The Delightful Touch

'Hug Chair', Yoshi Saito, 2002

Touch is immediate and intimate. Unlike vision, touching another person is a two-way process. You feel yourself touching, and that person feels your touch in turn. Touch offers many pleasures, from the relaxation of massage to the feeling of silk on your skin, or from the comfort of a warm hug to sexual stimulation.

Fashion designers often play with these pleasurable sensations, enjoying the smoothness of silk and satin on the skin, or tight lacing in corsetry or footwear. The delicate touch can often be the most pleasurable - a touch using the fingertips, or a touch that holds back. Delicacy can be embodied in objects and the way we use them - from the fineness of lace to the fragility of a bone china teacup or the teasing qualities of a feather tickler. These objects can evoke feelings of luxury, elegance or refinement.

Physical contact can strengthen our relationships. We reinforce close bonds with hugs and hand holding. We greet friends and family with a kiss. At the same time touch is culturally and socially proscribed. Physical contact exists within clearly defined boundaries - from meeting a stranger to using cutlery rather than your fingers. Deep-seated instincts formed historically for protection against contagion mean that touch is surrounded by taboos. Touch can feel good, but only if it is the right touch.

At the same time, we often believe that everyday physical contact can help us live longer and healthier lives. 'Nesting' premature babies on sheepskin blankets reduces stress in the infant; stroking pets is believed to reduce tension and depression. Jenny Tillotson and Noriko Yasuda both explore these ideas about healing and comfort in their work. Yoshi Saito's Hug Chair encloses us in a soft 'womb', while Naomi Filmer's Suck N Smile mouthpieces cover the mouth. Do these pleasures evoke the comfort and security we experienced as infants?