The Mandalorian in The Mandalorian is hot.
BuzzFeed recently ran an article saying that “people are thirsting” for the newly introduced Star Wars franchise character, who is the central figure and namesake of Disney+’s first hit show (the series is five out of eight episodes in, and airs on Fridays). A site called Pedestrian.tv ran the headline: “Is It Okay To Want To Fuck The Mandalorian Even Though He Wears A Mask 24/7.”
And this is the provocative hook: we know that the Mandalorian is played by Pedro Pascal, who many likely do consider to be an attractive human being, but we never actually see him in the flesh. The subject is wearing a masked helmet and armor at all times (save for one scene, thus far, where the viewer watches him rest said helmet on a ledge—no face shown).
Obvious Baby Yoda mania aside, this popular, surface-level sexual fascination with a faceless, well-intentioned bounty-hunter raises the question: what is it about that helmet that makes the Mandalorian desirable? Is it the mystery of what lies beneath or the kinkiness of anonymity or the genuine core values and good-heartedness of the wearer or the simple fact that, in the Mandalorian’s case, he has rescued the essential young Yoda?
Helmets—with masks or otherwise—have been fetishized, we’d wager, since they were invented. Greek and Roman statues show Hermes and Mercury wearing their winged helmets, but without wearing shirts. The fireman stripper might take everything off but leave his boots and helmet on. There are movie scenes in which a helmet’s removal is measured in slow-mo, so that the subject can reveal their beautifully, inexplicably coiffed hair or their perfect white teeth (Charlie’s Angels comes to mind.)
Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, along with Joel Thomas Zimmerman (aka Deadmau5) have built their images around sleek masked decorative helmets. The aura, and commercial gravitas, of each act would not be the same without the gear. The Star Wars universe’s main helmet-centric contribution to the Zeitgeist is, still and likely always, its Stormtrooper. Marvel has countless heroes and villains, lots in some sort of hard hat or cranial protective gear. All help, immensely, to sell the vision.
Yet the best place to eyeball the intersection of helmet-wearing and corresponding feelings of desire (be those feelings physical or commercial) is on the catwalk. The armor has been implemented—prominently as of late—in a number of fashion shows, which is as much the realm of fantasy-embodiment as anyplace.
This is most likely the the ultimate helmet-in-fashion moment, and it significantly helped to solidify the full picture of Riccardo Tisci’s Spring 2011 Couture collection for Givenchy, the house he exited in 2017 (he is now the lead at Burberry). Designed by the milliner Philip Treacy, the headpiece was an effectively disruptive counterpart to the ultra-fine thread work on Tisci’s dresses. It added a curiosity factor, and a glimpse into a world powered by augmented reality, like it was lifted from a video game and placed in the studio. The above (and others from the lineup) is one of the very few look book images out there that continues to command, and hold, the eye. This is because of the helmet.
From left, the helmet can reflect a range of manifestations as to how desire may be sparked: through fetish (Givenchy Spring 2011 menswear), through inversions of gender stereotypes (like Thom Browne‘s Spring 2020 menswear collection, where the designer gave his interpretation of a football helmet—a symbol of All-American masculinity, if ever one existed—to a guy dressed in a skirt), and through shadowy, eye-obscuring tension (Armani Privé Spring 2011 couture; this was a big season for helmets, and also for Philip Treacy, who designed these toppers in addition to what he did at Givenchy).
For Fall 2016, Rick Owens whipped up spindly helmets of human hair. In an overt way, the look hinted at a gross-out thought; hair tangled up in the shower drain. But it also could have suggested the idea of delicate protection, and even possibly a post-coital encounter type of messiness, frozen like a thought-bubble around the models’ faces. That’s the beauty of Owens; in one look, he brings you from the nasty depths (the shower drain) to the romantic (thinking about the sex you just had). Alexander McQueen had this skill as well, albeit in a more dramatized fashion; he too used helmets, most memorably with the football looks seen in Spring 2005. Painted and spiked, these options didn’t remove the toughness associated with the sport for which they’re used, but added a kinkier, more layered subtext, enmeshing an athletic symbol with entities far beyond the field. Sarah Burton, who replaced McQueen after his death, has a gentler approach, but she worked in a helmet or two at the house’s Spring 2014 collection. There’s always an element of safeguarding, but the compulsion to know more is, definitely, apparent.
Same here, with Virgil Abloh’s Off-White Fall 2019 menswear collection (Abloh’s shows feature both men and women, regardless of the season). Floral dresses worn beneath Chargers and Longhorns football helmets? Why? The designer has a magpie mentality when it comes to motifs, so this may well be a styling trick, but it still catalyzes some level of inquiry. And, also, why the blackout visors?
Adam Kimmel’s final collection, Fall 2012, featured looks that were sportswear-centric yet topped by Air Force helmets with oxygen tubes (possibly if not probably fetishistic). The label A.F. Vandevorst styled its sportswear with motorcycle helmets, circa Spring 2016.
And, always ahead of his time, the late Karl Lagerfeld rendered helmets in fur for Fall 2009. Fur feels good to the touch. It is associated with glamour and money and sexiness. And it is unexpected. So yes, there is some gimmick-play at hand, but, in realizing their collections, a significant quotient of designers have used helmets to help fuel their respective creative fantasies. The Mandalorian, wittingly or not, has tapped into this psychology. And, it turns out, Pascal isn’t always behind the mask; the attraction is to the object itself. The object is hot.