As seen in many Fall/Winter 2020 Ready-To-Wear runway shows, latex is one of the fashion designer’s favorite material nowadays. From Saint Laurent’s sexy and sleek black dress, Comme Des Garçons’ spectacular neck ornament, Balenciaga’s electrifying trenchcoat to Kwaidan Editions’ elegant everyday dress, latex is one of the commonly used and most beloved fabrics of fashion designers around the world.
From left: Kwaidan Editions, CDG, and Saint Laurent, F/W 2020 collection runway looks
Latex was utilized in foundation garments, such as underwear, lingerie, and corsets during the early twentieth century. It is the trade name for the U.S. Rubber company for an elasticated rubber yarn, first introduced in 1930. The fabric was the perfect material for creating slender shapewear and lingerie.
How did latex make its way into the fashion industry as the fabric that movie stars and fashion designers love? Latex has a unique functionality that was perfect for creating an overcoat or protective clothing. Charles Macintosh, a Scottish chemist who invented a waterproof raincoat in 1824, was the pioneer of latex fashion. He discovered the process of waterproofing fabric by rubberizing. It became a symbol of fetish wear in London and led to the creation of the world’s oldest fetishist groups, England’s Mackintosh Society. In 1830, Macintosh joined with Thomas Hancock’s clothing company and started to make the ready-to-wear raincoats. Hancock found solutions to the rubberwear’s smell, rigidity, and sensitivity to heat. “Mac” or “mack” became words closely associated with The Mackintosh brand for any kind of raincoats.
(Rubber raincoats in the 1950s and Macintosh raincoats excerpts)
According to BBC, latex was a one-of-a-kind material with the effects that other fabrics could not bring at that time; “As rubber clothing increased in popularity, some wearers came to discover it was both pragmatic and sexually pleasurable.” Since then, the high-shine material gave a dramatic power, becoming the symbol of hypersexuality.
In the 1960s, Emma Peel, a spy played by an English actress Diana Rigg, played a significant role in bringing the latexwear to the public in The Avengers television series. She wore an iconic black latex catsuit. Michelle Pfeiffer was another Hollywood icon who infused the image of a powerful female into the latex fashion by wearing a bold black bodysuit in the 1992 film Batman Returns as a Catwoman. Actresses’ media appearance in latex suits paved the way for punk-lover fashion designers like Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren to bring latex into the world of fashion in the 1970s. Punk enthusiasts have significant contributions in making latex into style.
(Diana Rigg as Emma Peel (left) and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman)
Photo credits: ABC (U.K.) Television and Getty Images
Written By Cheryl Son for Vex Clothing