Latex Fashion vs. Haute Couture

We have writer Tessa Ditner penning the first of our blogs this week. Thanks Tessa…

Jean Paul Gaultier, close up of mermaidHaving recently worn latex to a garden party, and got some funny looks, I’ve been hunting for the edge between latex fashion and haute couture. I’d love to be able to wear latex to meetings and to cafes without feeling like I’m being provocative, because let’s face it, some people still think latex equates fetish, boudoir attire.

This problem was also addressed by the photographer Bob Carlos Clarke. He reportedly spent a whole evening with fellow photographer Helmut Newton discussing the exact boundary between pornography and art. What Bob did very confidently, was stretch the edges of eroticism without tipping over that edge into pornography. His photos have provocative titles such as ‘Total Control’ or ‘For Dolls that do Dishes’ and yet, his work sells at art prices.

But how do we apply this to our wardrobe?

As my first novel, Charlie and the Latex Factory, was all about latex fashion, I was lucky enough to spend 4 years chatting to latex designers, writing about alternative trends and going to rubber catwalks. What surprised me was that many latex designers didn’t consider themselves erotic designers at all (despite their catwalks being held on stages in fetish clubs). What they really loved was working on gorgeous pieces, such as Abigail Greydanus’ collaborations with Katy Perry, or Kim West’s latex wedding dress. Abigail’s almost cartoon-esque colourful latex is closer to the current Prada collection than to the kinds of couture you might find in a dungeon. As for Kim, she brings Yves Saint Laurent-like tailoring to latex, with a similar rock chick undercurrent.Jean Paul Gaultier Installation

In my hunt for ‘the edge’ I head to the new Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at London’s Barbican. JPG’s first catwalks famously had the staff of Vogue storming out because they didn’t deem his male models wearing skirts to be ‘proper haute couture’. Today, he is one of the greatest names in fashion, a master of both haute couture, prêt-a-porter and film costumes. I am hoping that Jean Paul’s show might help me find this edge.

What I discover is a designer who embraces both dominatrix-friendly latex and highly refined haute couture at the same time. His clothes are, without a doubt, works of art, with life-sized animals made of beads sewn into dresses, layer-upon-layer of silk, studs, leathers, embroidery, catsuits, latex and shells. His many collections have themes that sound unashamedly fetishistic such as: ‘Macho Elegance’, ‘House of Pleasures’, Ze Parisienne’, ‘Bad Girl’ and ‘Forbidden Gaultier’ and yet have been worn by the world’s most famous supermodels, pop stars and burlesque performers. His recurring motifs would make sense to both a St Tropez cafe goer and fetish aficionados (sailor’s uniforms, cut outs, mermaids…). As for his inspirations, again, they work just as well in both worlds: Tom of Finland, le corsage and Popeye.Jean Paul Gaultier Installation

I go back to the exhibition twice. I fall in love with a mermaid dress made of latex and shells and feel excited that so much of London has inspired the designer, from the colour of brickwork, to punk hairstyles. But it’s only as I stand beside the Naomi Campbell catsuit that has brown beaded ‘pubic hair’ that it hits me. The edge between fetish fashion and couture isn’t like Bob Carlos Clarke’s edge between art and pornography at all. Fetish fashion can be haute couture, if it is done with enough precision, quality, love and especially, with a sense of humour.

Tessa Ditner is the author of Charlie and the Latex Factory, available from Amazon worldwide [www.charlieandthelatexfactory.com]

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Photo credits:

(The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Barbican Art Gallery, Credit Matthew Lloyd-Getty .JPG):

 (Jean Paul Gaultier, close up of mermaid.jpg):

 Mukltiutude: (The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier – From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, Barbican Art Gallery, Credit Matthew Lloyd-Getty.JPG):