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Margiela’s haute couture merkins: is the full bush really back?

Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024 (Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024)
Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024 (Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024)

Nipples might not make it past the social media sensors, but there was no missing the rather sweet merkin visible through the sheer tulle as John Galliano’s latest Maison Margiela Artisanal show went viral. One could only stop and chin stroke to marvel, is the bush back?

Galliano’s inspiration came via the Hungarian-French photographer, Henri Brassaï, and his voyeuristic extrapolations of Twenties Parisienne society. Galliano mined that same underbelly of life, his show staged under the full moon, beneath Pont Alexandre III. Brassï’s dimly lit, over exposed pictures, shot at night on a Voigtlander 6.5, reflected the outer corners of his Montparnasse neighbourhood streets, inside brothels and bars — nudes replete with natural thick thatches of pubic hair.

Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024 (Maison Margiela)
Maison Margiela Artisanal 2024 (Maison Margiela)

Galliano’s merkins on his “three painted muses” — for the sake of models’ modesty — were fashioned from real human hair painstakingly embroidered onto silk tulle stockings, a haute couture cooch if you will. But the natural look fit the exaggerated feminine proportions created by his corseted waists, padded hips and full bosoms exposed, which felt like a celebration of the female form rather than fetishisation or exposed for titillation.

In the light of the proliferation of perfectly plucked porn stars many are worryingly blasé about, the Edwardian-esque figures were rather quaintly refreshing. The show was also notable for its embrace of a swathe of body shapes — see the compelling finale performance by 6’3 Amazonian, buxom Gwendoline Christie — something which the luxury fashion industry has largely abandoned, unsaid.

A quick potted history of pubic hair maintenance leads us, of course, back to 2000 and Sex and the City, with Carrie’s horror at being too polite to ask her LA waxer to stop, ending up with a full Brazilian. “I feel like one of those freaking hairless dogs,” she shrieked to a nonplussed Samantha who quipped. “It’s an aesthetic thing, everyone goes bare out here.”

Others old enough to remember the early '00s may also recall a slightly more lo-fi reference of Big Brother’s Kate Lawler describing her landing strip as a David Beckham, reminiscent of the footballer’s then Mohican hairstyle. Strangely not something that was covered in his recent Netflix documentary.

From here we escalated into somewhat terrifying vajazzle territory — a low point of which was the American actress Jennifer Love Hewitt imploring fans — in her dating book ‘The Day I Shot Cupid’ — to “vajazzle their vajayjay,” describing it as “like having a sparkly secret in your pants.” Then of course, worryingly closer to home, there was the Only Way Is Essex, where Mark Wright launched his very own Vajazzle kit and beautician Amy Childs touted her skills as the “Vajazzle queen”.

'Decoration': Amy Childs vajazzles co-star Sam Faiers on ITV2's The Only Way is Essex
'Decoration': Amy Childs vajazzles co-star Sam Faiers on ITV2's The Only Way is Essex

Beyond Brentwood, such cystitis-courting measures have since seemingly been “reclaimed” as is the modern inverted feminist non-feminist way, and employed as a means of vulva self-love on female-only retreats. Communal vajazzling is available for those tempted to prune and explore their inner lady garden in like-minded, gem appliqué company.

In 2012 an about-bush was created when Cameron Diaz outed pal Gwyneth Paltrow on the Graham Norton show for being obsessed with “having a Seventies bush”.

And yet, the proliferation of no-knicker-permitting gowns on the red carpet (thank you, Kendall Jenner et al) have pushed an agenda of the porn-y shorn. Kim Kardashian’s itsy bitsy Skims bikini — a newly imagined Borat-mankini-for-girls for the filter-rich-age of Instagram, could only possibly be worn by the very bald.

Kendall Jenner wearing an uncompromising Rami Kadi couture gown at the Vanity Fair Oscar 2019 party (Getty Images)
Kendall Jenner wearing an uncompromising Rami Kadi couture gown at the Vanity Fair Oscar 2019 party (Getty Images)

The UK hair removal wax market size was valued at $630million in 2021, and according to Straits market research, is projected to reach $953million by 2031. Which is a lot of wax on wax off.

Monica Botros, brand manager at Strip Hair Removal Experts, one of London’s luxe waxing boutiques, offers that, “There's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to intimate hair removal and we're seeing an even more diversified range of bikini styles amongst our guests in recent years, echoing the broader trends of body positivity and personal comfort.” But asserts that at Strip, the Hollywood (where all hair is removed) followed by the Brazilian (where you’re left with a neat landing strip) is still the most popular request; they also offer “intimate bum” removal for the committed hirsute-averse. “Being ‘bare’ is still extremely popular across the board, and that goes for both male and female,” she adds.

But, for some, thanks be to Goop, an alternative preference has gained traction, with some of Gen Z at least having no truck with established, well pruned body standards.

When it comes to personal topiary, there is a growing (sorry) movement to embrace the natural look. Lucie Greene, trend forecaster and founder of Light Years agency, says that “Gen Z are all about pubes” also citing the makeup trailblazer Isamaya Ffrench’s new wave of a more “subversive beauty” — see her penis shaped lipsticks casing, for example.

Gen Z are all about pubes

Lucie Greene, trend forecaster

But since we were forced to let it all hang out during the pandemic, there has perhaps been more of a vogue towards a laissez faire attitude to personal upkeep. Madeleine Spencer, beauty writer, says, “there is a resurgence of the bush happening — provided it’s pruned very well. None of this Victorian all over the place business. We are talking a Seventies chic tidy bush. Some waxing practitioners have confirmed that they’re being asked for this more while I am mid-wax. That said, I’ve yet to meet a man who wishes for more bush. Perhaps this will change, but in my experience whenever questioned on this, men feverishly declare they dislike any excess of hair.”

How much you feel the need to prune one personal flower bed for the benefit of any man or indeed woman is hopefully a personal decision. But if you strip off a little too much, there’s always a merkin.