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PORTFOLIOS|Fashion|Essential Latex

ASYMMETRIC: Prototype one-shoulder dress by Essential Latex (photo: Koneko Photography; model: Koneko)

Essential Latex: an argument for starting with the basics

One of kink’s sharpest observers, Heidi Patterson writes about everything from latex fashion to fetish politics with equal insight. Here, she discusses fetish issues that engage her and explains what prompted her to launch her own range of rubber basics

I grew up in Indiana in the American midwest during the 1960s. From an exceptionally young age, I realised I wasn't interested in baby dolls, but was really wild about Barbies and other fashion dolls.

I loved their gorgeous and sophisticated clothing (yes! at the time, Barbies wore cork wedge shoes, costumes from Camelot, and even leather-look trenchcoats — hard to believe in this day and age of pink plastic!), and enjoyed dressing them up or imagining growing up to look just like them.

This was also the heyday of strong vampy TV characters such as Catwoman, Morticia Addams and Lily Munster, and these images also influenced my taste for glamour and sophistication of a kind not often found in the midwest.

I decided to study fashion design in Boston instead of New York, as NYC and its reputation in the late 1970s was a bit too scary for me at the time! I soon tired of the studies and the fashion industry, and more or less moved on to doing other things, such as office jobs, bartending, waitressing and becoming secretary to a brewery executive.

As the internet became more and more prominent, I became fascinated with self-expression and web pages, and gravitated to this, working as a webmaster right before the dotcom crash, and then continuing as a webcam performer when I was laid off.

I’d experimented a bit with latex throughout the years, and I can still recall my first purchase in London in 1987: a tank dress from Pure Sex at Hyper Hyper in Kensington.

Later on, a shop opened in Boston's South End stocking the early Skin Two range, and my first husband and, I enthralled with the clothes we had seen in Skin Two catalogues, bought several pieces there.

But when I started camming, I once again gravitated to the black shiny stuff, and focussed increasingly on latex fetish performances. In 2003, I became friendly with 3XL of Denmark, and when he told me he was going to the Rubber Ball in London, I decided to come and meet him, as attending it was one of my dreams.

It was during the ball that I met his friend, Kenneth, and ended up moving to Denmark. He was involved in the NPNG (NoPainNoGain) label with two other friends; visits to the studio rekindled my fashion design memories, and I started learning more about latex garments.

THE ESSENTIAL LATEX CONCEPT My husband and I started a new brand, Strange Lifeforms, when the earlier NPNG label ceased to exist. Starting it was slow in the beginning, and I hadn't yet created a web shop or offered designs for sale, as most of the projects were one-offs for NPNG clients and local fetishists.

NPNG had a strong male fashion presence, but we knew we wanted to also build a reputation for innovative womenswear as well. In the beginning I felt stymied by a lack of focus, and the fear that almost anything exciting in latex fashion had already been done.

At the time, I was active in several latex forums, where the common complaint seemed to be about the high cost of latex.

While I wasn't convinced latex had actually gotten exorbitantly expensive, I decided to try out a line of inexpensive basic pieces for budding (female) latex collectors, which went together fashionably and could become the foundation of a more varied latex wardrobe as the buyer learned more about the material and what suited her.

Essential Latex came out of that idea, and drew on my own experiences of first starting out, when I scoured the Internet for well-fitting basic pieces I could build upon.

The Essential Latex line is designed to be worn with normal fashion clothing, as well as to fetish events. As the buyer learns more about latex, she can add things such as corsets, accessories and other pieces from other designers' ranges to fill out the wardrobe, much as I did with my own wardrobe (and continue to do).

The line is inexpensive because it follows basic shapes and combinations and comes in standard yet realistic sizes. It was never my intention to create less expensive models of other lines, but to create quality starter pieces which can be ordered with a minimum of fuss.

My intention was never to create less expensive models of other lines, but to create quality starter pieces you can order with a minimum of fuss 

Made to measure, customisation and more detailed catsuits, corsets and the like cost more, and they should. One pays a talented designer for his or her expertise and designers should be compensated fairly for hard work and creativity!

I’m adding more elaborate pieces to the line as I find the right models and photographers, and settle into the right style. There’s so much elaborate, really intense stuff coming out that I’m shying away from reinventing the wheel by adding even more ruffle-trimmed confections or burlesque nautical looks to the crowded market, as these are already executed so well by other designers.

What appeal to me lately are slightly demure dresses from the 1930s, interesting blouses and bottoms which hark back to the ’70s, and the interpretations of vintage wear during the time. This is probably where I'll move more in the future.

When I worked with NPNG, I developed an appreciation for more wearable clothing that just happened to be in latex. It’s heartening to see this trend going even stronger now in 2012.

The interpretations of my range that I like the most have always been when the wearer mixes my latex pieces with fashion clothing. A dream client is the singer Stine Jakobsen of the techno pop band Electric Lady Lab.

Stine wandered into the shop where I was working two years ago when she was looking for something to wear for a televised concert, and we began a very fruitful collaboration.

Stine is tall and slim and has an innate fashion sensibility, which is evident in all her videos and photos. She mixes my pieces with inexpensive pieces from the high street, or sometimes combines them with designer pieces and comes up with high fashion looks which are uniquely her own.

I’ve also started making things for Lene Nystrøm, the Norwegian lead singer of the band Aqua, who’s also really fun to work with as she’s really fit and showcases latex perfectly! To date she’s bought a basic halter catsuit which she’s worn on stage, and I’m in the process of completing a sporty look for her, reflecting the athletic look she currently favours on her tour.

THE LATEX INDUSTRY Most of us know latex clothing hasn't become much more expensive, if at all, when you pore over old issues of Marquis, , or Skin Two magazines. Still, it seems a popular misconception among latex fetishists, who I now believe may be confused by cut-rate prices in ordinary clothing.

Conventional clothes have gotten cheaper and cheaper, and now a dress can set you back as little as £20 at PriMark or Old Navy. But what latex buyers forget is the short lifespan of these clothes — often lasting a season if that.

Latex buyers expect their garments to last much longer and may take their clothes’ longevity for granted. But with the rise of Chinese knock-offs, latex fashion may become much more of a disposable item. The days of latex lasting 10-15 years with the proper care may be numbered, as established firms stop trading.

Unfortunately, I see latex designers and smaller companies shooting themselves in the foot all the time through complacency. The Chinese are more willing to say “yes”, especially to slightly esoteric custom requests from more traditional male internet fetishists.

I’m reading far too often about unanswered queries from the more established mid-market lines, and even lack of e-mails to communicate with current buyers. Business from the hardcore long-term buyers disappears when this happens, and it's troubling to witness, and hard to defend.

There seems to be an unspoken rule in the fetish community to rally behind a favourite designer and downplay production delays. Such loyalty is heartening in some ways, but in the long run it is detrimental to the industry.

With the advent five years ago of Libidex-owned Radical Rubber in the sheet latex market, young fashion school graduates and latex enthusiasts were able to experiment with the material at a much lower cost, no longer having to meet larger minimum order requirements from traditional UK-based supplier 4D.

As a result, latex has become more exciting than ever. Prices are also very low for some exciting one-offs and smaller ranges. Much of the new stuff caters to younger women, as the designers themselves are often aspiring burlesque or fetish models, or friends of young women interested in latex fashion.

And let's face it, it’s much easier finding willing girl models, and photographers willing to shoot them, than it is finding male models. I'm hoping more young men will start experimenting and opening their own shops.

Unfortunately many of these shops will come and go, owing to a flooded market. At times a designer may take on far too much too soon, and fall off the radar when overwhelmed. Additionally, a couple of missing shipments, and a small line’s profits can quickly go to zero.

THE COPYCAT PROBLEM I'm addicted to internet forums and find I can’t shut up when the subject of copycats rears its head. There’s something so infuriating about it, particularly when it involves swiping designers’ original images.

Finding the ideal photographers and models to showcase my range hasn’t been easy at all, and knowing how much time is given by everyone involved in a photoshoot, it upsets my sense of fair play when companies and individuals feel entitled to use someone else’s work.

I’ve also been very vocal about online piracy, having worked very hard on a public fetish paysite with my husband, only to see the videos distributed freely on the Internet within hours of uploading them.

People have a very mistaken notion of intellectual property, and often try and justify thievery with cries of poverty. To me it smacks of entitlement (see below) to steal a fellow fetishist’s work, and I can tell you it’s really a de-motivator to producing more original content.

One of my pet peeves is fetishists’ assumption that the world owes them quality free porn, immediate gratification and immediate answers 

FETISH ENTITLEMENT It's one of my pet peeves right now — this assumption by newcomers and old fetishists alike that somehow the world owes them free good-quality fetish porn, immediate gratification and immediate answers.

I’ll admit to using the old fuddy-duddy card when I come across needy forum posters or customers who simply cannot be bothered to do a little research about their latex. The fetish has come so far and has become so accessible that I really can’t excuse anyone who is unwilling to read up a bit before asking very basic questions.

I believe this sense of entitlement to immediate gratification also drives the demand, constantly expressed on the forums, for $100 made-to-measure catsuits. The concept of researching a product and setting aside a budget for something special seems an alien concept now, if you ask me.

I'm pretty sure I'd sell quite a bit more of my range if I could learn to sit on my hands and not respond to such types, but it’s something I feel strongly about, and can’t stop.

POLITICS – SEXUAL AND GARDEN VARIETIES Feminism and politics are passions as big to me as latex is, if not more so. It’s sometimes difficult for me to reconcile my fetishes with my politics, particularly when BDSM is so prevalent in the fetish environment.

The concept of consent is such a key component in my beliefs that at times I’ve been very frustrated in the fetish environment, when players seem to demand total tolerance of any sexual practice or belief. It’s a fine line for me, and like many topics, it’s one which I never tire of highlighting when I see abuses.

I don't suppose I am very successful at keeping my politics out of my online fetish personality, try as I’d like. Nope, it's part of the package.

FETISH IN SCANDINAVIA Scandinavia is popping up all over the British media with its trendy furniture and crime fiction/TV drama exports. The image of sexually liberated Scandinavians is not so far from the truth, although what’s overlooked is how pragmatic the participants tend to be.

Sex and recreation have their place, alongside local badminton club memberships and co-ops. But dressing as a way of self-expression isn’t the name of the game here.

The Swedes tend to be making the most inroads in creativity, but there seems little evidence of it in Norway, and not much in Denmark — although there is a small contingent of Danes now creating their own fashion and wearing it to go out.

Fetishists at Copenhagen events share the same space with swingers and BDSM players, with rare exceptions, such as at Manifest's stellar winter Masked Ball. While I haven't gone to the Swedish events, I’m heartened by the increase in parties, especially the events being hosted by that remarkable couple, A Thing for Rubber.

Latex buyers at the shop where I work come in many varieties, from the swinger couple hoping to liven up their sex with a pair of moulded panties, to older and more decrepit specimens, to the occasional pop star and model, and to more fashion-conscious shoppers.

Upgrading to nicer pieces is often not even considered by the broader market, as the piece serves its purpose, much the same way an open-faced sandwich with liver paste on a daily basis answers the pesky problem of food.

Younger women from couples, however, seem much more willing this year to add a catsuit as their first wardrobe item, which is heartening to witness!

Unfortunately for many buyers, latex is still something black which comes in a box, and is taken out for sex. This is incredibly frustrating to somebody who loves the material as much as I do, but I try as hard as I can to educate the customer and introduce them to better options.

When the decrepit crowd takes up too much of my energy and starts souring me on latex, I end up travelling to Berlin's fetish weekend, or to bigger London weekends, to get a bit more inspiration when its needed.

Image of sexually liberated Scandinavians is not so far from the truth, but what’s overlooked is how pragmatic the participants tend to be

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


About August’s cover image
Koneko Photography

Koneko (above), creator of our August 2012 cover image, is a 27-year-old Slovak artist, photographer and model currently based in Trencin, Slovakia.

While living in England a few years ago, she made quite a mark on the UK fetish scene as a striking looking model who was also building up an impressive portfolio of fetish self-portraiture.

She regards her work behind the camera — executed under the byline of Koneko Photography — as her primary medium of artistic expression. But she still sometimes poses for other photographers — if they know how to make the most of her unique looks and style, as for example Katja Ehrhardt of HighGlossDolls unquestionably does.  

Koneko continues to produce amazing images of herself, which range in style from the highest of high fashion looks (as with the picture above — the first monochrome image to be chosen for a Fetishistas cover) to darker incarnations reminiscent of those cruel-but-beautiful dominas populating the work of 1950s fetish artists Stanton and Eneg.

Perhaps it is not entirely coincidence that comics were (and, she says, still are) a great influence on her, and that at school she dreamt of becoming a comic artist and of working as an animator, producing short films. She still paints and draws and sees photography as part of the same continuum of artistic expression.

“I’m interested in creating something that you’ve never seen before, not posters for companies,” she told online magazine Dartzine in 2010. “I want to work with people/artists who have the same visions. I want to leave something behind.

“I don’t want to be equal with other photographers. I intend to own my own studio where I want to create, live, and die. But it won’t work like most of the studios you have around. Photography should not become my work.”


Link for Heidi Patterson and
Essential Latex

Aside from creating styles for her Essential Latex line, writer Heidi Patterson contributes a wide variety of articles to The Fetishistas. These range from campaigning pieces exposing the thieving ways of Far Eastern copycats to event reviews such as her recent appreciation of Berlin’s combined fetish weekend — where she was pictured, above, indulging another one of her consuming passions.
(Photo: Tony Mitchell)

Incidentally, we’d like to make clear that the one-shoulder dress in our cover image and heading this page is a prototype with a looser fit on the shoulder than the production version.

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