Jewelry Designer Chris Habana’s Pop-Up Is A Middle Finger To Censorship

Photographer Serichai Traipoom

Chris Habana wants you to send more nudes. Not to him, necessarily. The jewelry designer is hardly lacking in them, having collected nearly 1,000 NSFW images from friends and fans in advance of his new exhibition and pop-up shop, which opened Thursday in New York’s West Village.


Down a dark set of stairs and through a neon-lit hallway, the photos are displayed on cell phones that jut out of mannequins’ contorted limbs, many of them splayed in the air or posed doggy-style. The sculptures are accessorized with at least half a dozen dildos, at my count, along with various other silicone anatomy.


It’s not your typical New York Fashion Week experience, but for Habana, the concept seemed like a natural fit. “Our brand is kind of subversive. It’s a little deviant,” he says, gesturing around the dungeon-like room (the space, which used to house an escape room, is now usually used as a private sex club).  “And you can’t get any more deviant than this.”


Habana’s jewelry does have a transgressive edge: He takes inspiration from objects like barbed wire, razor blades, and ball chains, toughening up more traditional elements like freshwater pearls. A recent collaboration with the cam site Cam4, designed for the exhibit, includes a pair of handcuff-style bracelets and a “jack” ring shaped like a suggestively-placed hand.


At first, Habana says, the idea behind the “send nudes” theme was fairly straightforward, but as the team was in the process of putting the exhibition together, a series of events gave it political urgency: In December, Tumblr announced that it would ban all adult content, sparking backlash from users who said the site provided a haven for marginalized communities outside the bounds of normative sexuality, as well as from sex workers who used it as both a business platform and an online support system. Earlier in the year, Craigslist shut down its personals section in response to Congress’ anti-sex-trafficking bill SESTA-FOSTA, driving many sex workers back onto the streets and limiting their ability to screen clients, according to critics.


Instagram, of course, has long censored sexual content (including, famously, female nipples), but in December, parent company Facebook updated its content-moderation policies to ban “sexual slang,” discussion of “sexual roles, positions or fetish scenarios,” and erotic art.


Celebrating sexual freedom, then, “ended up becoming more of an important thing for us,” says Habana. “We were like, let’s start trying to battle some of the censorship that’s happening. Let’s do something that’s really out there for us, but also kind of within our brand anyway.” The open call for nudes also put agency back in the hands of models, which felt important at a time when #MeToo stories are still emerging throughout the fashion industry.

This Jewelry Designer's 'Send Nudes' Pop-Up Is a Middle Finger to Censorship

He enlisted the help of fellow designers like Creepyyeha, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Andrew Clark, showcasing his jewelry alongside Vasta Eros’ erotic photography books, latex pieces by Vex Clothing, and a flogger designed in collaboration with professional dominatrix Aleta Cai.


Working with sponsors like Cam4, hookup dating app HUD, and sex toy boutique Babeland was “really symbiotic, seamless, and easy,” Habana says. At the opening party, guests could film their own cam teaser in a BDSM dungeon room equipped with a St. Andrew’s Cross. In another room, they could record anonymous stories in a latex-curtained confession booth or write in neon paint on a Speedo-clad model.


Courtesy of Serichai Traipoom

On the wall, a mirror was inscribed with a quote from Dossie Easton, author of The Ethical Slut. It reads: “A slut is a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.”


“Send Nudes” is open through February 12 at 137 Bank Street in New York City.

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