CANAL KNOWLEDGE: Mercedes and Gen in costumes made for one of their many visits to Venice’s grand masked balls
A small but significant demand for the fetishwear equivalent of fashion’s haute couture has existed for as long as fetishwear itself has.
In fact, in the decades before the modern fetish scene democratised access to stylish pervy clothing, if a fetish costume you saw in a magazine exhibited evidence of decent quality design and manufacture, it was almost certainly a one-off for the publisher or some other relatively wealthy client.
Today, especially in the world of latex fashion with its myriad colourways and extras, it is a lot easier to acquire individualised outfits without going down the maximum-cost route of total, ground-upwards custom design and construction. But of course there are still people out there who both desire and can afford this kind of luxurious indulgence.
Mercedes and Gen are two such people. This American couple, who’ve been together since they were teenagers, had their interest in fetish and fantasy costumes sparked by legendary British TV series The Avengers. They were subsequently inspired by the work of more British legends: John Sutcliffe of Atomage fame, Tony and Paula Kendrew of ’80s label Tanta Fash, and Steve English, who launched DeMask in 1990.
The designer M and G finally chose to work with to create their own fantasy outfits — and with whom they have enjoyed an enduring ‘couture relationship’ — was another Brit: House of Harlot’s Robin Archer. And now, the fruits of the trio’s collective labours have been detailed in a beautifully illustrated coffee table volume called Fetish Fantasy Fashion — the only book we know of ever to record an entire fetish haute couture collection.
As the book reveals, it was the Wasp outfit Robin had made for his wife Michelle in 1995, while still running Skin Two Clothing, that convinced Mercedes and Gen he could handle the complexity of work they were looking for. They commissioned their first two outfits from him that year — a flight suit based on a fighter pilot’s G-suit (the first image in our gallery, above right), and a suit similar to Michelle’s Wasp outfit.
Archer’s departure from Skin Two in 1997 to set up House of Harlot as a full-time business opened the way for production of M and G’s most demanding costume ideas. From a “clumsy beginning” when design ideas were exchanged by fax, the three developed “a working rapport that has born some extraordinary fruit” — to quote Robin himself.
Indeed, in his foreword to their book, he says that the work he has executed for Mercedes and Gen has allowed him “some of the most creative opportunities imaginable”. Few designers, he explains, have the pleasure of “realising such gorgeous and outrageous fantasy fashion” and then seeing it “being worn and enjoyed for many years by the owners themselves”.
The couple were persuaded to embark on the book by others who felt what they were doing was too important not to be fully documented for posterity
By publishing this book, Mercedes and Gen have enabled a much broader audience to share in that pleasure. You might think that, because they have the resources, they’re merely indulging in the kind of self-promotion the book industry calls ‘vanity publishing’.
But the couple were actually persuaded to embark on the book by others who had followed their creative adventures and felt that what they were doing was too important not to be fully documented for posterity.
One of them, Peter Leth of Denmark’s Passion Design, describes Fetish Fantasy Fashion as “a fantastic document of two people’s passion for each other combined with a talent to make the ultimate”. Marquis chief Peter Czernich also pays tribute to the couple’s collaborative endeavours, calling their costumes “probably the most inventive, most complex ever produced” and noting that “a lot of these creations are considered fetish classics and… are no longer just fetish fashion, they are recognised as works of art”.
The 160 pages of this A4 volume are divided into eight chapters grouping the clothes under such headings as Fantasy Females, Homage d’Atomage, Vamps and Femmes Fatales. In most of them, the spirit of classic Atomage and Tanta Fash total enclosure is very much alive — all the outfits feature hoods or masks to preserve anonymity. The designs also exhibit many other, diverse influences from 17th Century nobility to Japanese manga superheroes.
A chapter devoted to the costumes made for the pair’s attendances at the Carnival of Venice is the only one featuring reportage photography. The rest of the photography in the book is from studio shoots by Gen himself, who then often places the costumes onto artificial backgrounds created with 3D computer modelling.
In other hands, this might be the point at which you had wished some digital specialist had taken over, but the quality of Gen’s photography and image manipulation do full justice to the costumes.
There are in all around 240 full colour images, including many of Robin Archer’s original sketches for the garments. All the chapters, and many of the individual outfits, are introduced by short blurbs which often give fascinating insights into the thinking behind the designs.
So Fetish Fantasy Fashion really is an amazing record of a unique collaboration, now in its 13th year and showing no signs of running out of ideas.
The designs it presents may not all be to everyone’s taste, but then they don’t have to be for this book to stand as probably the finest single exposition of the latex coutourier’s art in existence.
And as such, it surely belongs not only on the shelves of fetish designers and latex lovers, but also in the reference collections of fashion students and art colleges everywhere.
For ordering guide, see the info panel above right, below the thumbnail gallery