Latex - Origins, History & Fashion
From Heroin Production to Haute Couture
Latex is a milky fluid, which can be found in around a tenth of the world’s plants. Technically, it’s polymer micro-particles suspended in water that plants use as a defence mechanism against insects.
Originally named ‘caoutchouc’ by indigenous Equatorial tribes, they began cultivating some of the 20,000 types of plants in which the rubber-like substance can be found. Latex rubber has a multitude of uses for mankind and has been used since as far back as the Aztecs in 1600 BC.
Natural latex is completely vegan & highly elastic but fragile & difficult to work with.
When taken from the Chicle & Jelutong trees, latex is used for things like chewing gum. When taken from the Opium Poppy; latex can be used in the manufacturing of opiates & heroin. And when taken from the Balata & Gutta Percha trees; latex can be used as a more conventional kind of natural rubber.
Industrial demand for rubber-like materials began to outstrip natural rubber supplies by the end of the 19th century, leading to the production of synthetic rubber.
Latex In Industry
It was the Mackintosh particularly that elevated this most exotic of substances from mere clothing material into something far more practical. The ability of latex to act as a shiny, tactile, sexy, second skin revolutionised sexuality within clothing. Thus, encouraging and enticing an ever-growing number of latex wear fetishists and enthusiasts.
Latex Fetishisation & Fashion
Through the 1800’s and into the 1900’s, the community of latex / rubber enthusiasts and fetishists grew exponentially. And soon the popularity of the ‘thrill of macking’ and its increasingly perverse usages, grew too.
The two-hundred-year journey of latex, from the Brazilian rainforest, to secretive dungeons and onto the catwalks of London Paris & Milan, has been a fascinating one. This epitome of modern-day hypersexuality, latex & rubberwear fetishism was forced underground in the puritanical social environment of the 1920s & 30s but found a resurgence in post-war 1950s Britain – primarily through British fashion designer & fetish photographer, John Sutcliffe.
This ex-RAF man who died in 1987 had a passion for fetishism and sexuality, which eventually spawned the iconic latex catsuit in the 1960s. The catsuit was prominently featured in the 1970’s fetish magazine; AtomAge – which Sutcliffe also published. But although the popularity of his garments and publications was considerable, it did not come without detractors – Sutcliffe was prosecuted for obscenity and his stock and photography were seized and destroyed.
But the prominence of latex clothing as fetish wear had now been established and soon a multitude of fashion designers began incorporating this most sensual of materials into their clothing designs. Notably, Vivienne Westwood, whose boutique featured full latex maids outfits alongside a host of latex dresses, skirts, stockings & menswear.
Later the likes of Gucci & soon the entire world of fashion began to embrace and celebrate the sexuality and taboo of latex in their catwalk shows. Now commonplace in music, film and fashion, latex clothing is the absolute epitome of sexuality, taboo and fetishism. And when Lady Gaga shook the hand of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a fabulous red, latex Atsuko Kudo dress before the world’s media – latex clothing took centre stage in 21st-century popular culture.