Whilst excluding those that fetishize over body parts, this definition clearly shows the connection between the arousal of lust and specific items. Thus, historically, the uber trendy fashion of fetish was not a look for the faint of heart. Contemporary society sees fetish wear littering the high streets, underpinned by the pioneer of the bondage runway and the renaissance of a sexual revolution. Inspired by anti-establishment perspectives, freedom of expression and the facilitating of progressive conversations by digital platforms, high fashion fetish aesthetics, highlighted by the go to fetish brands such as Decadent and Debauched, owners of theglassdildo.co.uk, William Wilde and Lady Lucie Latex, both out of this world designers, have become more socially acceptable.
“Latex and fishnets just really do something for a woman, you know?”
It may be fashion now, but fetish wear is hardly contemporary. Nearly 200 years ago Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh came up with the concept of rubberized fabric which he manufactured into waterproof Mackintosh coats (the K was acquired somewhere along the way). Patented in 1823, the coat was designed to be waterproof by sandwiching cloth between two layers of liquid latex. The fabric was then glued together, rather than sewn, to ensure it was completely watertight (very similar to how latex clothing is created today). Seen by many as the origin of wearable latex clothing, the rubber coats were sticky, stinking and liable to melt in the heat, barely ideal if things got, well, too hot…. However, improvements soon led it to be adopted as the British Army coat for WWI and WWII as well as being used as the overcoat for British Rail and the Met police. In parallel to its mainstream success the Mackintosh coat was also being welcomed into the fetish sphere, introduced mainly by one of the oldest fetish organisations – England’s Mackintosh Society. Started in 1969 by 6 men who enjoyed ladies in rubber rainwear. Before long latex was brought into the realm of kinky fuckery, once reserved for fur, silks and corsets. In a letter published by historian Valerie Steele in her book, Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power, one Mackintosh enthusiast from the 1920s was keen on the ‘lovely rustling of rubber’. His wife said:
“I could see he enjoyed every movement I made, so you can guess that I was very happy too, as long as I gave him so simple a pleasure”
The huge increase in the appeal of latex seems to have intensified following the outbreak of WWII alongside the introduction of rubber protective gear, with gas masks and rubber gloves being the highlight of photographs sent to London Life, a magazine that published fetish content between the years of 1920 and 1940, along with letters which famously chronicled the fetishes of our ancestors.
“A fetish is a story masquerading as an object”
Wrote Robert Stoller in Observing The Erotic Imagination. Yet it wasn’t so long ago ‘those stories’ were considered subversive. In 1932, the Irish government banned London Life, whilst three decades later the English government prosecuted several leather fetish wear and rubber manufacturers for their work. In the 1960s the Avengers, cat suited Emma Peel, paved the way for designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren, who introduce latex and fetishism into the full glare of fashion. Captured on film by John Samson in his 1977 documentary “Dressing For Pleasure” who also caught up with the latter day Mackintosh Society at the same time.
By 1985, Dianne Brill, Warhol muse, fashion designer and New York’s, “Queen of The Night” was regularly showcasing rubber outfits. Whilst a decade later, Candace Bushell, you may remember her as the creator of Sex And The City, wore a series of fashionable latex outfits for Vogue, in the name of research, and describe herself as feeling ‘flirtatious and brimming with confidence’. Whilst actress Anne Hathaway told Allure Magazine in 2012 that she felt ‘forever changed’ by her latex catsuit wearing stint as catwoman. That same year Oscar de la Renta sent the fashion world into a fetish frenzy when he showcased a red latex top and pencil skirt at his New York Fashion Week collection.
We haven’t seen the last of fetish fashion, whose power is stronger than mere sex appeal. In fact, we have seen its rise. For some, the thrill is in wearing the item itself, for others, it is the simple act of interacting with the person wearing it. With the increasing growth, interweaving with fetish iconography over the course of the last 40 years, fetish paraphernalia has now become commonplace and part of the fabric of fashion. Turning harnesses, bondage gear, latex, rubber and leather corsets into Avant Garde high fashion.
By charting the slow trickle of fetishism from out of the shadows and into the mainstream, it is possible to see the increasing acceptance of sexuality (even at its most deviant) by the media, as elucidated in Valerie Steeles work which explores fetish fashion as
“A symbolic system linked to the expression of sexuality, both sexual behaviour (including erotic attraction) and gender identity”.