (born in 1937 in Southampton, UK) is arguably Adam’s greatest single influence and has been cited by Adam in many early interviews. He is best known for his use of slick fetishistic and obsessive objects, often of a sexual character (legs, stockings, shoes, etc.) taken from pornographic and women’s fashion magazines (with rubber fetishism and BDSM themes being very prominent). He was an early and leading figure in the pop-art movement as part of the so-called “dynamic generation” at the Royal College of Art (along with David Hockney, Patrick Caulfield, Peter Phillips, and Frank Bowing), and from where he was expelled in 1960 because of his controversial paintings. He was Britain’s ‘shock art’ bad boy decades before Damien Hirst. His early work was influenced by the Futurism school or art, and by reading the psychology of Freud and Jung, as well as the philosophy of Nietzsche. One of Adam’s songs ‘Ligotage’ (French for bondage) was directly inspired by his paintings. In the Wikipedia entry on Jones, he is quoted as saying:
“I wanted to kick over the traces of what was considered acceptable in art. I wanted to find a new language for representation… to get away from the idea that figurative art was romantic, that it wasn’t tough”.
It was in the late 1960s that Jones first started sculpting what art historian Marco Livingstone describes in his 1979 book Sheer Magic by Allen Jones as “life-size images of women as furniture with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones.” The three most (in)famous works (sharing as art curator Edith Devaney argued “a visual language”) were the erotic sculptures Hat Stand, Table and Chair made of fiberglass that featured busty mannequins dressed (or rather barely dressed) in patent leather. These works were met with both acclaim and disdain both in and outside of the art world with critics perceiving the sculptures as being misogynistic. Livingstone later went on to say “these works still carry a powerful emotive charge, ensnaring every viewer’s psychology and sexual outlook regardless of age, gender or experience”. One of the better descriptions of the three pieces was by Zoe Williams of The Guardian in an article provocatively entitled ‘Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?’:
“’Hat Stand’ is a mannequin in radial leather knickers and thigh-high boots. ‘Chair’ is the most famous of the three: a woman lies on her back, with her knees against her chest and a cushion on top of her. That’s the seat, her calves make the chair’s back. While all the clothes – black leather gloves, boots and a strap – reference bondage, she also looks dead, trussed up ready for some inept suburban disposal. ‘Table’, being topless, is more classically provocative. It would be pushing it to say the figure was adopting a more active shape, though: she’s on all fours, holding up a pane of glass with her back, her head looking down into a hand mirror. Yet the physics of the position make her look more like a doll than a corpse…Does Allen Jones’s art expose how female stereotypes are performed and maintained, by presenting us with overtly sexualised hyperboles, or is it just another part of the age-old tradition to objectify and sexualise women? The debate goes on… One thing is sure though, Jones’s work still provokes reactions”.
More infamy followed when the sculptures were referenced in one of cinema’s most controversial films of all time – A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick (in 1971). In a later interview, Jones recalled a telephone call from Kubrick. “[Kubrick said], ‘I’m a very famous film director, this will be seen all over the world and your name will be known.’ I held the phone away from my ear, I was just staggered anyone would say that. It showed an ego that dwarfed that of any artist I’ve known”. Because of this, Jones declined Kubrick’s offer but the director’s prop team made copies of his work. His BDSM designs were also a key feature of the 1975 film Maîtresse about a female dominatrix directed by Barbet Schroeder (and which also caused controversy because of its very graphic depictions of sado-masochism). Zoe Williams in her article for The Guardian goes as far to say: “Jones’s images have been so influential that almost no image of woman-as-object or woman-as-other-object can be created, even 40 years later, that doesn’t nod to them”.
In 2014, the Royal Academy of Arts hosted a retrospective of Jones’ work and Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph asserted: “you could argue that Jones’s work isn’t really about women; it’s about men and how they look at and think about women. Men use various strategies to neutralise or control desire. One is to fetishise the female body…[while] another is for the man to appropriate it”. The brief biography of Jones on the Artsation website also noted that: “Allen Jones was accused of being sexist and depicting women as undignified, mere willing objects of lust. Jones obviously never intended to show women in such a way, he wanted to question prohibitions and moral boundaries. ‘Nothing is as it seems’, the artist once said and also in this case one should not confuse the appearance of the object with its message. With his objects the artist carries trivialities like sexual connotations from advertising and show business into fine art to stylize and satirize them”.
Bizarrely, perhaps one of Jones’ unforeseen legacies is that his work appears to have unwittingly spawned a new sexual paraphilia – namely forniphilia. As I noted in my previous article on forniphilia, it is a form of sexual objectification and is viewed by many as a form of sexual bondage as the human body is typically incorporated into the shape of a piece of furniture where the person has to stay still for extended periods of time. The difference between Jones’ art and forniphilia is that forniphilia involves real humans whereas Jones’ works of art uses ‘humans’ made of fibreglass. The term ‘forniphilia’ was allegedly coined by Jeff Gord, the man behind The House of Gord (“The Home of Ultra Bondage”). In The House of Gord, there are many types of furniture that women had been temporarily turned into. This included many different types of table, lamps, pedestals, various types of chair (office chair, rocking chair, etc.), footstools, ceiling decorations (including chandeliers), lawn sprinklers, and bird tables. If Jones’ art was the direct inspiration for Gord and his followers, I wouldn’t be surprised. But even if it wasn’t, Jones’ work will continue to live on and will continue to garner controversy and feminist critique.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Ant, A. (2007). Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography. London: Pan.
Artsation (2015). Allen Jones – Biography. Located at: https://artsation.com/en/artists/allen-jones
Deurell, J. (2014). 10 key facts about Allen Jones. AnOther, November 10. Located at: http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/4103/10-key-facts-about-allen-jones
Dorment, R. (2014). Allen Jones, Royal Academy, review: ‘dangerous, perverse and brilliant’. Daily Telegraph, November 14. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/11220351/Allen-Jones-Royal-Academy-review-dangerous-perverse-and-brilliant.html
Gregory, H. (2014). Fetish, fantasy & “women as furniture”: The complicated legacy of Allen Jones. Artsy.net, December 3. Located at: https://www.artsy.net/article/editorial-fetish-fantasy-and-women-as-furniture-the
Griffiths, M.D (1999). Adam Ant: Sex and perversion for teenyboppers. Headpress: The Journal of Sex, Death and Religion, 19, 116-119.
Guadagnini, W. (2004). Pop Art UK: British Pop Art 1956-1972. Milan: Silvana.
Levy, P. (2014). A Fetish for Art. Touring Pop artist Allen Jones’s London workspace. Wall Street Journal, November 14. Located at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303309504579185690844235078
Livingstone. M. (1979). Sheer Magic by Allen Jones. London: Thomas & Hudson.
Wikipedia (2013). Allen Jones (artist). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allen_Jones_(artist)
Williams, Z. (2014). Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever? The Guardian, November 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/10/allen-jones-sexist-art-royal-academy-review
While I was researching a blog on bride fetishism, I came across a number of articles on fetish bride wear including a paper by Frances Ross on “extreme lingerie design” (Ross is Visiting Lecturer at the London School of Fashion). At the beginning of her paper, Ross asserts that there has been an increasing “academic interest in erotic lingerie as a retail and ethical subject” and citing papers such as ‘Deviation as a key to innovation: Understanding a culture of the future’ (by Trudy Barber in 2004), ‘Ethical perspectives on the erotic in retailing’ (by Tony Kent in 2005), and ‘Erotic retailing in the UK (1963-2003): The view from the marketing mix’ (by Tony Kent and R. Brown Berman in 2006). Ross’ paper examines commodity fetishism for different forms of erotic lingerie (e.g., corset, suspender belt, stockings, etc.). She notes that:
“Previous research on [the retailer] Agent Provocateur had identified the fact that erotic lingerie is generally an under researched fashion segmentation and this became the driver for revisiting the upmarket design-led brand and conducting a comparative study with the more demographically working to lower middle-class lingerie ranges of Ann Summers”.
Ross classes erotic lingerie into one of four categories: (i) fantasy dressing up, (ii) corsets and teddies, (iii) bras, panties, suspender belts and stockings, and (iv) shoes (although I’m not persuaded that ‘shoes’ are a type of lingerie).
Ross argues that the opening of Ann Summers shops (“a sex supermarket [that sells] marital aids and exotic lingerie”) in 1970 resulted in a “cultural shift from sleaze to respectability; private space to public space and deviance to normal sexuality”. Sexy lingerie became something to enhance “lifestyle sexual consumption rather than sordid sleaze purchases” resulting in “High Street respectability” for Ann Summers stores by the 2000s. The chain of Agent Provocateur (AP) stores began selling sexy lingerie in 1994. (I hadn’t realised that AP was co-founded by Joseph Corré, the son of fashion designer Vivian Westwood and Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren; given his parents’ love of bondage fashion wear, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised).
According to a 2006 article in the Daily Telegraph, Agent Provocateur caused “the second sexual revolution…Lingerie turned from something worn exclusively in the bedroom to seduce your man, into a fashion statement”. Ross also quotes from a 2006 article in The Observer about the shops’ beautifully designed “fetishised female undergarments such as crotchless taffeta knickers, gossamer negligees, epizoic teddies, [and] sternly-boned corsets” and that such lingerie is available to buy along with “S&M accessories that range from bedroom jewellery nipple tassels to handcuffs and bejewelled whips”.
Ross’ paper examines the development of extreme fashion from tight-lacing corsets through to modern erotic lingerie and argues that the meaning of clothing is constantly being redefined. Interestingly, she also historically examines whether the corset was something that women aspired to wear or was a garment that represented psychological and physical oppression. More recently, Ross claims that Bizarre magazine (a magazine that I used to write articles on sexual paraphilias for back in the late 1990s and early 2000s) “perpetuated the fetish of tight-lacing throughout all issues often showing women in corsets or wearing clothes with nipped-in waists on the front covers” and listed a number of examples from specific issues. She also notes how corsets used to be limited in colour and how such extreme corset fashion has evolved into luxury wear. More specifically she wrote:
“Corsets come in two main colour ways black and a version of the original pink fabric which has connotations of domesticity and innocence rather than dominatrix fetishism. Black lingerie has often been used to ‘…suggest wantonness and availability…’ (Wilson-Kovacs, 1996 p. 173) but this now also has a post-modern layered meaning of being sophisticated. Both styles of corsets are catered for at Provocateur but Ann Summers focuses on the black dominatrix range, however, the lacing and bones are all codified rather than real. This shows how lingerie has become a luxury fashion item rather than just utility underwear…The original Victorian corset signified respectable morality while also attracting attention to the exaggerated female shape, Wilson-Kovacs says this presented the ‘…female form in an erotically constructed fashion and…become an object of fetishist enthusiasm’ (2001; p. 169). The aesthetic and commodity fetishisation of the corset is popular with both genders in much of the demographic population, because it has in the last 50-60 years been associated with scandal, worn by showgirls, film stars and courtesans”.
According to Ross, it wasn’t until the 19th century that underwear started to move away from the corset to separate undergarments (knickers, bras, suspender belts, stockings, etc.). Suspender belts and stockings served a different (erotic) function to the corset (i.e., they “fetishised the lower erogenous zones of the body” whereas the corset accentuated waists and breasts). Ross also argued that the introduction of red undergarments had “connotations of sexual excitement” as evidenced by retailers such as AP introducing red coloured lingerie. Ross also argues that stockings are back in vogue and argues:
“Clearly the role of the stockings in erotic lingerie is important to the look of the leg and buttocks and despite the 1960s and early 70s shift to tights because of the shortness of the mini-skirt, the stocking has made a definite come-back for many reasons. These include, comfort and hygiene as well as the sensual nature of the nylon which now can be made to feel more like the original silk stocking”.
Ross then turns her academic attentions to bras and panties. Obviously bras have a functional purpose in supporting and shaping breasts (that Ross points out become more important as women age). She claims that men and women both like “the look and feel of well designed erotic bras and pants as the prelude to a sexual encounter”. She then brings in some Freudian sexuality theory and argues that:
“If made in sensual fabrics such as silk, satin or fine cotton this increases the seductiveness. As Hamlyn writes ‘It restricts direct access to the naked object, but it also has the ability to suggest, enhance, and draw attention to what it covers over and adorns’ (2003, p. 11). Both female and male fetishes for fabrics such as velvet and fur can be understood by Freud’s theory that ‘pieces of underclothing, which are so often chosen as a fetish, crystallize the moment of undressing, the last moment in which the woman could not be regarded as phallic’ (Freud, 1977; p. 355)…Bizarre [magazine] codifies Freud’s Oedipal theory with images of ladies wearing fur, frilly pants and sheer see-through garments that expose underwear…Freud considers fur to be symbolic of female genitalia hair, so as commodity fetishism and retail psychology become more sophisticated in their understanding of sex selling, this form of conspicuous consumption trim on erotic lingerie continues to be popular…The knowledge that certain fabrics excite the senses, touch, sight and even smell is again documented by Freud in his discussion on fetishism”.
Ross also takes a sideswipe at Foucault’s concept of “sex being confined to the home and the words not dared to be spoken (Rabinow, 1991)” and claims this is now simply outmoded as evidenced by high street shops such as Ann Summers and Agent Provocateur. She argues that (i) ‘underwear’ has become fashionable ‘outer wear’, (ii) ‘sleaze’ (citing the work of Kent, 2005) has become blurred with ‘respectability’, and (iii) ‘dressing up’ “for sexual pleasure has become normalised so ‘Deviance’ is considered just ‘Normal sexuality’ not perversion”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Barber, T. (2004). Deviation as a key to innovation: understanding a culture of the future. Foresight, 6(3),141-152.
Freud, S. (1997). On Sexuality. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Gamman, L. & Makinen, M. (1994,) Female Fetishism: A New Look. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.
Hamlyn, A. (2003). Freud, Fabric, Fetish. Textile: The Journal of Cloth & Culture 1 (1). March, p. 9.
Kent, T. (2005). Ethical perspectives on the erotic in retailing. in Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 8, 430-439.
Kent, T. & Berman Brown, R. (2006). Erotic retailing in the UK (1963-2003): The view from the marketing mix. Journal of Management History, 12(2), 199-211.
Kunzle, D. (2004). Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing & Other Forms of Body Sculpture. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing.
Ross, F. (2007). Extreme lingerie design: from ‘Bizarre’ fantasy to High Street. In: Extreme Fashion: Pushing the Boundaries of Design, Business and Technology (Conference Proceedings of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institute). New Delhi, India: IFFTI.
Ross, F. & Ranchhod, A. (2006, July), ‘eTailing Strategies within the Intimate Apparel Market’, Academy of Marketing Conference London.
Steele, V. (1996). Fetish Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Steele, V. (2005). The corset: A cultural history. Yale: Yale University Press.
Storr, M. (2003), Latex & Lingerie: Shopping for pleasure at Ann Summers Parties. Oxford: Berg.
Wilson-Kovacs, D. (2001). The Fall and Rise of Erotic Lingerie. In: William J.F (Ed.), Dressed to Impress: Looking the Part. Oxford: Berg.