Latex, Fashion, and HARRI London: A Series

Apr 20, 2024Joshua Davies
Latex, Fashion, and HARRI London: A Series

VOLUME 1: Fetish Foundations and Utilitarian Supply

Latex and HARRI London: two parallel concepts, inextricably intertwined.

It is our medium of choice and our most venerated material. Once relegated to the fringes of society, latex now serves as a catalyst for unprecedented design, with our latex garments garnering widespread attention and acclaim at London Fashion Week and beyond.

Yet, this impressive material has not always been revered, nor socially accepted. It has often been associated with fetishism and hedonistic pleasure; the perfect tool for erotic equipment and fetish clothing to aid those who enjoy the more rebellious side of sex. While it remains a staple in such realms, latex has also helped to revolutionise mechanical and medical fields, and boasts ancient origins dating as far as Mesoamerica. To put it simply, its history is robust, diverse, and at times, outrageous. 

As we chronicle the legacy of HARRI London, we wish to shed light on the movements that have shaped our present and bring awareness to the illicit world of kink, erotica and latex fetish clothing. This exploratory journey will be divided into two parts, as we provide context on this remarkable material and the erotic disrupters who were pivotal in bringing latex to the grandeur of the runway.

The Birth of Erotic Literature and Fetishism

Fetishism, or a “fetish" simply defined as a form of sexual desire or gratification centred on an object, item, clothing or part of the body finds its earliest examples in the late 19th century. Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, the inventor  of “masochism”, discussed themes of fetishism in his seminal piece “Venus in Furs”; an iconic piece of literature triumphed for introducing female domination into the public sphere. Additionally, Nicolas Edme Rétif de la Bretonne (who originated the term ‘fetish) presented modern ideas about sexuality and pornography in his volumes about his love of women and shoe fetishism, during a time where ankles were not allowed to be displayed in public - and the foot emerged as an object of desire.

The 20s and 30s saw a noticeable surge in sexual hedonism as individuals became increasingly weary of societal constraints, and more liberating attitudes regarding promiscuity started to unfold. Notably, this era witnessed the emergence of a vibrant bondage scene. Experimental French lingerie brands Yva Richard and Diana Slip became cultural icons, catering to the fetish communities with a wide range of women’s provocative designs, from risqué lingerie to iron bras, whips and chains. Although men’s fetish clothing did not experience its true inauguration until the arrival of the gay leather communities of 1950’s America, men also partook in this scandalous dress code using chastity belts, handcuffs and ball gags to burgeon their sexual pleasure.

Credits: Yva Richard 1930's

The Mackintosh Coast and Wartime Debauchery

One of the earliest fetish communities in the world, The Mackintosh Group, exemplified the intersection of utilitarian objects with unconventional desires. Developed through a love of “macking” - fetish slang for wearing rubber (especially the Mackintosh Raincoat, an iconic symbol of women’s and men’s fetish clothing) this organisation was a prime example of the emerging partnership between latex equipment and sexual allure. Largely due to the World Wars and increased need for utilitarian supply, latex objects, equipment and clothing became staple products in the BDSM scene, igniting the associations of latex fetish clothing that we see today. 

Publications such as London Life and Bizarre played crucial roles in documenting and popularising this subculture. Bizarre, founded by John Willie, is an iconic periodical that captured the burgeoning adoration of latex fetish clothing and accessories. Charles Guyette, known for working with pin-up model Bettie Page too is revered in this space, whose photographs of fetish wear and kink culture are considered to be revolutionary in documenting the latex fetish emergence. Unfortunately, its celebration in public wouldn’t last long, with the return of traditional values after World War 2 forcing kink communities and fetish culture to retreat underground. 

Atom Age, Leather Communities, and Closing Notes:

Latex and rubber clothing quickly became a societal taboo, but experienced a resurgence in the late 1950s. Men's fetish clothing, notably leather harnesses and biker gear, became prominent in the emerging gay leather communities also integrated latex into their fetish wear. However, it was John Sutcliffe, founder of Atom Age, who catapulted latex back into the spotlight. His iconic catsuit, featured in the 1960s hit “The Avengers” showcased by the stunning Diana Rigg, demonstrated that latex could be both glorious and groundbreaking, whilst illustrating its seductive potential in men’s and women’s fetish clothing. 

A gay couple at an S&M pride march in London, 1995.Credits: Steve Eason/Getty Images

In summary, latex’s journey has been nothing short of audacious. From its origins as a practical material in medicine and mechanics to its crucial role in the realm of sexual hedonism and the vibrant BDSM movement, latex has consistently pushed boundaries and defied expectations. Nevertheless, this is simply a chapter in latex’s exhilarating saga, and by no means a departure from its provocative realms. 

Join us next week from our live blog for Volume 2, where we will delve deeper into its journey, exploring its emergence in the punk scene and transformation into catwalk extraordinaire. 

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Stay rebellious, and together, let’s disrupt the status quo.

Cover Picture Credits: Steven Klein studio for MDNA skin