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Designer Gianni Versace envisions woman as both dominatrix and mistress of her domain. Women lust for the Jordache hunk. Model Jenny Brunt professes her sexiness for Ultima II's new Head Over Heels fragrance. FASHION GIVES SEX ANOTHER TRY

By Published on .

Be young. Have fun. Be sexy.

Politically incorrect? Unabashedly. But, after several years of drab dress and neutered ads, consumers are craving a little levity and the denizens of both Seventh and Madison avenues think this shift has legs.

The bare asceticism of last year's fashion, replete with monastic garb and crosses, is giving way to glamor: Vibrant colors, coquettish skirts, corsets and bustiers that are bold enough to make Victoria's Secret blush. Retailers are lapping it all up after a starvation diet of grunge.

Advertising, too, is loosening up. After a period when even fragrance marketers sublimated a sexy sell for one of self-affirmation, sex is creeping back into the lexicon. Diet Coke hunk Lucky Vanous is being cloned everywhere; Ultima II model Jenny Brunt lip-synchs to the music of "I'm Too Sexy" in ads for the new Head Over Heels fragrance; Brut Actif models are miming sex in a pool; and designer Gianni Versace once again pushes it to the max depicting woman as both dominatrix and mistress of her domain.

"We are dealing with a post-feminist moment in fashion, fragrance and a lot of areas," said Richard Martin, curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute.

Observes psychologist and advertising consultant Carol Moog: "We've gone through this terribly serious period of time talking about sexuality, protesting it to the point where you have to deal with the existence of all levels of sexuality and all the pain that comes with it. To deal with trauma you need to go through stages of healing. One helpful stage is playfulness."

No coincidence then, perhaps, that Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" is a hit.

A precursor of the trend, Sara Lee Intimates' cleavage-enhancing Wonderbra, had U.S. sales of $120 million in its first year. Coming in '95: an even brassier bra that can be worn outside clothing.

Fashion's sexier turn coincides with the progress of women in the workplace in the last decade and the hard-won social and economic confidence that goes with it.

"Women are more relaxed," said Arie Kopelman, president of Chanel Inc. "They are dressing the way they want ... They're not uptight about how sexy they look, whereas four years ago they were."

Could it be that, as author Camille Paglia dreams in her book, "Vamps & Tramps," a time has come for "all pro-sex, pro-art, pro-beauty feminists to come out of the closet" to birth a New Sexism?

Don't bet your bustier on it.

A recent University of Chicago study on sexuality presents a culture more monogamous and less experimental than previously thought.

"The majority of Americans approve of sex outside marriage but in a relational context with love," said Edward Laumann, the University of Chicago sociologist who headed the research team. "That's why sex sells. It's appealing to everybody. But it's a turnoff if an ad emphasizes the casualness of sex and the promiscuity implied in it."

Those conservative values can be detected in Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' sultry work earlier this year for Norwegian Cruise Lines. "It's explicit sex but presumes a more mature relationship," said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and creative director of the San Francisco agency. "It's not the in-your-face use of sex of the '80s. It's not Calvin Klein's Obsession." Ads state, "There is no law that says you can't make love at 4 in the afternoon on a Tuesday."

But while the culture reflects its Puritan roots, not everyone concludes advertising should as well. "Yes, it's a conservative culture still. And there's an enhanced distance about much sexuality because of AIDS," said Ms. Moog. "But given this, there will be an increased creation of exciting sexual imagery as sexuality moves into fantasy."

Voyeurism apparently is a part of that. Even in the University of Chicago study, watching one's partner undress was the top sexual activity after actual sex.

That may explain why people keep stealing Hot Sox bus shelter posters, by New York-based Badger Way Advertising, of model Jane Powers pulling up (or is it down?) her provocative thigh highs. "We can't keep them up," said Hot Sox President and Designer Gary Wolkowitz.

"I think we are dealing with strong '90s imagery, a woman confident enough to say, `Look at me, I'm beautiful. I'm not afraid to show my body, my face, my mind,'*" he said. "There's no danger in looking sexy. A woman will not become pregnant or HIV positive by putting on a short skirt. It's kind of the safe sex of the '90s."

Ammirati & Puris/Lintas did two versions of a spot for Chesebrough-Pond's' new Brut Actif fragrance. The steamier one was picked to break tonight on ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football."

"Sex, premarital sex and AIDS are an issue for this guy," said Rodd Martin, exec VP-group creative director. "But in the end of the commercial the guy and woman fall into the pool with their clothes on and have sex. That's a fantasy most people have these days. There are clubs now where people go, and, fully clothed, mime sex as a dance."

The trick is to keep the mood playful.

Apparel marketer Jordache reprises Diet Coke's office voyeurs ogling Lucky Vanous in the first spot of a TV commercial series that shows four women having a grand time peering through their camcorder at actor/model Jeff Bowles.

"The wave of the future is if you have to use sex in advertising, it will be the men who are the sex objects," predicts Jordache Director of Advertising Kaaryn Denig, who created the spot. ".*.*. Women are comfortable with and allowed to show appreciation for a man's body without being stereotyped in a negative sense. But there's a sense of humor."

Notes Berlin Cameron Doyle Chairman Andy Berlin: "People are playing with typologies and juxtaposing different roles."

The agency's new commercials for Volkswagen's Passat show a young man picking up his company's older, female president at the airport. The two end up on a cross-country road trip.

"The fantasies have changed. It's not like the Guess ads of the 1980s with the young woman and old man," said Mr. Berlin.

Indeed not.

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