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ady Gaga wears underground fetish fashions on stage and no one cares.  In fact, I am fairly certain I saw my twelve-year-old neighbor wearing black leather bondage-style clothing last weekend. How did deviant bondage fashion become a ubiquitous part of our visual culture?

As early as spring 1940, DC Comics printed a whip-yielding Catwoman clad in a corset concealed by black bodysuit. Thus, we have the cat suit.  ABC broadcast the Batman television series using the same visual language to the mainstream public from 1966–’68.  Series costume designer, Andrew Pallack, gave us Julie Newmar in a menacing black leather one-piece.  As Batman’s flippant love interest, Catwoman is universally known as a symbol of kink, yet she is received well, even in conservative audiences, due to a lack of on-screen deviance.

British rock groups The Rolingstones and The Who are often attributed with popularizing rebellious black leather during the ’60s. But if the character Catwoman was airing on a popular American family network like ABC, was this really so rebellious?   Malcolm McLaren’s and Vivienne Westwood’s collaborative fashions of the ’70s inspired concurrent punk culture and were worn by bikers, fetishists, and prostitutes.  These subcultures used the black leather in binding ways to self-identify as deviants.  Where the action clearly correlates with the fashion, the public has a greater reaction of shock.

The language of black leather binding fashions as a communicator of sexual intent is so pervasive in our visual language that designers are now able to use it as a part of the universal established dialect.  Studio Roosegaarde and V2_ created a series, Intimacy, that utilizes interactive technology to create changing opacity or transparency in two dresses depending on the proximity of strangers or the relation of the wearer to the dress in order “to create an intimate play of disclosure.”  The tight collar around the neck and severe vertical striations that form the bodice clearly state that the wearer is bound, but the smart material gives the wearer an opportunity to decide between opaque or transparent without committing to a single intention.

Design firm Sinato plays with rolls of aluminum sheeting in the interior display at the Diesel Denim Gallery Aoyama in Tokyo.  Aluminum rolls drape from the ceiling to the floor.  Sinuous curves become tables for display while simultaneously binding the interior space in such a way that inhabitants must defy restriction to interact with the store.  While passing through these ephemeral ribs, one must be cautious of the edges– sharp aluminum easily cuts the skin.  The overall effect of interaction is a tedious and provocative exploration of the boutique.

The pandemic bondage fashion movement, inspired by fetish garb, incites questions of boundaries.  What does loosening those boundaries mean?  In our fluid culture in which immediate gratification becomes banal and unsatisfying, we turn to implied boundaries as a source of intrigue.  In the bound form, we find refuge in an evolving visual language that offers tease and requests reward.


photo credit: Interior of Diesel Store, Tokyo by Sinato

Written by Contributing Writer
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