The Designer Dialogues: Bao Tranchi

Mill and Niki Minaj

Nicki Minaj put her dramatic curves front and center at last night’s VMAs, as she stepped out in a peek-a-boo sheer blue seduction that left little to the imagination. And then, the age-old question reared its head yet again. Are we seeing too much or just enough? But it’s precisely the kind of thought provoking interplay the designer, Bao Tranchi,  had in mind when she first began sewing such provocative threads.

Fashion Designer Bao Tranchi

The first spark of this fiery dialogue began when JLo nearly broke the internet stepping out on her 46th birthday in a revealing cutout dress. Women everywhere took to the web to hate it or to love it; to throw in their own take on whether the dress was age-appropriate, too sexy, or to simply swoon over the masterful cutouts that made it architecturally intriguing in all the right places.

And all the while, behind the scenes, the designer, Bao Tranchi, marveled at an explosive viral dialogue; a moment in time that was conspiring to make not only her designs, but perhaps her fledgling philosophy on sex appeal, the most provocative one online. As she cuts onward for a growing sea of celebrities lining up to get their custom crafted cutouts, we had the privilege of delving a bit deeper with Bao into one of fashion’s eternally thin lines: Is it sexy or slutty?

Jennifer Lopez in Bao Tranchi Cutout Dress

The Lady Loves Couture: You’ve been designing dresses for a while now, so why this dress and why now?

Bao Tranchi: It just hit a chord with the universe. You can’t plan for this. It was the perfect alchemy of ingredients: Her 46th birthday, her body, a real woman’s body full of curves, and I think that combination was both shocking and awe-inspiring. If Gigi Hadid had worn that dress, you probably wouldn’t think twice. Because it was a woman in her forties, celebrating her body, everyone has a very strong opinion.

TLLC: Is there such a thing as age-appropriate clothing?

BT: I think there’s a time and place for everything. Obviously, if you’re a soccer mom, you’re not going to wear this to the PTA banquet. But fashion is meant to be fun. We should enjoy the ride more, especially as women. We should be able to celebrate everything that’s sexy about us regardless of whether we’re 25 or 45. It takes a lot of work to have a body like that, and instead of cutting each other down we should really be celebrating each other more. Also, she’s [JLo] a style icon. She’s not an average human; she’s meant to be inspirational. And because she’s an icon, she’s in the perfect position to spark this dialogue–showing us that it’s okay to own our sexy at any age.

Jennifer Lopez Cutout Dress

TLLC: Why was there so much polarity? People had such strong opposing feelings about the nature of this dress?

BT: I think that’s the nature of what it means to be provocative. It has to make people think. People, including JLo, have worn nude and revealing dresses before. That’s not new. The cutouts weren’t more revealing, they were just placed in a unique way that really challenges the eye and makes you really have to think about what you’re seeing or not seeing. It actually creates an intellectual process, and it’s that intellectual element that makes something sexy, as opposed to slutty. Slutty is primal, purely sex-driven. But if something provokes you intellectually, I consider that to be the true definition of sexy.

Models in Revealing Cutout Dresses

TLLC: So now that we know what it means to be sexy, what does it mean to be stylish?

BT: It means to have a self-awareness of your own beauty. It’s not about what you’re wearing but it’s more about being in touch with how the clothes make you feel. Clothing can be truly transformative that way.

Models in Cutout Dresses

TLLC: Are there any fashion faux pas a woman can make?

BT: The only mistake is when you don’t own what you’re wearing, or when you look like you’re being styled. It’s not about showing off a particular brand, or creating your whole fashion identity off of pop culture–that’s not personal style. Wear what you want and enjoy it. That energy creates a confidence that emanates deeper than anything you could wear. Confidence is the most powerful thing in a woman’s closet.

Models in Bao Tranchi Dresses

TLLC: So what’s next?

BT: There’s quite a bit of celebrity custom orders happening at the moment, and I really enjoy the opportunity to work on such a personal level; I can keep the designs special. The business is booming overnight, and all of it is a wonderful affirmation of joy and love for this relatively new line. I feel very much at the beginning of things.

Bao Tranchi Design and Final Product

-Agatha Nowicki is an actress and writer. Read her bits of prose here or watch clips of drama here.