We are currently in a period of unrivalled creativity in latex fashion. The garments being produced by today’s leading latex designers are as far ahead of fetish fashion in the 1980s and ’90s as those decades’ styles were ahead of the “pre-fashion” era of Atomage, Sealwear, Kastley and the like.
The glamorising of latex by some of the noughties’ biggest female pop artistes has encouraged young fashion-conscious women to demand more imaginative and adventurous creations, and in response designers have been developing increasingly decorative ways of using the fabric.
Most have been making good use of the increased range of colours and textures now available from latex sheeting manufacturers. Many have been moving toward garments assembled from more and more individual elements, including contrasting colour panels, decorative trims, hand-painted or printed sections and appliqués of varying complexity.
Perhaps because of the unique nature of latex, significant developments in design are sometimes the product both of visual imagination and technical innovation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the creations of Ardita Fetish Fashion (aka Ardita FF or Ardita FFashion).
Ardita’s distinctive style got its first international fetish industry exposure at this Easter’s Fetish Evolution Weekend. At the Models and Makers’ reception that launched this year’s gathering in Essen, jaws dropped as people took in the amazing decorative detail of outfits such as the Reptile Dress worn by British model Eliza-Beth.
How had the incredible raised patterns and textures of her exotic gown been created from an apparently seamless blend of opaque and translucent latex? It looked like some very advanced kind of appliqué technique and I wanted to know more.
That same evening, I discovered that Ardita FF is a new label from the Netherlands run by Italian designer Barbara Sandri, with assistance from her husband Massimo (who, as Ardi Foto, does promotional photography for the label).
To find out more, an interview seemed to be called for — but how to organise it, given that Barbara is Italian and her second language is Dutch rather than English?
To the rescue comes Rotterdam-based chanteuse, Fetish Evo spokesmodel and enthusiastic Ardita model Rachael V, who offers her services as interpreter. I happily accept, and begin our interview by asking Barbara how Ardita FF came about. She explains:
“Seventeen years ago I started in fashion school in Italy. I had always worked with regular fabrics, but at a certain point, working with regular fabrics got boring and I began looking for a new challenge.
“Seven years ago I moved to Holland to be with Massimo, and he introduced me to the fetish and BDSM scene. And four years ago I got a present from him: a photoshoot with Marquis magazine.
‘I moved to Holland to be with Massimo, he introduced me to the fetish scene, and four years ago I got a present: a photoshoot with Marquis’
“It was a beautiful day with all these lovely outfits and I really enjoyed myself. One year later, the first rolls of sheet latex — white and natural green — were ordered from Radical rubber.”
Massimo explains that the period between then and Ardita’s official launch at the start of 2010 was a period of much learning. It had taken some time to find out where to get the latex, and then they had to get around the fact that the adhesive needed for gluing Radical Rubber’s latex could not be bought in Holland.
Barbara: “For the first year-and-a-half, we were mostly experimenting with things like ‘what can you make?’ and ‘how does the glue work?’. We didn’t really pick the right colour to start with because white stains, of course.”
They also discovered, says Massimo, that different colours of latex reacted differently with the glue. “White was very difficult to glue, whereas black was very easy.”
I ask Barbara if, coming from mainstream fashion, she felt from the start that she could create better things in latex than designers who don’t have her fashion background.
“Not better, but different!” she says. “Basically I have the desire to create beautiful, different outfits that stand out.
“The desire of women in the scene to dress in a more ‘high fashion latex’ way has been growing and is still growing. The designers in England, of which there are many, have been designing beautiful, beautiful things and I basically want to bring something different into that world.”
And apart from that, she reminds us, “Fashion is in my blood — I’m Italian!”
But what made Ms Sandri decide that appliqué was the route to creating the “beautiful but different” look that was her declared goal?
She says she quickly realised that the nature of latex sheet meant there were only certain things you could do if you wanted to “do something with it”. Options were pretty much limited to printing on it, painting it or doing appliqué.
But printing only works in certain colours, and both printing and painting eventually rub off where there’s contact with other surfaces. Appliqué, however, does not rub off, and you can combine any two colours of latex.
So appliqué had to be the way to go — but not as we’ve previously known it. What distinguishes Barbara’s appliqué style — she calls it arabesque — is her ability to produce it on such a large scale.
Appliqué was the way to go, but what distinguishes her style - she calls it arabesque - is Barbara’s ability to produce it on such a large scale
A lot of designers may be using some appliqué, and some may be using a lot of appliqué, but as far as she knows, they’re all producing it in small individual pieces. No one, she believes, is producing it in large sheets as she does.
Production involves taking two sheets of latex, one plain and the other with the appliqué pattern cut out, and bonding them together to create a laminated sheet that is then used in garment construction exactly as if it were a single sheet.
This allows her to use the textures she creates for the whole of a garment or any parts of it — something that would not be possible by any other means.
I thought her process might involve laser cutting, but she assures me all the appliqués are hand-cut, as lasers would make the garments far too expensive.
This prompts me to ask what kind of pricing we’re talking about for an Ardita outfit. For example, how much does Barbara charge for that Long Reptile Dress (modelled in our gallery by Ophelia Overdose)?
The answer is around €750-800 (£660–700/$1,080–1,150). And for the catsuit worn by Rachael V on our September cover, which also makes use of large panels of arabesque, the price is €625 (£550/$900).
Such prices may not look cheap, but they’re not bad for something made-to-measure that can take 10-12 days (in the case of the dress) to complete, is pretty damned fancy and probably comes closer to real couture than a lot of other latex that lays claim to that title.
In its first year, Ardita’s marketing was done mainly by word-of-mouth and via Facebook, which Barbara has found to be great for spreading the gospel. So far she has been designing garments individually, but that will soon change.
“I want to work towards designing two collections of around ten pieces per year, as well as creating unique pieces for photoshoots and custom orders.”
Interest in the brand has continued to build since Fetish Evolution and Barbara anticipates that Ardita will stage its first fashion show next year. The couple have given a lot of thought to where that might happen and went to Essen partly to see how things were done at big fetish weekends.
European events are naturally in her sights but, explains Barbara, there has also been lot of interest from the US and Canada. She would like to reach markets outside Europe, so events like Montreal’s Fetish Weekend are also being seriously considered.
But for now the plan is to attend a few of the bigger parties and take clothes for models to walk around in. “I want to start pitching the label,” she says, “showing people what the possibilities are, teasing a little, making people want more… then next year come out with a bang!”
And one thing she promises is that when Ardita does finally make its catwalk debut, she’ll be in charge of every aspect of the show.
“I don’t want to invest months producing the garments and then give the show to someone else to produce and maybe have them screw it up!
“I love the glamour of it, and if you produce a good show you don’t just sell clothing, you sell a dream. People see the garment, see the lighting, hear the music, and they think ‘I want that’ — and they can have it.
“That’s what I want to produce — not just a dress!”
‘I don’t want to invest months producing the garments then give the show to someone else to produce and maybe have them screw it up’