Venus Prototype has been described in latex fashion circles as a “designer’s designer”. Given that she has only been formally involved in the latex clothing business since 2005, that’s quite a compliment.
But behind her relatively recent emergence as a latex label owner lies a background of rubber enthusiasm born and nurtured in the Los Angeles fetish scene of the 1990s.
This, combined with a 17-year career in the world of mainstream fashion, has equipped her rather well to create the distinctive latex garments for which she is now much admired.
I was in Los Angeles to witness two key stages in the emergence of the Venus Prototype we see today. In 2005, I was at the launch of the collection that started it all — the collection she designed to give a much-needed facelift to LA latex store Syren’s range.
It was this commission that helped persuade her she should have her own Venus Prototype line. And the following year, I was again in LA to see her launch it — at a big Hollywood fetish party with Dita Von Teese topping the bill.
In those early days, her business was typical of small latex start-ups everywhere. She and her partner did everything, and their workshop was a converted garage at the back of their house.
Today there are five people working to keep up with demand for Venus Prototype latex — and a strong family participation. Her lover Celina — who has played a big part in the development of the business — runs the printing department and designs Venus’s hat collection.
Venus’s sister has joined the creative team, working side-by-side with her older sibling. And there is even help from her daughter, who apparently loves cutting out the appliqués!
Right now, aside from day-to-day orders, the team has been working on a big secret project. Venus will say only that she has supplied designs for something that “will be hitting huge worldwide ad campaigns” soon.
But reading between the lines, it looks like she’s regarding this project as final vindication of everything she’s been doing for the past five years.
For anyone who knew Venus in the mid-noughties as she embarked on establishing her own label, it was clear that her professional fashion background was going to be a strong influence on her approach to fetish design.
So, five years on, with one foot still in mainstream fashion and the other in her burgeoning latex business, how exactly has her fashion experience helped her fetish endeavours?
“Let me share this,” she replies. “I work in the Los Angeles mainstream fashion business, where the art is not how amazing your collection is, but rather, how many units of one style you could sell out of the stores throughout the country.
“I have hit thousands of number-one sellers, which is why I am considered a ‘business designer’. After my long days of styling product for the American masses, I take all my resources and incorporate them into my very own personally styled latex fashion collection — with exclusive latex prints, latex trims, latex moulds and much more.
“So my experience has left me with limitless resources to create to the fullest extreme. And I am linked to Los Angeles’ best-of-the-best fashion resources.”
‘My experience has left me with limitless resources to create to the fullest extreme. And I am linked to LA’s best fashion resources’
While some latex designers today are very happy to be considered a part of the broader fashion scene, many others are suspicious of being too closely associated with fashion values they think inappropriate for the rubber business. But, says Venus, for her there are only pros, and no cons, to being a fashion person in a latex world.
So, what are the secrets of creating a distinctive style for a latex brand, be it for yourself or someone else?
“Well,” she says, “this is something I do every day, whether creating an item that will blow out of the store in the mass market world or a signature Venus Prototype latex piece. There is no secret. Just create from your heart. Work with all your tools and maximise them — use them to the fullest.”
Asked how her style has evolved since she designed her first collection for Syren’s then-owner Andy Wilkes in 2005, Venus explains that with that collection, she wasn’t able to create exactly what she wanted to.
“Andy often said that it was too detailed or too time consuming to make, and I felt a little held back.”
But, with encouragement to launch her own label coming from the likes of Christine Kessler, Perry Gallagher and Darenzia, she felt she “had the freedom to spread my wings — to maximise my design with all my resources”.
Of her early style, she says: “In the very beginning it was just coloured, blocked, simple styling. Today, it is: get your own customised dress — pick your colour of choice in your print of choice. The options for my customers are bigger and I feel like I give them a reason to come to me for that very special item.”
Los Angeles has often been described as a difficult place for latex designers to thrive in. Among reasons offered are that the weather isn’t very rubber-friendly, and that (with the odd exception) LA fetish club promoters don’t enforce proper fetish dresscodes, and therefore don’t encourage their patrons to spend money on proper outfits.
But Venus doesn’t recognise this picture of her local scene.
“I can't relate to this feeling others have about Los Angeles. My love-lust for latex fashion started back during the Sin-a-matic days in the 1990s, when Los Angeles had a thriving club scene. It was the real-deal shit, and I begun making fashion for myself and my friends at that time.
“Today, anytime there is a special event in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world, I am hit with numerous projects to complete in time for people to sport a freshly customised Venus Prototype latex piece.
“Aside from that, the heart of the entertainment industry is located here in Los Angeles. I supply latex fashion for TV, music videos, stage performances and more.”
The value of having celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna and Katy Perry associated with latex clothing is a topic oft-debated by fetishists. Venus’s views on this are unequivocal.
“All those women have opened the doors for latex fashion to the mainstream. Thank you ladies! The demand for latex fashion is a lot bigger than it ever was, and I expect it to get even bigger, as more woman are introduced to it.
“Women today have become curious and want to learn about the experience of wearing latex. As we all know, it can become addictive — ask Emily Marilyn!
‘Women today have become curious to learn about the experience of wearing latex. As we all know, it can become addictive – ask Emily Marilyn!’
“Let me tell you, once they slip on the first latex dress made to fit every curve on their body, they turn around and ask for more. Did you ever think it would ever end up like this? This is all exciting isn't it?”
But all the same, reckons Ms Prototype, latex will never become mass market, department-store-friendly fashion.
“There is no way in the world to produce this stuff any faster. However, I’m sure the styling will be knocked-off to sell as a ‘look for less’. Oh wait — it’s happening already with the Chinese!”
Indeed, as we’ve reported here on The Fetishistas, Venus Prototype designs — like those of many other latex labels — have been copied by Chinese knock-off merchants. What does she think of the whole piracy problem, and what should be done about it?
“I feel like most of us have been victimised by the actions of knock-off artists in the Chinese market. For these people, knocking-off items is all they know. Look at the Chinese knock-offs of the high-end handbag labels such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen and Burberry's.
“I have picked up some of the knock-off bags and have been amazed at how well these pieces are duplicated to sell for a quarter of the price or less of the real-deal stuff. By this point, though, these high-end labels are already onto the next design.
“I knew, going into this business, how easy it would be for someone else to duplicate a piece. We all buy the latex sheeting from the same suppliers. Latex is latex and it’s easy to recreate a pattern just like another designer.
“This is why I say: create from the heart. Give yourself a reason to be noticed.
“I am not sure there is a way to combat the piracy. It is what it is. It took them long enough to get their hands on this stuff.
“You could blame a latex fashion company here who tried to send their designs to China to have them made for less, to bring their profit up. Maybe thanks to them, the Chinese got wind of the whole latex scene.”
Maybe. But here at The Fetishistas, we know of at least two European companies — one large, one small — that tried to subcontract their latex manufacturing to China. So the fault may not lie with one particular label.
But if that is indeed how the whole Chinese copycat industry got started, what a fine example of the law of unintended consequences!
Far Eastern piracy is, however, not the only problem that plagues established latex labels in the West. Our designers and manufacturers are also experiencing a growing impact on their businesses from the DIY latex scene, as an increasing number of latex fans try making their own outfits. What take does Venus have on this phenomenon?
“During the time I began latex crafting, it was a big fat secret how it was done,” she says. “It took me a six-month internship with a leading label to get to where I’m at. Today, looking up how to make latex fashion is as easy as a click away.
“When I first got wind of this latex-making website, I must admit I was a bit upset. I knew from here on in that the latex fashion business was going to take a turn.
“Everyone would start making their own outfits and it would lessen the business for the true latex companies that have been around for years.”
But, she concludes, that is no reason to give up. “Now, let the strong survive! The strong will lead the way and the followers will continue to chase our tails.”
‘It took a six-month internship with a leading label to get to where I’m at. Today, looking up how to make latex fashion is as easy as a click away’