Challenging the notion that discussing sex and sexuality is a taboo subject, END. visit Carne Bollente's three founders at their studio to discuss demystifying sex, the importance of open conversations and the necessity for inclusivity.
Bound to raise an eyebrow, flush a cheek or elicit a wry smile, Carne Bollente have spent the past seven years depicting sexuality in its many shapes and forms with their ready to wear garments, covered in playfully explicit illustrations, patterns and suggestive prints. Opposing the traditional urge to succumb to embarrassment when approaching the topic, Carne’s Hijiri Endo, Agoston Palinko and Théodore Famery face sex and sexuality head on with confidence, seeking to demystify sex and offer an inclusive space for a positive and open celebration of sexuality in all its forms.
Historically, depictions of sex and sexuality have been placed under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, cultivating a secretive culture that presents a reserved exterior impression and repressed feelings in favour of joyous, outward self-expression. From the erotic paintings that adorned the walls of Roman villas to Shunga ukiyo-e woodcut art in Japan, depictions of sexuality have remained an ever present focus within popular culture, even if they were hidden beneath the surface of a strict society. Consistently, puritanical regimes have led the charge in maintaining the status quo in discussing and depicting sexuality, ensuring that the innately human act is viewed as a taboo even as the world around us becomes more progressive on a personal scale. Challenging this notion with their headstrong approach, Carne Bollente place sex and sexuality front and centre of their brand, depicting a diverse and inclusive reflection of modern society, sex and identity with a firm position of positivity.
Established in 2015, Carne Bollente’s approach to modern ready to wear combines graphic immediacy with a positive message of sexual liberation, freedom and passion, with a central goal of demystifying sex and celebrating the nuances of human sexuality in its myriad forms. Channelling this innately human method of expression, the Paris & Brussels-based brand has found renown for their exciting, risqué and playful graphics.
Shaking the taboo subject of sex, nudity and sexuality, Carne Bollente offer a modern approach to eroticism that celebrates individuality and the beauty of the human body in its many forms. Sitting down to discuss this shared ideology, END. dive into the world Hijiri, Théodore and Agoston have created with Carne Bollente.
Agonston Palinko: Théo and I were studying at the same school, and we’d originally started the idea of Carne Bollente as a bit of a joke - it really became a brand a few years later when Hijiri joined us. Before that point, it was more like a school project.
Théodore Famery: We were art students who wanted to make clothes – it was during the normcore era in fashion, around 7/8 years ago – nothing was really fun, with very few patterns or artwork. We started embroidering our own pieces, which led to friends asking for items. The point where we really realised that there was some potential in the brand was when Hijiri joined us.
Hijiri Endo: It may have started as a joke, but we really thought about the theme and the focus. It was all about sex – so we really had to think about what it was that we wanted to communicate through our illustrations and artwork. Naturally, we started to produce different illustrations – not only men and women – it was organic for us to diversify what we wanted to show by drawing different body types, different sexualities and different races. Initially, they were making t-shirts, so when I arrived from Tokyo - I’d grown up in streetwear culture, where everyone was making t-shirts back in high school – I saw what they were making from their little apartment in Paris and I quickly joined.
TF: It was always playful, too. That’s the base of the project – we were real friends who were having fun.
AP: The “sex positive” term had always been at the core of the whole project, but as the years passed, the illustrations we used changed, body types changed and representation of different skin colours changed, because we’re always learning and adapting what we wanted to incorporate in the project. As the years passed, we gained more wisdom around the topics we’re focussing on.
TF: We always talk about how it was a joke to start with, but I think we both realised that It didn’t make sense for us to make these sort of joke-y designs in the end, and the deeper meaning appeared naturally.
TF: For me, I realised through Carne, it was not really an activist position, but more about not hiding the subject of sexuality. In our society, it is always hidden - in a sex shop or behind curtains - with people hiding their sex books at the top of the shelves and the sex toy in the back of the closet. Everything is hidden, but I don’t think that it has to be like this. For me, it was about making something that would make people feel more comfortable to talk about sex in a simple way.
HE: Definitely – it’s important for us as artists to be openly talking about sex and sexuality.
AP: And openly doing sexual drawings is really refreshing, too, because you have to hide a lot of things in drawings – we want to show things, but it’s also about respecting boundaries and never doing something to shock people. It always has a positive and fun approach.
"We grew up as queer kids - we were always afraid of talking about sexuality because of social rules that were set by society"
HE: I think it really depends on where you are from – your education and your background. Today, I think that when you live in a more developed country, such as France, the UK or Japan, it comes from the way we are educated about it. From a young age, we’re taught that openly talking about sex and sexuality is not a good thing, that it is something that you shouldn’t really talk about. And it’s not only about who you’re having sex with – if you talk about masturbation, then it’s treated as if it’s something to be ashamed of, instead of something that is healthy for your body. We grew up as queer kids, we were always afraid of talking about sexuality because of social rules that were set by society – I was never told in school that it was okay for me to talk about who I was attracted to. It’s really shaped by how society works. It’s not easy, but I think that what we want to do when they look at our designs is encourage people to at least speak about it a little. To start a conversation about sex – but not only about that. Maybe it’s feminism, your relationship to your body, your relationship to your partners, what you specifically like, what makes you happy or what makes you uncomfortable. I think that’s what we’re trying to do – therefore, we don’t see ourselves as an activist brand, with a specific definition of what sex positivity is. Rather, we offer a fun environment, where everyone feels comfortable to talk about the subject.
TF: And of course, we’re still learning – the definition of sex positivity is always evolving.
AP: We’re in a moment when so many things are changing. We see how people from younger generations wear our clothes and how they are empowered by it, unlike our generation who found sex difficult to talk about. Since they have social media and platforms like TikTok, they’re becoming more aware.
HE: I think younger generations definitely feel more comfortable talking about these sort of subjects. We can see that the percentage of LGBTQA+ in younger people is increasing because Gen Z people are more comfortable in accepting their sexuality, and to actually talk about it, which is definitely a result of the digital revolution and social media. It’s a really good thing. It’s different now, because when we were in university, there was no Tinder, no Grindr – things were so different then. Living in a western society as a minority group, not only because of sexuality but also being an Asian person, you were always teased. That was what made it difficult to be different. Becoming friends with the same sort of people was really liberating.
AP: Now the younger generations have safe spaces, which is amazing, but we never had that. Being queer was about finding other people, now there is a real community. But only in big cities.
HE: Finding a safe place in a digital world must be so liberating for the young people of today.
AP: In Hungary, they really don’t talk about it. It’s been getting even worse as the years go by. As it gets more advanced in the west, eastern European countries are getting worse, and more extreme right wing. I haven’t lived there for a really long time, but I feel the gap between there and here is so wide.
HE: France is so open minded, in comparison to other countries.
TF: Growing up in France was different, though. There is the idea that all French people are open-minded and liberated about sexuality but inside families, it’s still a taboo. I grew up in a left-wing Parisian family, with open-minded parents, but I still didn’t talk to them much about sexuality – even though my mother is a psychologist! Even with this background, it’s not easy. But when you grow up you have space to find this for yourself.
AP: It’s always been about demystifying the taboo – I guess adding fun to it makes it much lighter as a subject. Representing things in a too graphic way can turn people off, and they probably wouldn’t want to wear it. But if you add humour and positivity to the situation, it changes the whole dynamic of a drawing. We realised this when we were making some of our first patterns, so we try to bring an element of that feeling into every drawing. It’s a great way to represent a subject that can be super heavy.
TF: But sometimes we might design a t-shirt or a message, and when we speak to each other about it, we can see that it lands in a slightly negative way. We always try to change it to look towards the positive and to offer a positive message. Saying that you can be that if you want to! We don’t want to force our ideas or to shock people. People still have the right not to be open about sex, if they don't want to be, at the end of the day.
AP: Our customers always have fun with our designs, too. We sometimes think that we’ll get some hate on social media but we never really do. We have been criticised before, but it has always been helpful and constructive because it helps us to grow and be better. People asked us to draw more body types and skin colours, for example. It all makes us grow.
HE: We appreciate the criticism because it teaches us things and changes our outlook at times when we realise that we’ve been wrong. It’s all education. We’re three men and sometimes we definitely need that criticism to address times when we’ve missed something.
HE: We started as an indie brand, so we really want to build up our community even further and reach more people through our partnerships.
TF: We recently realised that Carne Bollente is a ready to wear brand, until now, where the name can become more meaningful and touch a larger variety of projects. We are slowly collaborating with organisations and associations, and we have collaborated with the feminist porn filmmaker, Erika Lust. We realised that everything that is related to sex positivity or sexuality, or sex education, could be something that we could support and work within some capacity, because we are creative people, so fashion is not the limit for us. We want to do more!
HE: Erika Lust, for example, is a female porno producer, who focusses on the woman’s pleasure in opposition to the majority of adult films that only focus on the male gaze. She doesn’t come from fashion – up until now we have only collaborated within the fashion industry – but we are diversifying our partnerships outside of the fashion industry. We were thinking of collaborating with a sex toy producer in Japan. We want to go beyond fashion with our sex positive approach.
AP: We’re not a classic fashion brand, per se. We realised that not long ago. It was a good tool to start this project, but we also have something more to say rather than just creating clothes.
TF: It was right at the beginning of the project - we had made our first four t-shirts, which featured three straight representations and one gay representation. This young man posted an image of the design explaining that it had helped him to come out to his family. We are lucky because we have an amazing community. It’s good people, all the time.
AP: He was actually wearing the t-shirt when he came out to his parents! These kinds of moments make us realise the potential impact the brand could have. It started as a joke and here we are!