This week, Swedish pop star Tove Lo attended the Australian Music Industry Awards (Arias) in an almost entirely see-through mesh dress embellished with a leather uterus, designed to scale. It wasn’t a remarkable move for Lo, whose brand, both musical and personal, is loaded with female empowerment. The title of her album, Lady Wood, refers to “a female hard-on”, and its artwork sees the Os of her name styled as vaginas.
However, the dress did strike a curious message, says its designer, Emelie Janrell. “I’m actually very surprised by the overall impact the dress has made,” she says. “After all, it is just a graphic image of the female anatomy. The fact that that is such a shock may call for more uteruses.”
One can hope. Still, it’s the latest example of Lo’s affection for hyper-sharing in fashion (around the time #freethenipple became the legitimate social media retort to the fudging of nudity and sexuality, Lo flashed her nipple at a gig in Camden’s Koko to a largely teenage crowd) and of fashion being used as a platform for activism. Historically, the medium of mainstream female protest has shifted between slogan Ts (from Vivienne Westwood and Katherine Hamnett) to the absence of clothing altogether (Slut Walk).
Janrell was aware of this when she designed the dress. “I originally made the graphic symbol of the uterus as a comment on the historic way to undermine women who in one way or another didn’t fit the norm, and thereby were named hysterical” – the norm being the absence of menstruation from an everyday dialogue and hysteria being the way we have culturally delegitimised a perfectly normal thing. We can and do mention periods but generally speaking, as Lindy West explains, only when we are dismissing the inconvenient emotions that follow suit.
Janrell sees its shape as a “symbol of female empowerment and independence” and its appearance at a mainstream public event as a “a way of raising both the silence of the female parts”. Lo gave a more straightforward response, telling media that you don’t censor “a vagina or a pussy … Whatever you want to call it … You’ve just got to say what it is.”
• This story was amended on 25 November to reflect that Tove Lo wore the dress to the Australian Music Industry Awards, not the American Music Awards