A fondness for luxe leathers no longer crosses into taboo.
The Hollywood version of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” sugar-coated the world of S&M, somewhat demystifying and destigmatizing the subculture.
Now, fashion’s predilection to use studs, spikes, lacing and corsetry is having a similar effect. What once might have telegraphed “alternative lifestyle” now merely connotes a love of luxury leather details.
At the heart of this phenomenon is Christian Louboutin, who in 2007 introduced a spiked ankle boot and then followed by adding them to the classic Pigalle pump shortly thereafter. The designer said he was drawn to the fetish aesthetic, calling it “very decorative and rich in detail.”
Louboutin went a step further when he collaborated that same year with David Lynch on a photo exhibition called “Fetish” starring burlesque poster girl Dita Von Teese in an impossibly proportioned heel that mimicked a ballet pointe shoe. Louboutin cited references to Bette Paige and pop artist Allen Jones while creating, but said he feels today’s youth might think spikes and studs are specific to his designs.
“You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of a church or be in a gang to wear a tattoo. People don’t always associate my high heels with sex or fetishism.”
Both Louboutin and jeweler Eddie Borgo credit punk rock for referencing traditional bondage gear. Borgo also uses fetish detail, and it has become part of his brand’s DNA. Cones and spikes were a result of requests from his stylist friends and of his early days learning metalsmithing and the art of wax carvings used to make the jewelry molds. At their 2008 debut, buyers said the pieces were “too dangerous — getting through a TSA checkpoint would be an issue.”
Borgo used Fabien Baron’s “Sex” book as a jumping-off point for his padlock group, which featured a thick collar necklace.
“The one bracelet was considered too aggressive when it launched,” he said. “Now, there is little or no shock value.”
His last three collections explored softer elements like pearls and roses in his otherwise strong aesthetic — a reaction to the oversaturation of tough themes.
For some, the theme is thriving for fall. Joseph Altuzarra introduced his first bag line this season with a range featuring braided straps with fringed ends that look like a whip. Jeweler Annelise Michelson’s cuffs wrapped around the wrist in a “bondagelike” manner, she said. And at her Milan presentation, Elena Ghisellini divided the room into day and night themes with evening bags in a dark, moody romantic room; its vintage decor peppered with S&M crops and even a swing. She channels a strong woman in her designs, but gives the bondage theme elegant touches like corset details on a glove leather clutch.
Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo united themes of dance and bondage this season. “Dance didn’t feel like Jimmy Choo yet both require discipline,” she said, offering a pink velvet pump with a leather tie-up strap. Details like studs, zippers and patent might be a large part of the bondage art form, but translating them into something wearable is her job as the designer, she noted: “I don’t want to take the literal form to my customers.”