Krystina Kitsis first appeared on my radar in the early days of the original Skin Two club in London’s Soho.
Like me, she was a keen observer of the exciting new fetish culture disporting itself at the club each week. And given her fashion interests, it wasn’t too surprising that she soon decided to become more directly involved.
She became a partner in a new Skin Two club venture, and at the same time started work on her first latex clothing collection. She launched her label Ectomorph into the fetish arena in Autumn 1985 — at the first Skin Two Ball at the Embassy Club in Bond Street, in the very heart of high fashion.
“It got me coverage in The Guardian and a shop, Quasimodo, in the King’s Road,” she says, “and I never looked back.”
The concept at the heart of Ectomorph was to take fetish into fashion. “it was an idea that had not existed before,” she reminds us. “Fetish was underground and forbidden territory.”
Punk, and especially Westwood and McLaren, were important influences on the fledgling designer. She had met both while studying at the Royal College of Art in the early ’80s, where she had investigated the connection between sexuality and fashion.
“I took these influences and decided to make ‘acceptable’ rubber clothes. Having seen a copy of Sealwear’s catalogue, I knew I could do better,” she says. (She is also quick to point out that Sealwear has “come a long way” since its relaunch by new owners.)
Krystina recalls that Elle magazine started the fashion press ball rolling for Ectomorph by featuring her sheath dress — a very simple design, but one that was shocking by virtue of being made of latex and restrictive. Thereafter, Vogue and Elle regularly featured Ectomorph “on the whole gang of supermodels”.
The Quasimodo store, meanwhile, became the focus for Page 3 girls and spreads in tabloid newspapers often featuring EastEnders stars in Krystina’s clothes.
“Fetish had gone from being either scorned or tittered at to being celebrated as a highly desirable look,” recalls the designer.
Quasimodo became the focus for Page 3 girls and spreads in tabloid newspapers often featuring EastEnders stars in Krystina’s clothes
And, she adds, the ’80s body-building craze popularised by the collaboration between Robert Mapplethorpe and Lisa Lyons provided a backdrop into which fetish fashion easily fitted.
“I took those influences and, along with photographers Grace Lau and Trevor Watson, we altered the public perception of fetish fashion — Grace in a more documentary style, and Trevor providing the glamour and titillation.
“Catalogues were the way to reach a wider audience and we poured money into them,” she recalls. “Those were the days — now sadly long gone. Catalogues are now an expensive investment that very few companies can afford.”
As 2009 draws to a close, Ectomorph is fast approaching 25 years of trading. So as owner of one of the oldest established latex fashion brands (and the longest in continuous business), Krystina is well-placed to comment on the challenges of running a fetish fashion label today, compared with when it all started.
“The industry over the years has obviously changed from a handful of designers in the 1980s to the current levels of hundreds, and making headway is now much more difficult,” she reckons.
“I decided to distinguish myself by sticking to the core principles of stitching rubber and also maintaining a particular look that is suggestive rather than tarty — there are plenty of companies that do tarty. I use latex in a particular way, just as I would normal fabric and not like paper-dolly cut-outs.”
This brings us neatly to her latest collection which, photographed by fetish legend Keital, is the subject of our gallery on the right, as well as our December edition cover.
So… how does she approach creating a new collection, and what inspired this latest one?
“When designing a collection, I look at the fashion forecasting trends,” she explains. “This season I selected three channels to go down. The first was an architectural theme of bold silhouettes and sculptural cuts with graphic detailing.
“The second was a ’40s theme based particularly on Dior images from the ’40s and the ‘New Look’. For example we tried to recreate a particular black-and-white image of a girl in a suit at a table.
‘I decided to distinguish myself by the core principles of stitching rubber and maintaining a look that is suggestive rather than tarty’
“Final theme was a re-look at the ’80s incorporating punk and gothic rhythms like studding, zips, military, and focus on the shoulders.”
But while fetish imagery in the mainstream seems more ubiquitous than ever, it is much more difficult these days, says Kitsis, to get the kind of exposure Ectomorph enjoyed in the 1980s and ’90s.
“High streets have changed from once being places where you could purchase Ectomorph in many independent ‘boutiques’ that didn’t just sell rubber. Now the internet is the main outlet for sales.
“Fashion magazines too remain closed territory as editorial is now tied in to advertising and they have become a kind of closed shop. The only fetish you are likely to see there is that which has been poached by the top designers.”
So to what does Krystina attribute her label’s longevity?
“I have survived mainly by making Ectomorph a timeless brand,” is her answer. “My typical customer tends to be older, and I sell a lot of menswear.
“I experiment with latex and am one of the few that use a heavy gauge of latex (0.55mm) in their collections to produce a more sculpted look that can be moulded, as it were, into shapes on the body rather than acting as a second skin, which the thinner latex traditionally lends itself to.
“I have, however, been working with very thin 0.2mm latex which is like silk to touch and performs very differently from the heavy rubber. I combine them together in a garment for a unique look.”
The vast majority of latex fashion has always been designed for women, of course, but at Ectomorph, menswear has been a staple for many years.
“We were probably the first to make stitched latex menswear alongside women’s,” Kitsis claims, “and one of the best-selling classic styles is my men’s catsuit. Ironically, when a customer first suggested I make a male catsuit in the late ’80s, I said ‘we don’t do that kind of thing — that is Sealwear territory’!”
In fact, over the years, Krystina has found herself developing stronger links with traditional, pre-fashion rubberist culture while still maintaining Ectomorph’s position as a fashion brand. Specifically, she has connected surprisingly successfully with the underground world of Mach 2.
“I had originally snubbed such movements because of their staid, narrow outlook,” she admits. “But I now feel I have been instrumental in changing the course Mach 2 has taken.
“Where once the members at Mach 2 events looked on horrified at the prices I charged for my latex fashions, today I have to share the floor with the creations of the multitudes of other companies who now charge considerably more than I do!”
‘Fashion magazines have become a closed shop. The only fetish you’re likely to see there is that which has been poached by the top designers’