In the wake of Saint Laurent’s elegant, perverse and latex-heavy Autumn/Winter 2020 collection, we look back at some of the greatest latex moments in the history of fashion
1. Versace Autumn/Winter 1994
What do you get when you cross latex and the greatest supermodels of all time? Versace’s A/W94 show, that’s what. This presentation saw Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Amber Valletta, Shalom Harlow, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Carla Bruni and Kate Moss stomp down the runway in sexed-up, 60s-inspired outfits cut from latex, PVC and plastics – all in a variety of bright hues including red, purple, yellow, blue, pink and black. This was a look dubbed “techno-glamour” by Gianni Versace.
2. Mugler Haute Couture Autumn/Winter 1995
Thierry Mugler’s A/W95 haute couture show, held in celebration of his namesake fashion house’s 20th birthday, saw a proliferation of fetishitic latex, predominantly in black. Featuring appearances from the supers, a performance from James Brown, and cameos from Tippi Hedren, Patty Hearst and Veruschka, the dark and theatrical show was described by Vogue as “a frightening and tantalising image for the dawn of the internet age”.
3. Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 1999
Alexander McQueen S/S99 is a show that’s gone down in fashion history, remembered for its finale in which Shalom Harlow rotates on a disc in the centre of the show space wearing a white trapeze dress which is sprayed black and yellow by robotic paint guns. The collection itself “was McQueen’s most open tribute to the Arts and Crafts Movement, the main protagonists of which interested him throughout his career”, Susannah Frankel wrote for AnOther in 2016. Early in the collection – which elsewhere featured elegant tailoring, lace ruffled dresses and raffia skirts – was a series of grey latex pieces, cut to fall softly against the body rather than stretch around and cling to the figure.
4. Christian Dior Autumn/Winter 2003
“It was hardcore romance! Sex robots!” said John Galliano of his A/W03 ready-to-wear collection for Dior. Fresh from journeying to China and Japan, Galliano laced his couture and ready-to-wear collections at the time with elements of chinoiserie and japonisme (for this A/W03 collection, models’ faces were elaborately painted with kabuki-esque make-up in varying pastel shades). But among romantic embroidered silks and duchess satins, there was latex aplenty: high-shine, lace-up leggings in red, purple, and black; skin-tight pencil skirts, some with rubbery ruffles and almost see-through; and turtlenecks – worn so the necks crept up to the models’ cheekbones – layered under swathes of diaphanous fabrics. “Just how do I get my ass into that rubber skirt?” Gwen Stefani reportedly said backstage post-show.
5. Christian Dior Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2015
A sense of futurism pervaded Raf Simons’ tenure at Dior, during which he used the might of the house’s traditional atelier to propel Dior in bold new directions. Such was the case for his S/S15 haute couture collection, in which he incorporated plastic – back then, it felt like the antithesis of couture’s gilded fabrics – in a series of clear-vinyl opera coats, decorated with various fronds and flowers. On the feet, acetate-heeled latex boots, in myriad colours, which rose all the way up to the thigh. “My first couture shows were exercises in understanding the history,” Simons said of the collection. “The more you understand, the more you see what it can become.”
6. Gareth Pugh Spring/Summer 2016
“Divine meets Donna Summer... Sex shop curtains meet Tina Turner.” That’s how legendary make-up artist Val Garland described the sexuality of Gareth Pugh’s S/S16 woman, who was informed by the salaciousness of London’s Soho. Here, latex abounded, along with sharply tailored suits, slickly cut (and sequined) leathers and “nicotine stained” stockings which, somewhat eerily, covered the faces of Pugh’s models. Despite the sexual overtones of the collection, the show was centred around ideas of female strength and power – as Olivia Singer wrote for AnOther, it “wasn’t a fetishisation of women, but fetishisation for them”.
7. Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2017
An undercurrent of perversity has long pulsed through Georgian designer Demna Gvasalia’s work – he did, after all, hold an early show for Vetements, the label he founded and has since departed, in gay sex club Le Depot. For his sophomore collection for Balenciaga, where he is now creative director, he slyly explored fetish in its various forms, utilising yards of spandex for pieces which encased models’ bodies – most memorably, the now-infamous ‘panta-shoes’ – and latex, in a series of hooded rain ponchos, which tied under the chin. The latter recalled the vinyl raincoats found within the pages of John Sutcliffe’s AtomAge, the cult 60s fetish mag which celebrated the pleasures of rubber, PVC and leather dress-up.
8. Richard Quinn Autumn/Winter 2019
Richard Quinn first garnered attention for his Central Saint Martins graduate collection, which saw models sheathed top-to-toe in floral, checkered or houndstooth bodysuits which were inspired by artist Paul Harris’ fabric women (atop, opera coats and his play on mid-century cocktail gowns). In collections since, the strange thrill of concealment has continued to fascinate Quinn: for A/W19, skin-tight latex bodysuits – recalling this seminal photograph of British nightlife provocateur Leigh Bowery – were worn throughout, adding a frisson of kink and subversion to a collection of fantastical eveningwear, inspired by the grand excesses of the golden age of haute couture.
9. Givenchy Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2019
Clare Waight Keller united with the queen of latex, Japanese designer Atsuko Kudo, for her S/S19 haute couture collection for Givenchy, which saw the fetish fabric elevated to the vaunted salons of couture (it felt somehow befitting: like haute couture, each of Kudo’s pieces is painstakingly mapped to the wearer’s body, in a process which takes several days). Blood-red latex bodysuits emerged from beneath intricate lace gowns; there were second-skin black latex stockings and electric-blue gloves, which ran all the way up the arm and pulled over the head. “I tried to take the most modern approach possible with everything,” Waight Keller said of the collection, which demonstrated the British designer’s astute understanding of how to make couture relevant for today.
10. Saint Laurent Autumn/Winter 2020
“For Saint Laurent, elegance is mandatory but it also goes with perversity; one without the other would only be plain bourgeoisie or vulgarity” – so read the notes at Anthony Vaccarello’s latest outing for the Parisian house earlier this week. Cue perhaps the greatest density of latex ever seen on a fashion week runway – by our count, it was only absent in two of the 67 looks shown – from glossy skin-tight leggings to fetish-inflected bustiers, frill-yoke dresses and thigh-high boots. Worn with the trappings of the Parisian bourgeoisie (double-breasted blazers, pussy-bow shirts and the like) it was, as promised, both elegant and perverse – and entirely seductive.