How Ludovic de Saint Sernin Married Fashion and Sex

How Ludovic de Saint Sernin Married Fashion and Sex

The French designer and his muse Sean Ford are breaking down industry barriers with their steamy, homoerotic collaborations.

The French designer and his muse Sean Ford are breaking down industry barriers with their steamy, homoerotic collaborations.

Photography: Ben Chabanon

Styling: Ludovic de Saint Sernin

Text: Ryan Killian Krause

Since debuting his first collection at Paris Fashion Week in June 2017, Ludovic de Saint Sernin has taken the fashion world by storm. In the two short years since launching his eponymous label, the talented young designer has made quite a name for himself in the industry—one that is inextricably tied to de Saint Sernin’s celebration of sexuality and, more specifically, the male body.

Belgian born and Ivory Coast reared, de Saint Sernin and his family relocated to Paris when he was eight. Upon arrival, the young de Saint Sernin was immediately enamored by the fashion in the City of Lights. He’d attend fashion school at Duperré Paris and interned at Dior and Saint Laurent. After graduation, he joined Balmain under the creative direction of Oliver Rousteing, all the while focusing on womenswear. In 2016, de Saint Sernin left Balmain to strike out on his own—this time, to focus on gender-bending menswear.

“When I launched the brand two years ago, one of the inspirations was Robert Mapplethorpe and the way he would photograph very sexual content but in such a unique and tasteful way,” said de Saint Sernin. “I like to think that I do something in the same vein."

Now, Ludovic de Saint Sernin is the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. He’s become something of a phenomenon for a number of reasons, not the least of which being his unabashed celebration of sensuality and sexuality.

His first season, de Saint Sernin designed a pair of eyelet briefs which became hugely popular. Next, there'd be his Swarovski crystal thong, part of his Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, and his Spring/Summer 2020 show atop the Centre Pompidou in Paris which he closed by sending down the catwalk a male model nude but for a small towel wrapped around his waist—an expertly-crated knit towel, of course.

de Saint Sernin credits his success and loyal fanbase to his organic creative process. He never set out to make a point; He simply set out to create authentic designs and this authenticity has struck a chord with people, specifically the queer community. de Saint Sernin's design and creative decisions are made spontaneously, something which he says may not be possible at larger more storied brands. "A lot of queer designers at the head of big fashion houses don't necessarily have the chance to be in touch as much as I am with their community," said de Saint Sernin. "Community is so crucial to the brand. I cherish it. I feel very blessed to be in this position." 

de Saint Sernin’s meteoric rise is also probably linked to the creation of what he calls the “X Account.” As his brand identity began to take form, the designer found himself wanting to include more womenswear-specific pieces in his collections. At the same time, he worried that the sexual nature of his social media presence might exclude female customers. “I wanted the main account to become a bit more approachable, but to also really cherish the niche that I created for the gays to have that space where they feel like it’s really their community,” said de Saint Sernin.

In order to do so, in August 2018 de Saint Sernin cleaved his social media presence in two: the main Ludovic de Saint Sernin account and Ludovic de Saint Sernin Sex —or @LudovicdeSaintSerninX - the latter of which now home to the more explicit content in all its homoerotic glory.

On the X Account, which is private and 18+, it’s easy to see Mapplethorpe's influence. There are plenty of young men clad scantily in de Saint Sernin’s designs or not clad at all. The account is erotic - boys and butts abound - without losing any of the taste for which de Saint Sernin has come to be known.

By keeping the account set to private, de Saint Sernin hopes to maintain its close-knit community feel, one which followers are actively engaged in entering. The content shown and the topics discussed on the account also skew towards an 18+ crowd. So far, de Saint Sernin's plan seems to be working. The followers of the X account are very actively engaged with the account.

“We created a platform for people to talk about sex and to celebrate the body and celebrate being gay. And that really resonated with people,” said de Saint Sernin. “There’s a real conversation between the people who love the brand and the brand. I think it’s really important to invite different people into the conversation."

Followers are often encouraged to submit questions for the brand or even photos of themselves to be posted to the account. de Saint Sernin is currently brainstorming other ways in which to increase community engagement. One idea is to have some of the most popular models take over the account - you heard that here first. He also recently launched his first holiday collection on the X Account—a collection of reflective underwear, including thongs and jockstraps. It’s the first launch he’s done exclusively from the X Account.

A prominent feature on the X Account and someone who’s worked closely with de Saint Sernin over the last year is Sean Ford, an adult film star who works with top studio Cocky Boys. Ford was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas under the caring eye of the city’s drag queens—an experience which was wildly influential on the artist that he's become today. "They were some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. They were very smart, knew so much pop culture, so much history, and so much about art and makeup," said Ford. "That was probably the first thing that ignited my passion for really creative people."

Ford first met de Saint Sernin after starring in a softcore erotic film for de Saint Sernin’s collaboration with Japanese sex toy company Tenga. The film, which was directed by a mutual friend of both men, Matt Lambert, shows Ford using the toy—though just off-screen—and writhing in pleasure.

Ford has since become a muse of sorts for de Saint Sernin.

“I just love him,” said de Saint Sernin. “He looks at sex in such a modern way. He also represents so much more than porn. He’s beautiful and he’s smart and he has so much culture. He’s just an amazing person.”

Ford, who takes pride in only surrounding himself with those by whom he is inspired, finds in de Saint Sernin the same fiery creativity he found in his queer community in Little Rock. “Ludovic’s work contains a playful nod to the sensual while remaining sophisticated, beautiful, fashion," said Ford. "He isn't afraid to confront the theme of desire. He doesn't tip-toe around what we're all thinking; he lays it bare.”

Together, the two men have formed a collaborative relationship that—whether intentionally or not—is working to break down the barrier between the worlds of high fashion and sex work. “Fashion has always embraced sexuality to varying degrees, but it doesn’t intermingle with porn,” said Ford. "Those worlds tend to stay quite separate.”

Ford and other sex workers are often underestimated—typecast, viewed in the most derivative terms, expected to play their same role and discouraged from deviation - something which he says does a disservice to not only the performers but also the worlds from which they’re excluded. Ford asserts that there’s much to be gained from an exchange of creative ideas like his with de Saint Sernin.

"Oftentimes, porn performers are the on the fringes of society which gives you a much-needed perspective that a lot of people in fashion and in art don't necessarily always see," said Ford. "It's a very enlightening perspective to have."

de Saint Sernin agrees. “I think it’s important for not only my brand but for fashion, in general, to be able to talk about these things,” he said, “and what better ambassador for that than Sean?”

The collaboration between de Saint Sernin and Ford is not the first of its kind that the fashion world has seen. In 2016, Vivienne Westwood ran ads featuring another gay porn star, Colby Keller, in nothing but a knit sweater, knee-high red boots and a pair of briefs. Though, collaborations like this remain fewer and further between.

Both Ford and de Saint Sernin say there has been mostly collective celebration around their partnership. "I think this has been a really refreshing collaboration," said Ford. "There are people on both sides who recognize this is good for both worlds. It elevates the porn world and adds intrigue to the fashion world."

There are, of course, a few exceptions. “If you look at more conservative people in the fashion industry, sometimes it might be harder for them to take sex seriously, sometimes you can feel like you’re being underestimated because you’re talking about something that people might not feel comfortable talking about,” said de Saint Sernin.

Together, de Saint Sernin and Ford are chipping away at that wall in the hopes that it will have a lasting impact on the industry. Though, de Saint Sernin admits that his sole goal is to not change the minds of those who may not approve of the sexuality. He plans to continue to follow the core tenant of his brand - organic authenticity - and the rest will follow. “I always say that I don’t want to be political or an ambassador for sex, but I think that I created something that was organic and that people related to and that they want to be a part of,” he said.

“It’s not really just about me,” said de Saint Sernin. “The platform is really more about the community and being a part of something. That’s what’s important.”

When it comes to building that community, whether it be the main Ludovic de Saint Sernin or the X Account, there’s only one rule for de Saint Sernin: there are no rules.

“There really aren’t any rules, to be honest,” he said, “and that’s what’s really fun about it.”

Take a look through V's recent shoot with Ford clad in LDSS below.

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