Fetish Fashion


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Manuel Vason, Juergen Teller, David Standish
13 Thursday 13th October 2011

It's no secret that people finding ways to tie each other up as part of a sexual ritual has been embedded in a thriving subculture for ages. I'm talking thousands of years here, with some of the earliest documented examples of flagellation for pleasure coming from the tail-end of the sixth century, B.C. Back then though, people were generally shown just wearing their standard sort of clothes (or no clothes at all, depending on how intense the images). Now we find ourselves on the edge of style's head-first dive into the world of S&M style, in a supposedly classier sense than most people would be used to. So long to the tacky over-the-knee pleather boots and hello to this odd selection of corsets, harnesses, jewellery and footwear.

Main image: Juergen Teller for 032C Magazine

Cent Magazine shoot: ropes by Esinem, shot by Manuel Vason

Perhaps coming out of a heightened reaction to the structure, strictness and detailed stiffness of some of last year's autumn/winter shows, this new resurgence of fetishist style has got its roots set in art and not just sex. Well, that's what most of the designers would have us believe, at least.

Whereas sex shops are generally being left to their own slick latex devices, this brand of bondage fashion creations is looking to push Japanese Shibari closer into the mainstream's limelight. Designer Bruce Argue, also known as Esinem (yes, we also hope he won't come out with some kind of whispered-female-vocals-over-rap record) is right at the forefront of this style movement. He's been working with rope and restriction for decades now and the conceptualisation of his passion is now crossing over from art into fashion (as we can see from the Cent Magazine editorial above).

Harness-inspired bag, by Gabriella Maria Gonzalez (from the AW11 collection)

Still, that gimp suit thing isn't making the whole look very wearable, so more fashion houses have adapted the fetishism to appeal to a broader audience. A bold and relatively fearless audience when it comes to getting dressed, but a broader one nonetheless. New London designer Gabriella Maria Gonzalez does this well, with that touch of the occult and slightly dark in her interpretation of the idea. She incorporates rich knits with cool leather restraints and harnesses for an autumn/winter collection that's pretty damn evocative. There's a hint of the gothic, the forbidden and yet the wholly uninhibited in her line from last year, which constrasts rather beautifully with the entire notion of restraint implicit in bondage.

Some of Fleet Ilya's more, er, functional pieces. See here for more wearable examples

Going for more of a glacial and sexual angle we have Fleet Ilya. One half Ilya Fleet, a Russian-born saddle maker, and Resha Sharma, a Central Saint Martins Graphic Design graduate, the brand epitomises all things BDSM. Their collection of restraining ties, straps and buckles boasts a somewhat salacious sheen but has crept determinedly onto the radar of fashion trend forecasters and style editors.

From Love Magazine's recent feature to coverage from Vogue Italia, Tush Magazine and Harper's Bazaar, the Fleet Ilya team are starting to leave their mark on high fashion. It makes quite the departure from their prominence on sites like Coco de Mer, which is more of a specialty spot and likely to scare off the kind of people who consume more mainstream trends. Generally speaking, once you've been featured in a mag like Grazia you're pretty much a hop, skip and jump away from high street copycats co-opting your most marketable elements.

Kudo's latex stockings, bustier top and girdle skirt in Contributing Editor magazine

Lucky for latex queen Atsuko Kudo, we're not sure we see that happening quite yet for her work. Her repertoire of skin-tight and pure latex stockings, gloves, shorts and corsets look pretty great when stretched across the frame of a slightly contorted model, but may not translate as well in the average guy or gal's wardrobe. So far, stars like Rihanna (in her video for S&M, of course) and Lady Gaga (when meeting the Queen) are her typical clientele for everyday wear.

Atsuko Kudo in Fashion Salade
Kudo's fingerless gloves and high waisted shorts in Fashion Salade's inaugural issue

The reason being, Kudo is a master of exaggeration and extremes. She pulls together designs that put American Apparel's wet look leggings and 'disco pant' trousers to shame, going for a hypersexualised reading of tactile fabric and an oddly alluring shine. Just one look through the comments on her press section on Facebook proves that the sight of a woman in an all-black shine-fest plus whip equals "Exxxtremely Wiiiiiii...icccKKKedly Hottt & Sexxxy". Or so her admirers say.

Using her curiousity about the sex industry as a teenager, she channelled that interest into couture levels of construction and design. Funnily enough the very sex shops she started working in weren't that keen on her branching out and trying to design her own gimp suits so she had to go independent to look into it. Now, latex is the only fabric she designs with and so far it seems to be working.

Australian brand Stylestalker's fetish-inspired Viper Room Leggings

Whether you'll make the bold choice to go out and snap up some bondage goods after reading this piece, it seems the BDSM style explosion isn't looking to budge any time soon. And when H&M start mass-producing harnesses in a few months, don't say we didn't warn you.

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