Latex might not be most obviously elevated of materials ever to have inhabited the fashion firmament, but it is currently enjoying something of a moment, nonetheless.
First seen on the catwalk, this time around at least, at Giles Deacon a year ago, where it took the form of pretty pink leaves trimming equally pretty pink party dresses, it is Nicolas Ghesquière's current collection for Balenciaga (below) that has taken this fashion bull by its none-too-salubrious horns and run with it.
Biker jackets as scaly and violently coloured as intergalactic lizards, with alien reptile skins airbrushed on to their strange surfaces to match, and ultra-fine tube dresses decorated with scenes from antique Japanese gardens, surely make for some of the most spectacular pieces of the season.
"I'm not saying I'm Stella McCartney or anything," says the designer, blithely, speaking from his Paris showroom, "but, although it's not seen that way, latex is, in fact, very noble because it comes from trees. It's a natural texture."
For the dresses, in particular, the designer says that he was inspired by Coromandel screens, famously loved by Coco Chanel. "The jackets are more mixed, mechanical elements fused with ancient Chinese dragons. The latex was melted, then hand-sculpted, painted and sprayed. Those pieces are completely mad."
Well, he said it. They are also bizarrely beautiful in the way that only this designer knows how, and phenomenally expensive to produce. Most importantly, according to Ghesquière at least, the latex at Balenciaga is lined. "Usually, latex evokes sex and S&M," he says, "but I didn't want to say that at all. The rubber is not intended to touch the skin, there is silk in between. It's a softer image, not about fetishism at all."
Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men... If Ghesquière's reinterpretation of a raw material that is as associated with bondage as with surgical gloves is just as uncompromising and unashamedly élitist as might be expected, it is, in fact, just the fetish effect he was trying to avoid that has caught on.
Yes, skin-tight leather-effect trousers, with "wipe clean only" care instructions proudly on display, are all present and correct at a high-street chain near you, but should only be worn by those under the age of 25, please. (Well, all that fortysomething shopping at Topshop business had to be knocked on the head at some point.)
Meanwhile, back in Paris, Ghesquière has long moved on. Come next summer, Lurex, not latex, leggings will be the order of the day at Balenciaga. And where this designer leads...
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