Over the decades, latex has made its way into the mainstream and now in 2023 it’s clear that it’s finally being appreciated as a high fashion material that is here to stay. There are pros and cons to this. Most rubberists in the fetish community are happy to see latex become more accepted and celebrated but equally dismayed about the appropriation of the material by those who are not kinky (in other words, those who are all style, no substance).
Nevertheless, we must appreciate these moments where latex has been in the limelight. After-all, for many, these cultural moments were what initially ignited many life-long latex fetishes. Let’s start from the top.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s BDSM and fetish photography 1978
While not exclusively focused on fashion, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography explored BDSM and fetish themes, often featuring latex garments. His work, including portraits of iconic figures within the BDSM community, contributed to a broader understanding and acceptance of fetish aesthetics.
Helmut Newton’s latex shoots (1992)
Helmut Newton, a renowned fashion photographer, produced a series of influential photographs featuring latex-clad models. His work often explored themes of power dynamics and sensuality, incorporating latex garments to create visually striking and provocative images.
Bob Carlos Clarke’s ‘Living Dolls’ series
Irish photographer Bob Carlos Clarke was known for his erotic shoots with famous models. He even shot the iconic burlesque performer Dita Von Teese. One of his other most iconic photographs is this one of Rachel Weisz in a black latex catsuit.
Batman Returns (1992)
Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of Catwoman in ‘Batman Returns’ showcased the character in a form-fitting latex catsuit. This representation significantly influenced the use of latex in popular culture and solidified its association with bold and empowering fashion choices.
The Matrix (1999)
The sleek, form-fitting black latex-like costumes worn by characters, especially Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), became iconic. The Matrix significantly influenced the perception of latex, associating it with a futuristic and edgy aesthetic.
Music + pop culture
Madonna – Human Nature (1995)
Madonna’s music video for Human Nature featured the singer in a dominatrix-inspired latex outfit. The bold visuals, coupled with the lyrics addressing societal expectations, made a powerful statement and helped popularise latex as a symbol of rebellion and empowerment. Other pop stars like Britney Spears and Posh Spice from the Spice Girls sported latex during this era also.
Lady Gaga – Various Music Videos (2008–present)
Lady Gaga is known for her extravagant fashion choices, and latex has been a recurring element in many of her music videos, including “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face.” Gaga’s embrace of latex has contributed to its visibility in mainstream pop culture, especially when she pulled a serious bad bitch move by meeting Queen Lizzy in a Atsuko Kudo red latex fit.
The Kardashians and all those affiliated with them (Kanye West and lately Timothee Chalomet) could be seen as partly responsible for the latex resurgence with all brands from high fashion to fast fashion going mad for it. Kim Kardashian’s love affair with latex can be tracked from as early as 2014 up to today.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s RTW Spring/Summer Show (1995)
Jean Paul Gaultier’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 1995 show is renowned for its groundbreaking and provocative elements, including the prominent use of latex. The collection, often referred to as the ‘Cyberbaba’ collection, featured futuristic and avant-garde designs that pushed the boundaries of traditional fashion.
In this particular show, Gaultier embraced latex as a key material, incorporating it into various garments like dresses, skirts, and bodysuits. The use of latex in a mainstream, ready-to-wear fashion show was groundbreaking at the time, as latex had predominantly been associated with fetish wear or niche subcultures. Gaultier’s choice to showcase latex in a high-profile fashion event helped destigmatise the material and presented it as a viable and fashionable option for a broader audience.
Christian Dior RTW Autumn/Winter Show (2003)
John Galliano’s legendary runway show for Dior titles ‘Shanghai Dream’ drew inspiration from 1930s Shanghai using materials like silk, brocade, and velvet, reflecting the elegant and sophisticated aesthetic characteristic of Dior. What took the show to another level was the incorporation of rubber latex, which gave the collection a ‘hard against soft’ vibe and challenged the norms of what Dior is known to be. Whilst JPG, Vivenne Westwood and Alexander McQueen were well known for using these sorts of hardcore materials, this show helped introduce the idea of latex into more traditionally elegant brands.
Atsuko Kudo (2000s-present)
Atsuko Kudo opened her latex clothing shop in London in the early 2000s and her brand helped to truly solidify latex into high-end and red carpet fashion. She uses latex as an elegant material for pieces like floor length ball gowns. Her brand was the first to have an entirely latex runway show in 2012. 9/10 times that you see a celebrity wearing latex nowadays, it’s usually an Atsuko Kudo piece. Her fans include Beyonce, Alexa Chung, Olivia Coleman, Kate Moss and many, many more.
From Givenchy to Saint Laurent (2019-present)
There’s no more hiding in the shadows for latex. In the past 5 years, rubber latex has featured in designer collections more than ever before. The material has completely blown up. And even the idea of kink and fetish has become fashionable. Christopher Kane’s Autumn/Winter 2019 show focused on specific fetishes featuring clothing which read in bold print ‘rubberist’ or ‘looner’. Whilst kink becoming more acceptable is always welcomed, let’s hope to bring the actual kink community into the light so we can see a little more substance behind the style!
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Read: Sensuali talks with Manchester’s coolest latex rubberdoll.