A beginner’s guide to latex

RULE ONE Don't start with the Catwoman suit "Just pretend you're rolling on a condom," Pippa Stevenson, the designer behind Pippa Latex,.


RULE ONE

Don’t start with the Catwoman suit

“Just pretend you’re rolling on a condom,” Pippa Stevenson, the designer behind Pippa Latex, laughs as I attempt to squirm my way into one of her skintight creations. She’s on her knees, inching the rubber dress up my naked body in the tiny bathroom of her studio apartment. My ass is squarely in her face, and I feel a lot like a sausage being stuffed into a casing three sizes too small.

Before I know it, the dress is up over my hips and it fits my body like a glove. The thick rubber packs the support of a serious push-up bra.

I dust away the white powder streaked across my legs (Stevenson coated the dress’s interior with baby powder to help it slide up my body) as she wipes down the dress with latex rubber polish to enhance the shine. By the time she’s done, I think this might be a material I could get used to.

Leather, lace, bondage: fashion is embracing all things fetish. Latex, once seen only in sex shops and at fetish parties, now graces the runways of high-end labels like Maison Martin Margiela, Marc Jacobs and Balenciaga. People are more curious than ever as pop stars like Rihanna and Katy Perry sport the stretchy stuff.

A latex virgin myself, I decided to visit a few of Toronto’s talented latex designers to give their creations a test drive and seek guidance for rookie rubber wearers.

The first rule of latex club? Start small.

“Just experiment,” advises Stevenson. “I’ve been getting a lot of orders for high-waisted skirts and mini shorts. They’re great entry pieces.”

Ashley Davies and Mina Smart, the designers behind House of Etiquette, also recommend separates or accessories that can easily mix and match with non-latex pieces in your wardrobe.

“You can always pair a skirt with a crop top,” says Davies. “Whatever you do, don’t dive in head first and get a catsuit . Work your way up.”

RULE TWO

Always use a dressing aide

Stevenson used baby powder, but Davies and Smart prefer silicone-based lube.

“It can’t be oil-based. Latex is oil-based, so an oil-based lube actually causes the clothing to disintegrate,” explains Smart.

They decide to start me off with a pleated high-waisted skirt. Davies coats the inside of the skirt with lube and instructs me on how to get dressed.

“Latex is like a Chinese finger trap: the harder you pull, the tighter it gets. You want to wiggle into it.”

I perform my own awkward version of the twist and, lo and behold, it goes on relatively easily.

Davies says darker is better for beginners.

“Start with black latex,” she says. “The lighter you go, the more maintenance there is, because latex reacts with metal. Metal jewellery or even fresh tattoos can stain latex.”

I’m starting to get the hang of things by the time I arrive at Ego Assassin’s studio. Designers Slinka, a former fetish model, and James Hagarty assure me you don’t have to be a size zero to look good in their wares.

“A big butt looks fantastic in latex, because the material’s tension suspends it very nicely,” Slinka laughs.

They dress me in a pencil skirt and use Armor All to polish it to an ultra-high sheen.

It’s here I learn one of the best things about latex: easy washing.

“When you take it off, just wash it in the sink. You don’t even need soap unless you spill something on it,” explains Slinka. “Then just keep it out of the sunlight and avoid oils.”

RULE THREE

A final rule for novices: buy quality

The latex pieces you get from indie designers are of a much higher quality than the latex lingerie sold at sex shops, which often isn’t built to last.

Clothing-grade latex can sometimes be worn by those with latex allergies.

“It’s refined and cured to the point that most of the allergy-causing proteins become inert,” explains Hagarty. “We have a few clients who thought they would never be able to wear it but are now very happy latex aficionados.”

Trying on latex in the safety of a designer’s studio is one thing, but what’s it like to wear this stuff in public? To find out, I wore a Pippa Latex dress to an industry event.

I was able to wiggle the dress on in less than five minutes at home. This is when I learned that latex is a magnet for cat hair. If you’re a pet owner, I suggest not putting the garment on until right before you walk out the door.

At the party, I got lots of looks and lots of compliments. People felt compelled to touch me, and a friend told me I was “really sticky to hug.” Latex doesn’t breathe, so things got a little heated under the dress’s bodice, but no one noticed, and I didn’t leave any sweat puddles on the floor.

After several carbonated drinks and a hot dog, my gut didn’t burst through my dress like the Kool-Aid Man, so I declared the night a success.

As I peeled the thick black rubber off my body back at home, I found myself disappointed to part with the dress. Like a second skin, latex has grown on me.

See more of Pippa Latex and House of Etiquette’s designs on the Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) runway Friday night (April 25) at Daniels Spectrum, (585 Dundas East). Pippa Latex shows at 8:35 pm and House of Etiquette at 10:10 pm. $45, stu $30 at the door or $35 online at fashionarttoronto.ca.

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