In little more than half a decade of existence, Berlin-based label Savage-Wear has made a sizable impact on latex fashion at home and abroad.
Designer Heidi Pulkkinen’s fearless use of strong colours and extensive detailing singled the label out from more conservative domestic rivals from the very start. And even though the German market has gradually become more colour-conscious, Savage-Wear’s bright, breezy, sexy styling still gives it an edge.
If you don’t already know her story, you may have guessed from her surname that Heidi Pulkkinen is not German. In fact she’s Finnish, and her relationship with fetish fashion began in Helsinki, when she started to apply her three years of professional garment industry training to making PVC clothes for herself and for friends.
She also owned some moulded latex pieces and would wear these or her own PVC creations to Helsinki’s very rare fetish parties. So from making PVC clothing to making latex clothing was, for her, “not such a big step”, she says.
The bigger step, you might think, would be moving from Helsinki to Berlin. But even that, she insists, was not such a hard decision. She had wanted to move there for some time, and when, on a visit to the German capital, she met Alex Heim, everything just fell into place.
They became lovers, and later, business partners: Savage-Wear was launched in 2004 and the couple have been running the company together for the past three years.
Heidi designs the clothes and produces them with their Savage-Store team, while Alex takes care of the business-related things like running the website and social network pages, programming, marketing and managing.
Savage-Wear’s website mission statement says that it “designs and creates eccentric and fancy latex clothes for parties, shows, theatre, movies and television”, and wants to “make it possible for people to wear latex clothes on the street, just like any other kind of clothing.”
This seems to reflect the desire, and perhaps the dilemma, of many a latex designer. On the one hand, there is a tacit acknowledgement of latex clothing’s eminent suitability as high theatre; on the other, there is the desire to see the fabric in wide enough circulation to be accepted as streetwear.
Heidi, however, sees no contradiction in these two concepts, arguing: “It doesn't mean that the same outfits should be worn for the street and for special parties.
“The range of Savage-Wear clothing is quite big,” she continues, “and some of our simpler tops, leggings and skirts are very suitable for the street. And in the future I'll add more well-cut basics to the collection.
“But I personally find the more extraordinary designs more interesting and challenging, though they will take much more time to make and are then of course more expensive than the basic clothing.”
Asked what ideas and themes influence her designs, and what she feels makes them distinctive, Heidi replies with refreshing honesty.
“For me, it's difficult to say what exactly my design style is. Maybe the numerous details? I don’t see myself in any specific scene — more in many scenes. So I think I'm quite open what comes to styles or themes.
‘I try not to look much at what other latex designers are doing, because I don’t want to get subconscious ideas from other designers’ – Heidi
“Sometimes, if I have some theme in my mind, I also get ideas very easily about the designs. Sometimes they are just individual designs — just some idea I had. Usually I do the designs first and then decide afterwards about the colours.
“I try not to look much at what other latex designers are doing, because I don’t want to get subconscious ideas from other designers. But of the non-latex designers, I always found Alexander McQueen’s creations excellent!”
Alex agrees: “Alexander McQueen was a genius. And there are some other really interesting designers too. But as to what makes Savage-Wear distinctive, I would say in many cases it is the detailing. Often full of details, rarely just basic stuff.”
For any clothing business, good promotional photography is of course crucial, and the couple have clearly always recognised the importance to their marketing of working with the right photographers and models.
But while their site showcases numerous different collaborations, three names that crop up repeatedly are photographers Berserker and Jörg Böh, and model Sinteque.
“We should mention these three because they’ve done lots of photos for us,” says Alex. “But we are not fixed on any special people. Every photographer has a different view and a different style. So it’s interesting to see what will be the end result.
“We just had an awesome photo shoot in Binz, by the Baltic Sea, with Sinteque. It ended in the whirlpool in latex… that was so much fun!”
One of the first images from this latest Berserker shoot can be seen at the top of this very article, and the photo gallery on the right begins with several more.
Heidi attends the label’s photo shoots if she can, to check that everything fits and to keep the clothes shiny and wrinkle-free. “But usually I can't be there,” she explains, “so I just trust the model or the photographer to get me some usable product photos.
“Sinteque is a very good example of a professional model who plans her shoots very well, so that everything fits together — outfit, location, make-up, accessories... It's always a pleasure to work with her!”
‘We don’t very often do fashion shows because we want to keep our shows extraordinary, with good choreography etc’ – Alex
Although Savage-Wear has appeared on the catwalk at big German fetish weekends, and participated in various edgy alternative fashion events, the couple don’t see fashion shows as a major part of their activities.
“We don’t very often do fashion shows,” says Alex, “because we want to keep our shows extraordinary, with good choreography etc.
“Our last show outside Germany was in Athens. It was great and so much fun. Last year, we were in Moscow with a show. It was very interesting and great too, but the scene is still very small in Russia.”
Not surprisingly, Savage-Wear now boasts a solid international customer base. But how do its clothes fare on the domestic market? Are they sometimes considered a bit too “fashiony” for German tastes? Says Heidi:
“Maybe our designs are a bit too detailed and playful for some people, since they are more like clothes that you can wear outside and for parties, not just at home.
“But it seems that the German scene really has found colour, because people are mostly ordering outfits that are more colourful than just black and red — outfits as colourful as the way we show them in the online shop.”
Adds Alex: “I would say that we are selling more outfits for people who want to wear them at parties, photo shoots and so on, and less just for playing. Many customers are real rubberists too — but not all.
“Some are just interested in the way it looks — just as fashion. But that’s absolutely OK. It makes latex more ‘normal’.”
As we were putting the finishing touches to this article, Savage-Wear was preparing to take part once again in what Alex calls “the best of the summer Berlin Fashion Week”: Underground Catwalk, on July 8.
The catwalk in question occupies a 100 metre portion of a subway train which traverses the underground system while the show is in progress.
After this, the label’s next public appearance will be at the new Latexpo weekend in Hamburg (August 20-22), where it will appear in the fashion show as well as having a sales booth in the expo itself. (See our separate Latexpo preview for more information about this brand new event.)
Also planned are a complete relaunch of the Savage-Wear website and an expansion of the Savage-Store that will almost double its present size. And of course lots of new designs are promised, including more clothes for men.
So it looks like, one way and another, Pulkkinen & Heim GbR will be pretty busy for the rest of the year.
‘I would say we are selling more outfits for people who want to wear them at parties, photo shoots and so on, and less just for playing’ – Alex