I was browsing on Amazon the other day and made a discovery. There’s a company in China ripping off classic fetish designs and making latex clothes at hugely discounted prices. Exact copies of famous designs for half the price! Not only that, but they’re also selling some really freaky deaky pervy shit. Type ‘bondage latex catsuit’ into Amazon’s search and see what I mean for yourself.
I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I think it’s awesome that latex has become so popular that a mass production factory thinks it’s worth ripping off. On the other hand, I see this as the end of an era. It’s gone mainstream.
Latex is a peculiar fabric. Sweaty and hot, you either love it or you hate it. There are some people who take the love of latex to extremes. It is so compelling they have double lives, indulging in their latex driven fantasies in secret. Most of these fetishists are men. Women like it too, but men tend to be the ones that really get off on it. They love the way it smells and the way it feels- given half a chance they will rub their face in it, huffing its powdery scent like a drug. I am not that into latex. I like the way it looks- shiny and modern- and in the 90s there was something about this taboo fabric which felt dangerous and decadent.
I first got into the latex fashion business when I was 16. I worked for a classy little boutique in Hammersmith near my school called She N Me, where I could dress in latex catsuits and 6 inch spike heels all day long. A dream come true. Most of the time the shop was quiet, but about three times a day the bell would ring and I would put down my Skin Two Magazine to help elderly gentlemen squeeze into latex dresses. I would make them tea and we would try on shoes together, and talk about sex toys. One time I found a man old enough to be my grandfather attempting to violate a mannequin. I caught him with a hand up her latex skirt, frantically rubbing at her Barbie bump. I thought it was hilarious- titillated by this desperate display of perversion.
In 1995 I was blown away by a latex fashion show I saw at the Skin Two Rubber Ball- the annual party thrown by my favorite Magazine- it showcased the ultimate fetish fashion. House of Harlot was the outstanding designer I saw that night who broke all the rules. They made colorful, unique and beautifully fitted clothes- totally different from the repetitive, boring, black, badly fitting sausage dresses which seemed so popular. The show had humor- an element sadly missing from most of the fetish scene in the 90s. It inspired me.
I started to design latex clothes myself when I finished college. I left East London University in 1996 with a BA (hons) in Fine Art and all the desire to actually make art sucked out of me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had been dabbling in styling and modelling, appearing on flyers for clubs and helping backstage at fashion shows. At a shoot the photographer has asked me: “What’s your next move, Polly? You seem creative.”
“I want to be a fetish fashion designer,” I said, full of confidence.
He was the right person to mention this dream to, because his girlfriend happened to have a latex fashion label, and was looking for an assistant. She couldn’t afford to pay me, but I followed her around watching what she did, and in the evenings I would stay and practice in her studio. It would be a real job once I could make clothes good enough to put on a hanger in the store. I was unemployed at the time, so working for free and learning a skill was better than sitting on my ass all day doing nothing. Fashion made sense to me in a way that painting didn’t anymore. Latex was so modern and exciting. Long before the days of ‘The Matrix’, when Lady Ga Ga was just a little girl in third grade, we were creating fashion in a fabric that nobody had really seen before. It had the potential for accentuating skin tight curves in sweeping, graceful lines, looking elegant and tailored. Or by adding studs and zippers, it could be punk rock- like something from the famous Vivian Westwood store ‘Sex’. Most interesting to me were the bizarre inflatables, accentuating shoulders or breasts with cartoonish silhouettes. It felt rebellious and new- territory to be conquered.
And now it’s available on Amazon from a production line in China. I feel like having a funeral for an era which is passed. It’s the end of the age of edgy fetish latex.