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Meet the fashion brand re-inventing masculinity

Meet the fashion brand re-inventing masculinity

Denim cut-out built-in jock/shorts by Exterface

A fashion project is gathering acclaim and fans with its innovative approach to men’s underwear and clothing. EXSL is a collaboration between South African designer Stiaan Louw and French photographic duo Exterface.

They began working together in 2012. Their aim? To create beautiful clothing that explores gender norms, and to present them to the world in an artistic, unapologetic fashion.

A design by Exterface
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

Items in the range include chiffon T-shirts, briefs, tie-side thongs and leg harnesses (above).

Louw, 40, is based in Cape Town. He has been designing clothing since 1997. He tells GSN he started working with Exterface in 2012 after talking with them online.

‘I sent samples for shoots and the interest that developed around the items on the photographs led to us creating EXSL. It was clear that the photography and clothes together had a strong appeal that resonated with people.’

Pink briefs from EXSL
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

Masculine or feminine?

Does he find that his designs polarize opinion? Does he view his work in terms of masculine or feminine?

‘It is incredible how open our customers have been to the play on masculine and feminine we present in our work,’ he replies. ‘We take a lot of inspiration from women’s underwear themes and designs and our customers who buy it are very diverse.

‘Our intention is not necessarily to challenge people but to present them with more options to experiment.’

Thong and top by Exterface
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

Exterface are 33-year-old Frenchmen Stephane and Julien. They both grew up in the Paris suburbs and met 16 years ago while studying history of art and visual arts communication. The men are partners in both business and life.

Embroidery top by EX-SL
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

They and Louw are all now working full-time on their EXSL collaboration. What is it that attracted them to working with Stiaan?

‘We admire his levels of excellence, knowledge and experience,’ they tell GSN by email.

‘He worked for the film, advertising and fashion industries, so he’s heavily skilled and trained. Everything becomes possible in the best way… Back then, he was interested in exploring a more daring and bold approach to his work and contacted us about being open to collaborations.

Orange briefs by Exterface / EX-SL
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

‘Coming from different backgrounds, countries and stories, we discovered that we were sharing the same vision and passion. It’s been an incredible journey so far and we are growing together and getting more stronger and focused.

‘It’s very satisfying to rewrite pages of history together and cater for the actual, real and deepest needs of our community in terms of lifestyle, quality and excitement.’

Thong by EX-SL
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

Exterface vision

Part of the reason EXSL’s social media has picked up so many fans is because it features some stunning models. How do they choose the men to work with?

‘It’s quite the spectrum!’ say the photographers. ‘It goes from magical opportunities to personal friendships. Working our way through such personal work, it needs to be intimate and inspiring.

Green ripped briefs by EX-SL
(Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

‘When we began Exterface, it was more us trying our luck, a friend of a friend or submissions via emails. Now, everything happens with social media because of the immediate proximity. Best bet being our instagram account (@exterface). We can spontaneously reach out, launch casting calls or get daily requests. Don’t hesitate if you wanna be a part of our world!’

They say they regard their work as sexy, questioning, but ultimately liberating.

Francois Sagat wearing EX-SL
Francois Sagat wearing EXSL (Photo: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

‘Due to its evocative nature, it instantly stimulates sexual drive and primal instincts because it presents confident males in sophisticated fantasies. But because our work has always been intricate and tasteful, it goes way beyond the obvious hotness or sex appeal of the boys.

‘And now with EXSL, the fantasy translates into real life, showing that yes you can be sexy in pastels, with a thong on and you can actually celebrate yourself the way you really want it without going through this tired cliché of being masculine for the sake of it.’

More details at and via Instagram (@exterface / @stiaanlouw)

All images © (Photography: Exterface / Design: Stiaan Louw / EXSL)

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