From the start of her career as a latex clothing designer in her own right, Katja Ehrhardt was an innovator in the online presentation of fetish fashion.
In the early noughties, when most fetish clothing companies were showcasing their products with fairly artless web pages featuring unadventurous catalogue photography, Katja’s first cool, crisp web galleries set a visual standard that, even today, plenty of online clothing sites would struggle to match.
Now, a decade after we first began to see her name on latex clothing, Katja is still in a class of her own when it comes to combining innovative garment design, photography and web presentation, thanks to her latex photography project HighGlossDolls.
The gloss in HighGlossDolls refers to more than just the shiny surfaces of the rubber worn by the glamorous women in Katja’s photographs. It reflects every aspect of her creative approach, from the way each image is lit in the studio and embellished in Photoshop to the attention to detail in her choice of models, clothes, accessories, make-up and poses.
The images are undeniably High Fetish: both ultra-cool in the best fashion sense and hot in a way that can be evocative of soft-porn. And this is all achieved, if their creator is to be believed, without any conscious desire to pursue either a “fetish” or a “fashion” agenda.
Katja Ehrhardt started her own latex label in 2000 after working for Hamburg fetish designer Ralf Fischer. In 2001 she was commissioned to create an exclusive line for the first Marquis first catalogue (modelled by Dita Von Teese), and after a short break, she was taken on by Marquis as its in-house designer.
Her first Marquis creations were bathing suits for the annual Kink In the Caribbean fetish getaway, again modelled by Dita.
These latex swimwear designs subsequently provided content for her first online gallery — an impressive website created purely as an elegant showcase for her work.
After a year working in Solingen for Marquis, Katja got the urge to travel and ended up relocating to Dubai.
“Dubai was at first just a great holiday,” she explains, “and I was in the mood for moving. So I did. My impulse wasn’t romantic, just adventure. I never planned on staying in Solingen for a long time. There are so many places I can imagine to stay a while...”
And indeed she did stay in Dubai only a while. But while she was there, she created the designs that would establish Fräulein Ehrhardt as a latex lingerie brand, and worked on building her first online shop in collaboration with her web design team in Germany.
Katja’s embrace of online retailing was not so much a high business concept as best choice for someone with her peripatetic inclinations
She returned to Hamburg in 2006 for the official launch of her online store, but the travel bug continued to bite. Since 2006 she has had spells in Marseille and Sharm el-Sheikh, but she is currently, once again, working from Germany.
Katja’s embrace of online retailing was, it turns out, not so much high business concept as best choice for someone with her peripatetic inclinations. “I still like it that I am not imprisoned in a real shop in one city,” she confesses.
Readers may recall that Marquis displayed an early fascination with transparent rubber, substantially predating the fabric’s current popularity in fetish fashion.
So I ask Katja if her frequent use of thin transparent and semi-transparent latex, often in multiple layers, is a sign that some “Marquis taste” rubbed off on her while she was working there.
And if not, where did that Ehrhardt style — that distinctive look — come from?
“I know what you mean,” says the designer, “but I don’t think I favour anything. Transparent latex colours are just more shiny than the others and I think that is why I like them.
“The layers just happen, because I do so many small things that I have to combine them to get a complete look. And I am more interested in lingerie then in dresses or suits. But I do like — as you might have in mind — lingerie with a thin top or dress over it!”
Not long after launching her online store, Katja began doing her own photography of her outfits. What started out as plain product shots soon grew into a much more serious artistic undertaking.
“As I’ve mentioned often before, I started with photography only because I had to. When you have an online shop, you need photos, and I always needed to arrange shoots with friends to get the pix I needed, which is a pain in the arse.
“So I tried it myself. In the beginning it was a catastrophe, but with digital and some professional light, you learn quickly. And when I’d figured out the technical part, I concentrated on the look. I remember more than one shoot at my place where I was gluing stuff in the middle of the shoot to complete the look!”
The style definitely evolved with the photography, says Katja — though not with any conscious commercial motivation.
“The looks are my fantasies, yes, but they are my taste, more likely. Maybe the two are the same in the end. I don’t think they’re very commercial, because honestly you need quite a good figure for the kind of latex lingerie I design.
‘My colours are often too extreme for the customers. Also, not so many girls want to run around at a party wearing just latex underwear’
“Suits and dresses are much easier to wear and sell. And my colours are often too extreme for the customers. Also, not so many girls want to run around at a party wearing just latex underwear. Sadly.”
Although Ehrhardt has worked with a lot of different model types, some of us would say it’s the slim, leggy ones with boobs that give HighGlossDolls its signature look — a look that might be called more erotic fashion than classic fetish. Is this because she wants to sell her latex as fashion rather than as fetish?
“I don’t think much about fashion and fetish and where the lines are,” she says. “I honestly don’t care at all for fashion; I never read the magazines or care for trends. And the word ‘fetish’ sounds so limited to me. When is someone really crazy about something and when does the fetish start? It’s too complicated for me.
“There is a lot of talk about my choice of models. I myself don’t think I have a favourite style. I have many different girls, with and without boobs. But hey, if you can choose, why not pick the ones with great boobs and long legs? And some other body parts are also coming to my mind…”
So, what particular qualities do Katja’s favourite models have? “Uh, difficult,” she replies, “because there is always something I like about a special girl. Koneko has the perfect face for me. Sometimes I’ve even found it hard to take her picture because I was a bit stunned!
“Other models have perfect skin, like white latex itself. Others can make a change in your photography just by the way they pose. Women can have so many beautiful things, and most of them do have at least one.”
And what is it that makes Amsterdam-based Monique Charriere (our March cover model) her current special favourite?
“Monique is just my super-doll. She has everything — the boobs, the lips, the booty... she is the perfect mix of porn and elegance. I hope she doesn’t mind the word porn. It’s really only the look — she’s a totally decent girl!”
And what about all those wigs she uses in her shoots — everything from crazy giant Afros to ’70s porn star perms?
“Wigs just go with the doll idea,” she explains. “Sometimes I try shooting without them, but I don’t like it much. Also, hair is so easily messed up by oily latex, and I got tired of that. Guess I am just a slacker…”
I doubt that’s a description of her that would stick. But she does agree that she is now better known for her photography than for her latex designs. And this makes me wonder how she would feel if she were known only as a producer of fetish-fashion erotica, and not appreciated at all as a clothing designer.
“I don’t separate the two,” she says. “Latex was always very unreal for me, like a material from outer space. I am not a fetishist myself in real life, but to create the perfect look and a perfect illusion, maybe that is my fetish. So I need clothes and photos for that.”
Fittingly, then, HighGlossDolls.com is now the single URL that seamlessly integrates all Katja’s creative work: her shiny images (located in a member zone and a generous free zone), her blog, and the online retail store where you can buy all the Fräulein Ehrhardt latex the girls wear in her pictures.
But how does she respond to the suggestion, made to me a while back, that these days, she really only make clothes at all so she can shoot hot girls in them for HighGlossDolls? The question doesn’t faze her at all.
“Ah, hot girls, keep them coming,” she says. “They’re addictive — and they fit in my outfits. I love them for that!”
‘Latex was always very unreal for me. I am not a fetishist in real life, but to create the perfect look and a perfect illusion maybe is my fetish’