Latex, Fashion, and HARRI London: A Series (Volume 2)

Apr 30, 2024Joshua Davies
Latex, Fashion, and HARRI London: A Series (Volume 2)

VOLUME 2: Anarchic Revival and Runway Renaissance 

The remarkable fabric with a scandalous history serves as our muse and favourite medium.

The fabric we view as beautiful and captivating, others have deemed as a seedy reminder of an underground fetish culture; a tool used for smutty sexual gratification and depraved ‘dungeon’ behaviour. At HARRI London, we do not subscribe to societal expectations or repressive opinions - neither do we believe the vibrant fetish subculture deserves demonisation. In fact, we celebrate the exciting history of the latex material.

In our previous chapter, LATEX, FASHION, AND HARRI LONDON: A SERIES, we explored how latex, originally present in the ancient origins of precolonial history, became a catalyst in the underground BDSM movement, becoming a staple icon in fetish wear, objects, and imagery. However, as foreshadowed by the exciting showcases of HARRI London, including our most recent Spring / Summer 2024 collection, latex is more than its S&M connotations. It is an illustrious tool used in some of the most revered and memorable music videos and red carpet looks of the 21st century. 

In the final instalment of this series, we invite you into Volume 2 of this riveting history, which explores a rebirth of latex in the 70s punk music scene, and evolution into runway excellence.

1970s: Vivienne Westwood and a shop called SEX

Throughout the 1970s, due to the emergence of fetish-positive publications like Bizarre and AtomAge, latex experienced a growing emergence in popular culture. The 1960s show “The Avengers,” starring the incomparable Diane Rigg, witnessed a newfound respect for skin tight, shiny fabric on women. This led John Sutcliffe, the innovator of the women’s catsuit, to create a latex version, which would quickly become the pinnacle outfit featured on the front cover of AtomAge. 

Despite this exposure, latex was still considered taboo and deemed inappropriate for public display.  Attitudes began to shift with the arrival of two prominent figures in the punk music movement who forever revolutionised music, fashion, and popular culture. Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, often referred to as the grandmother and father of punk, were intrigued by the provocative and controversial content of AtomAge. They sought to revolutionise mainstream fashion and revolt against societal norms, leading them to establish SEX, the iconic boutique on King’s Road. 

Credits: The Guardian, Pictured, from right: Vivienne Westwood, Jordan, Chrissie Hynde, writer Alan Jones, unknown, and Sex Pistol Steve Jones. Photograph: David Dagley/Rex

Opened in 1974, the SEX boutique (with SEX capitalised in rubber above the shop front) specialised in sadomasochistic looks and rebellious fashion. Coinciding with the burgeoning phenomenon of punk music, Westwood drew inspiration from fetish wear and crafted the iconic punk outfits we recognise today, notably worn by McLaren’s band The Sex Pistols. While both McLaren and Westwood proceeded to create a style that resonated with the evolving anti-establishment sentiment in society, her avant garde, latex and BDSM creations helped release fetish wear from the dungeons and propel the punk movement.

1980s: Latex and Provocative Performance

Before long, latex became a hallmark of shock from 1980s music, later embraced by fashion megastars such as Grace Jones and Madonna. Notable figures such as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Siouxsie Sioux, and Billy Idol incorporated latex wear into their music videos, with its provocative nature making it excellent stage wear for their daring performances and controversial music. In the music video for “Relax,” men in leather and latex fetish wear is present throughout, making it one of the most memorable and prominent music videos of our generation.

  Grace Jones 1980s

Entering the 1990s, Madonna, known for her reinvention of style, embarked on a journey of incorporating sex and underground fetish themes in her artistic expression. This eventually led to the creation of the 1992 book ‘Sex’ which unabashedly celebrates sexual liberation through its imagery of latex and bondage. This bold statement from the megastar marked a transition for latex, from the underground realm into the spotlight of stardom. What was once confined to the secrecy of sex dungeons was now unapologetically present for the whole world to see. 

1990s to HARRI London: Latex as a Piece of Fashion Iconography 

In the same year Madonna released ‘Sex’, Gianni Versace introduced “Miss S&M,” a collection that integrated bondage themes and latex into high fashion. Initially met with controversy and critique, this collection has since produced some of the most sought-after archival Versace looks. Notable figures ranging from Cindy Crawford to contemporary icons like Dua Lipa, have been spotted wearing these pieces to prestigious fashion events. 

After Gianni Versace, elite designers such as Helmut Lang, Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen incorporated latex into their collections. These breathtaking designs showcase that latex is more than its scandalous background. Representing a transition from taboo to trend, these collections revealed a newfound versatility to latex. It is rebellious when we wish to revolt, yet utterly elegant when crafted with skill. 

Credits: Vogue Runway, Mugler Spring 1997 Couture

Throughout the 2000s to the present day, latex has been increasingly used for haute couture and red carpet grandeur. Lady Gaga, for instance, famously donned a striking red latex dress when meeting Queen Elizabeth II. Similarly, global superstars like Doja Cat and Kim Karadashian have captivated all the attention with their daring latex showpieces. 

At HARRI London, we are proud to have our latex creations adorned by some of fashion’s most prolific innovators like Sam Smith, Tommy Cash, and Bjork in her iconic music video for her hit Fossora. Not only do we revere latex for its versatility but also its profoundly elegant appearance. Our Signature Latex Shirt, for example, epitomises this elegance and is a versatile statement in any wardrobe, demonstrating the endless possibilities this humble material can create.

Closing Notes

At HARRI London, we take pride in witnessing this wonderful material receive its rightful recognition. We firmly believe that latex is an extraordinary fabric, capable of elevating any outfit into something remarkable and captivating. 

We thank you once again for your unwavering support in our audacious mission of redefining fashion, and interest in the exhilarating saga of latex and fetish beginnings. 

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Be unafraid to take risks. Steal the spotlight. Together, let’s disrupt the status quo.

Cover Picture credits: Getty Images
Posted to: 2021 Grammys, Doja Cat, Grammys