When you think of the term ‘fetish wear,’ what comes to mind? Dungeons, whips, chains, BDSM, sex orgies, leather and metal that doesn’t leave the privacy of a boudoir…right? Wrong. This outdated concept that restricts fetish wear purely to the bedroom has since evolved into daily attire. Design houses like Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Maison Margiela have been inspired by fetish wear in the past; McQueen created studded leather harnesses, Gaultier designed tailored, detailed corsets, and Margiela made signature latex blazers.
Fetish wear as everyday wear continues to be a trend today, as brands have created pieces inspired by the leather harnesses, latex dresses, PVC bralettes and O-ring chokers that were first used during sexual roleplaying. We caught up with a few prominent ‘fetish wear’ designers that are currently influencing fashion circles and beyond in cities such as Berlin, New York and Melbourne.
Teale Coco grew up in Melbourne, Australia as your average Goth kid, sporting Tripp NYC skinny jeans and T.U.K. creepers, dying her hair with neon shades from Manic Panic. In 2012, she visited a haberdashery store and picked up some affordable plastic and started to sew it into what would become harnesses and bras. “I had no previous knowledge in fashion or sewing but I did like to draw and had a very distinct taste in clothing,” she said. “I started to sew the designs and soon there was a demand.”
Now 25, Coco creates custom fetish-inspired products like metal-accented chokers, mesh tops and bondage-like harnesses. She used to visit sex shops, and loved the materials used, but not the quality of the products. “The designs that I was finding in sex stores were of a high price and cheap quality,” she said.
Coco said she was inspired by the textures used in bondage products rather than their sexual connotations. “I did not purposely set out to make fetish wear—my designs are simply inspired by some aspects of fetishism that revolve around mimicking fabrics, feels and touch of fetish-based materials like latex.”
Photography: Sean Higgins @shotography
Model & styling: Teale Coco @tealecoco
“Growing up, I was only exposed to what was available to me such as shops like Hot Topic and Search and Destroy,” Queens native Yeha Leung, owner of Creepyyeha designs explains. These mass-produced punk retailers were Leung’s first introduction to fetish wear. Leung, who now primarily shops online at Hopeless Lingerie, Ludique Lingerie and The End Lingerie, said that the internet is what inspired her to create sex-inspired garments. “Discovering fashion through the internet really put things to light and it helped me find a whole different world that I wanted to be a part of.”
Leung was inspired to design made-to-measure bras, skirts, undergarments and jewellery out of plastic and leather, and often embellished with buckles, metal rings, or crystals. Celebrities like Debbie Harry, Rihanna and FKA Twigs have sported Leung’s ornate, revealing designs.
Leung refuses to strictly call her products “fetish wear,” because she doesn’t want predetermined names to inhibit her creativity. “I’ve been trying to steer away from labelling my brand ‘fetish wear’ because I believe that when you label and categorise something, restrictions come along with it and I have no desire for that.” Leung ensures a consistent, high-quality product, she says, by working with “like-minded, creative people.”
Photography: Nedda Asfari @mutedfawn
Model & styling: Yeha Leung @creepyyeha
Art installation & set design: Scott Hove @scotthove
Make up: Blake Armstrong @blkarmstron
On Bussey’s Instagram page, you will see her sporting all-black ensembles of leather and latex, along with dark hair, makeup and facial piercings. Bussey’s passion for Goth culture, she says, led her to discover latex, which she has been modelling since age 16. Bussey, just 18, decided to start her own line of latex and PVC before she goes to college in the fall.
Although she is not into BDSM practices, Bussey says modelling fetish-inspired garments and having friends in Bristol’s fetish scene is what propelled her to design. “Most of my friends go to fetish clubs and they want clothes specifically to go to them.” Bussey’s designs, which feature black PVC skirts and chokers and latex bralettes, are made-to-order on Etsy.
A factory in the Czech Republic houses female workers with their hands full of latex and leather materials. Workers hand sew, hand-cut and fuse every seam. They attach strips of leather to metal rings and stitch together pieces of rubber and vinyl to create a variety of products, from harnesses to blow-up bras.
This is the factory of Demask, one of the original fetish wear shops, which was opened in the Red Light District in 1990 by Steve English. For the past six years, husband and wife Anton and Louva Koot have been running the business in Amsterdam, the store’s original location and flagship store, and recently moved production from the Netherlands to Czech Republic. “I discovered Latex just before I got in touch with DeMask,” said Anton, 56. “Through some accidental circumstances, I got more and more involved.”
Anton, who used to sell McIntosh computers, got his start selling fetish gear in 1997. He worked wholesale, and travelled around to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. “I toured around in a big van full of rubber clothes and I went to all the shops,” he said.
His wife Louva, who was a model for years in France and has a background in hair and makeup, was first employed to model Demask gear. Then she got into designing for the company. Louva stressed that she doesn’t have a fashion background, and avoids fashion magazines and trends like the plague when designing. “I’m not interested with fashion actually. At all. Not at all.” She creates most of Demask’s designs based off direct communication with consumers. Often at times, shoppers desire custom designs, which the company ends up creating en masse. “We have really big open ears and eyes,” she said.
Anton and Louva continue to create Demask’s traditional bestsellers, which have been around for 30 years. These include inflatable catsuits for women and piss pants for men. “We don’t change collections every year,” she said. “Our collection is just growing and growing.”
Anton and Louva said that they have seen a recent increase in female consumers. “These days, if you come to our shop now, you see much more women taking initiative,” Anton said. “They dress up their husband, which by the way we find very interesting.” While the clothing was first intended for sexual purposes, Anton stressed that their consumers can be all kinds of people.“Our customers can be anybody. Young, old or rich, it doesn’t make a difference.” However, he feels that their clothing inspires people to develop fetishes. “You buy your first vinyl pants or a skirt, and you develop a kink.”
Anton and Louva, who have a 9-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, encourage kinkiness, but tend to stray from wearing and using fetish wear regularly because they work with it so often. “We feel blessed to have this business, we really enjoy it,” Anton said. And when the moment is there, we go out, we party.” They believe in their brand, and feel that exploring with sexual role-playing is a natural pleasure for human beings to experience. “We don’t sell articles, we sell a moment of pleasure, a moment of happiness,” Louva said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than to be away from everything and be in a cocoon.”
Fetish wear has officially hit the mainstream, with Rihanna and FKA Twigs sporting harness bras from Yeha Leung, and Nicki Minaj rocking latex bodysuits and two-pieces from couture latex house, Atsuko Kudo for everyday outings. Mass retailers such as Forever 21 and Topshop have also gotten in on the action by selling polyurethane garments and faux-leather harnesses attached with metal rings. While these items are created of synthetic materials and are worn for everyday purposes, it is the boutique designers’ quality products that blur the lines between streetwear and fetish wear. “You have the people who want to play with it, and you have the people who want to go out in it for aesthetic reasons,” said Anton. The difference in these brands is not only quality, but also fit and customization.
“The beauty of handmade goods is that I can cater to all genders and sizes while connecting through people on a personal level,” Leung said. Despite their mixed feelings about mass production, the designers agreed that they would not have loyal consumers if it weren’t for society’s increasingly open attitude toward revealing clothing. “I think people are feeling more liberated in expressing themselves in such matters over clothing and in daylight,” Coco said. “It is becoming more socially acceptable.”
Words by Hayley Lind.
Read more: Creating My Kink Universe: A Personal Essay