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Jennifer Defays’s Avant-Garde Costume Designs Deconstruct Femininity

A Belgian designer uses her sartorial creations to manipulate views of the human body and challenge traditional conceptions of beauty.

By Claire Butwinick

Photograph by Laetitia Bica

Conventional Western beauty standards bore Belgian costume designer Jennifer Defays, so she’s spent the past two decades creating ensembles that accentuate and morph the body in unexpected ways. On April 23, Defays will present her newest work at Brussels’ TicTac Art Centre in MUTE, an exhibition that highlights her use of costume to explore societal stigmas and oppressions. Featuring haunting cotton masks with protruding artificial cheekbones and her provocative “window dress” series—designed like targets, with circular openings at the pelvis, they denote prostitution and the patriarchy’s narrow gaze on the female figure—MUTE is a layered multisensory experience that explores the stifling of self-expression, incorporating recorded shouts and cries as well as text by writer Natalia Dusfraise.

“My definition of costume is a crafted work on the human body,” Defays says. “It’s like a sculpture, and it opens a lot of possibilities.”


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