As part of the campaign, Lacoste has teamed up with Hypebae to explore Sex Education. The British coming-of-age series also features in the new collaborative collection which sees the iconic crocodile motif adorned in a puffer jacket and riding a bike inspired by Otis’ character.
Unpicking the significance of the show on wider cultural scale as well as the importance it holds for on-screen representation, model and artist Jade O’Belle discusses how the series has helped a new generation find their identity and it relates to her own experiences.
Read the full interview with O’Belle below.
Hypebae: How has representation in the TV and film industry influenced your own identity?
O’Belle: When I was at school, through to my early twenties, I was trying to figure things out: who I am, where do I belong, and where do I fit into the world? I looked to TV shows, pop stars, and films for characters I could find inspiration from to play out my inner desires. If it wasn’t for Chaka Khan and Diana Ross I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today. I found elements of myself in these witches and divas but they weren’t everyday awkward teenagers like myself. I have always been attracted to the women who were a little bit of an outcast, owned their sexuality, and were unapologetically themselves. Pulling all of these different parts into myself.
The feeling of being an outcast in school whilst growing into your own identity is something so many can relate to. How did these years inform or even perpetuate stereotypes surrounding your sexuality and body?
I was the kid in school who was friends with all the subgroups: the grunge kids, exchange students, down to the popular girls, school bullies, and the older cooler queer kids. The queer kids graduated after a year and I was left feeling like I didn’t fit into any groups. I still hadn’t connected all the dots about my queerness and how it fitted with my body. But really what I was looking for was community and a safe space to express myself where I could be desired and celebrated.
There was no Sex Education to help steer my formative years. Instead, there were many more awkward years trying to find my lane. I was seeking a safe space to express myself where I could be comfortable and truly be me.
How does Sex Education translate the search of identity? And what similarities do you see with your own experiences?
We see characters from the show go through the same evolution of self, and in Season 3 there was something in Aimee’s character I related to. She’s a bubbly and unfiltered person but after an assault on a bus, she starts feeling shame about her body and becomes hyper-aware of it. This leads her struggling to feel comfortable and be intimate with her boyfriend. This feeling is something I imagine most femme-presenting people have experienced. We all have our stories of sexual harassment and shame.
Sex Education deals with this in many ways, showing each character’s flaws and mistakes, and in moments of vulnerability, discovering their strengths, abilities as well as positive qualities. Aimee deals with her experience by confiding in her friend Maeve who recommends she speaks to Dr. Jean Milburn, Otis’ mum and sex therapist. In these sessions, she has revelations about herself; she is fine the way she is and shouldn’t be ashamed because of other people’s projections onto her.
I can remember this awkwardness in my own skin. Relying on others’ perceptions of me to tell me who I am and questioning myself. At work, coworkers whom I looked up to as older women pulled me aside to warn me that my T-shirt and leggings were “too sexy.” But this was what everyone else was wearing. It wasn’t the clothes, but my body that was being viewed as “too sexy.” I felt ashamed that they found an issue with my body, and it was situations like this that made me feel I had to start apologizing for how it made people feel and act – much like Aimee. This shame can make you feel painfully vulnerable, inadequate, and even unworthy of love or positive attention.
What role does fashion play in communicating identity?
Finding comfort and creativity to express ourselves through clothing can help us fall in love with ourselves. I truly can say that being playful through clothes has allowed me to feel empowered in my body and take ownership of the way others relate to me. I was into house music, I was a hairdresser, I tried to be an accountant before becoming an artist and each one had its style era. I have used my body and creativity to find community and relate to others through my experiences. Having fun with clothing was always my way of speaking to the world about who I was when I didn’t have the right words or experiences, or even self-knowledge, to express that.
How do you think having different portrayals of identity through clothing and self-expression helps change the narrative?
All the coming-of-age characters in Sex Education have a unique style, and their dress sense serves as a reflection of who they are or aspire to be. This representation is important because we look to characters to draw from parts of ourselves. It allows us to create alter egos and fantasies about our desires. Through clothing, we can start to be honest about how we feel, what we need, and what our fears are. Through this vulnerability, we can start to communicate and strengthen our connections with one another. When I was growing up there was always a stigma that was wrapped around the queer characters on TV. In Sex Education, there are gay, lesbian, non-binary, asexual, and neurodivergent characters – there’s no one way to look or act queer.
Eric’s family and culture play a big part in the show’s recent series. How does this spotlight on diverse communities, which can relate to so many different people, also help change the wider narrative?
There’s a really beautiful scene with Eric wearing brightly colored eyeshadow and living his pop star fantasy in his bedroom as he gets ready to see his friends. There is such a cute freedom in this scene of him getting into this alter ego that is so relatable to a lot of us. But when it’s time for him to visit his family in Nigeria, his mum warns him that he must tone it down as it’s illegal to be gay there, and the privilege of self-expression is taken away from him. When he arrives at the wedding, it’s full of dancing and laughing, and the photographer – who recognizes Eric’s queerness – invites him to an underground event in Lagos and Eric ends the night with people just like himself. It’s the queer community in Nigeria that helps him further his understanding of his queerness and belonging.
Expression through adorning our bodies in clothing is a coded language that lets others know who we are. Being able to read someone’s clothing is something that’s done within the queer community to let others know about our intersectionalities, or to let others know we’re in that community, full stop.
Discussions around clothing, particularly gendered clothing, have long been an issue within the trans and non-binary communities. How has Sex Education helped to open up this conversation?
In Episode 6 Season 2, Moordale Secondary School gets a new headmistress, Hope. Due to the controversy around the pupils being liberated sexually, the headmistress has been brought in to tighten the belt, and bring conformity and “order.” Her approach is to try and dilute the kids’ self-expression by bringing in a mandatory school uniform, the tactic being to tone down their personality and make them fall back in line to make the school look “good” again.
Cal and Layla are two non-binary characters who speak up when Hope enforces the pupils to line up outside with male and female being the only two options. The headmistress has no empathy for their needs and tells Cal to come back to her once they’re wearing the “correct” uniform, but there is no right uniform for them to return with. Cal just wants to make friends in their new school whilst wearing a uniform that is in line with their gender expression – and their peace of mind is interrupted by Hope’s inflexibility.
Cal knows who they are and won’t let the school’s rules, and Hope’s projections, sway that self-belief. Cal’s storyline really shows how having community and people around us who understand is important for validating the truths about ourselves and rejecting the critic’s voices. This is why shows like Sex Education on a mainstream platform like Netflix are so important for people who do not have access to these communities. There is a more honest depiction of alternative ways of expression and vulnerability as well as being desired and celebrated in a community sense, not just romantically.
With shows like Sex Education portraying differing forms of intimacy and romantic relationships, what are your hopes for the future of representation around queerness and relationships in media?
I would like to see all the nuances of queerness because one box doesn’t fix all. We look to stories and media for some sort of inspiration on how we can live out our own reality. Seeing stories that relate to our own truth is so important.
Our willingness to be vulnerable and to show intimacy outside romantic relationships matters much more than we think. I feel this was something that was not really showcased in the media growing up. If it was, I missed it. I saw examples of intimacy that were very much contained to a heteronormative standard of closeness, always along the lines of allowing someone to accept your “flaws.” Intimacy on screen was almost always shown by conforming to the general performative trope of being seen as “desirable.” It was something I felt I could only share with my partner and in hindsight, it makes me sad to think of those missed opportunities with friends. I think straight culture is still really latched to this idea.
I am so glad that we get to see self-expression from a wider range of characters in the media today. That we now have more positive displays of the complexities of humans confronting their inner desires, revealing that there is power in the vulnerable parts of ourselves and not weakness.
Has seeing this representation on screen and in the media helped you to feel more confident and secure in your own identity?
These conversations about the body are becoming more thoughtful, diverse, and nuanced, and intersect with conversations being had about identity and queerness. We are openly sharing our experiences more, finding allies, and realizing we’re not the only ones who are having the same experiences. There is common ground that we share. Through these conversations, we are finding language to express ourselves and feel seen. Owning parts of ourselves that we may see as flawed is our power. Community helps us feel loved by people around us, creating bonds of intimacy. Rather than feeling ashamed may we feel joy in our moments of vulnerability.
When I stopped apologizing and taking the blame for other people’s social projections was when I started to connect with my body and unpick shame. That’s when I really started attracting people into my life who truly saw me and loved and understood every part of me. It took the pin out of the balloon and I could just let go. I was finally desired and celebrated by the people I also desired. I started to feel there was no problem with all the things I was ashamed of that made me feel vulnerable. With a newfound self-acceptance, I have allowed intimacy into my friendships and relationship with my family. My vulnerability is my power, my shining star, the glitz and glamor of who I am.
Watch the campaign visuals with O’Belle on Hypebae’s TikTok now. For more information on the Netflix x Lacoste collaboration, you can visit the brand’s website.