Have you got this one in polyurethane, please?: Sixties 'kinky boots' were followed by Seventies 'bondage gear'. Now a full range of quaint clothing in unlikely materials is about to invade the fashion mainstream

FETISHIST clothing, once the preserve of the sex shop, is moving into the fashion mainstream. The boom in bondage clothing has been inspired by designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Pam Hogg, who experimented with rubber, leather, PVC and shiny Lycra in the Eighties.

Now their ideas are being widely copied by mass-market manufacturers, boosted by the film Batman Returns, in which Michelle Pfeiffer plays Catwoman dressed in a skintight black catsuit.

In the United States, orders for catsuits were 60 per cent up on 1991, according to Women's Wear Daily, the American clothing trade newspaper. British manufacturers reported a similar increase following the UK release of the film.

High street retailers are stocking up for autumn on 'wet-look' catsuits and the sort of clothing that used to be sold through mail-order catalogues.

Miss Selfridge, a 95-branch high street chain targeting 15- to 25-year-olds, is selling black PVC and fishnet tops, and cycling shorts with suspender belts. Top Shop, which sells to much the same age group, is bringing in PVC skirts and a variety of fishnet, mesh and satin bodysuits.

At the Pineapple shop in Covent Garden, Sarah Callard, 23, was squeezing into a shiny sequinned print catsuit, price pounds 89.95. 'I like it. It feels corseted and strapped in, like a second skin,' she said.

In the Sixties, the fetishist's wardrobe inspired Diana Rigg's costume in The Avengers; in the Seventies, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood borrowed elements of bondage clothing to create the punk look. This month, the fashion market is bracing itself for an explosion in demand for fetishist clothing that will make the 'kinky' gear of earlier decades seem tame.

Michelle Olley, of Skin Two, a fetishist publisher and clothing retailer, applauded the trend. 'It's a natural extension of the body-consciousness of the Eighties.'

Fetishism has always played a part in fashion. Paul Barrett-Brown, a costume effects engineer who worked on both the Batman films, said: 'Fashion is all about bondage and fetishism. Why else do so many women wear high-heeled shoes and stockings?'

Many women no longer associate fetishist fabrics such as rubber and stretch PVC with sexual deviancy. Worn in the right way and with the right attitude, they take on a bold new identity. Ms Callard described the new appropriation of rubber and PVC as an 'expression of women's independence'.

Designers also find the fabrics more practical because of advances in technology. In Paris, Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler use Lycra-backed polyurethane. High street clothing companies are using cotton-backed polyurethane. Ms Olley said: 'The new fabrics are a quantum leap in fit and performance.'

But there is a cloud on the horizon for real fetishists. Specialist retailers are worried that the fabrics that turn on their customers might not have the same appeal if everyone else starts wearing them.

(Photograph omitted)

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