As one of, if not the most eminent designer of luxury latex couture, Atsuko Kudo barely needs introducing. Her label’s rise in popularity has been marked by an explosion of interest from celebrities, performers and fashionistas, which in turn has contributed towards an unprecedented mainstream awareness of and interest in latex fashion generally.
Atsuko Kudo’s popularity is not due merely to powerful branding or famous associations, of course, but her sophisticated and feminine designs, employing technologically complex innovations such as prints, lace effects or perforated patterns.
Atsuko Kudo took part in blogger KyleSelina’s latest Q&A, and we thank KyleSelina once more for sharing.
Can you provide a short bio of your background in fashion?
I have studied fashion in Tokyo where I discovered latex then I moved to London to study theatre costume and nightclubs!
How did you discover latex as a material to use in fashion? Did you have a personal interest in wearing latex or was it just a material that you found interesting?
As above, I discovered latex when I was studying fashion in Tokyo. It was a part of the college course to do market research. I chose to visit a sex shop. I fell in love with the fabric. I love the look and feel of latex. I felt like a superwoman when I wore it. Later it became my passion to dress other women to discover the magic of latex and feel empowered.
The ‘Restricted Love’ collection shown at Lingerie London, 2012
At what point did you decide to take your personal interest in latex and transition it to a vocation?
I was making clothes for myself and friends to wear for parties. One day I got a call from Coco de Mer when it first opened – they wanted to stock my latex. I was making clothes from my living room alone, I didn’t even have a price list but I set up a business so that I could start to sell!
A business has a number of things that one must deal with that sometimes dim one’s passion. You have rent, insurance, utilities, materials, employee salaries etc. Is the market for latex adequate to balance the pressures of business? What end of the market absorbs more time – the celebrity couture or the consumer market? How do you balance your passion for creativity with the need to be profitable?
The latex industry is still very young and small compared to ordinary fashion. The costs of running a business in London are high. Because we are a couture brand and have a shop, design studio, staff and offices we have even more costs. Many of the garments we create are made to fit individual customers. Everything is handmade in London.
If you haven’t got a factory to cut down the cost like big fashion brands or just exist as a one-woman band with no shop or staff to avoid paying high overheads it’s even tougher. Actually the market price for latex doesn’t really make sense because the expectation is for it to be a cheap product. You just try to be good, creative, and prepared to work hard for everything.
However we have such a passion for latex and want to make sure it’s done at the very highest standard so we are always feeling creative. You have to love what you are doing and believe that you can achieve your best work. I hope the passion shows in what people see with our latex designs.
Atsuko Kudo’s boutique at Holloway Road, London. Photo: Timeout
Latex can be described as a “fetish”, a “kink”, “Alternative Fashion” or simply “fashion”. Do you prefer one description over another?
I like them all!
It seems many latex outfits are designed to be body hugging. I’ve heard latex referred to as a “Second Skin”. Do you agree that latex should be used for tight outfits or does it lend itself to “loose” outfits?
One of the big strengths of latex fabric is the second skin element. It can fit beautifully like a glove so long as it’s cut correctly – so it’s perfect for bodycon styles but let’s not limit our perception. Loose garments can be wonderful too. For example, we make a very nice trench coat which is not bodycon at all but I think it is very sexy.
If it’s a “second skin” does it mean it needs to be worn without undergarments? Does that intimidate people from wearing it?
It’s nice to wear it without underwear. If latex is cut correctly it will give you support like a shapewear. You can wear with underwear of course. There are no rules. But some garments have got bra cups already built in. A lot of our dresses come this way – we recommend not to wear a bra underneath those items.
Top: Mabel McVey; Above: Nicola Peltz
In your experience, how concerned are people about body image when considering fashion choices? Does latex, as a material, help or hinder these decisions?
Do you feel latex tends to express one’s body with honesty as if it was no different than a “second skin” or is it more of a fashionable type of shapewear that fixes a person’s perceived “flaws”?
We offer different styles to suits all sizes, shapes and ages of women. As above, if the garment is cut to the correct size and thickness it will work as shapewear. There are garments with built-in bra cups, and corsets to give extra support available too.
Overall if you choose the correct garments and they are well designed and cut then latex will make the most of your body in the way you want it to be expressed – and that is the most important thing.
How do you find the market for latex wear distributed between men, women, cross-dressers (men or women), and celebrity couture?
Atsuko Kudo latex is for everyone who wishes to feel beautiful, feminine and strong!
What is your favorite piece of latex that you’ve created in your career, for a man and for a woman?
For a woman… we’ve created so many pieces for so many incredible women and I love them all – but if I have to choose one it has to be the red dress that Lady Gaga wore to meet the Queen of England! It was an iconic performance by Gaga and the dress looked amazing on her. I was also so happy to see the Queen’s smile when she met Gaga. I felt it was a bit like royal approval for latex fashion – not that the latex community needs that of course but it was just funny. Latex had been seen as only more hardcore and S&M but everything seemed to change from that moment. I am so grateful to be part of it.
For a man…. I made a special hand-painted cheongsam dress for Simon Hoare who is my longtime collaborator, business partner, muse and later became my husband – it was for a Millennium party – the year 2000 was when I started Atsuko Kudo.
Lady Gaga’s Royal Variety Performance, 2009 – she wore this dress to meet Elizabeth II
People can state that they don’t like latex because of the smell, or because the material doesn’t breathe and they sweat too much, or because it’s too tight or it makes them look like they’re selling sex. How do you address those concerns?
I actually like the fact that latex has all of those qualities. It’s not easy to wear it. You have to go through some suffering but …. the results are amazing.
I see latex the same as other fetish items like high heels, corsets etc – they are not easy but they are worth it…
Do I want to look like someone selling sex? – Yes. Sometimes. On my own terms. It’s interesting – not boring. So long as it is all under your control.
What is your design philosophy? What drives your creativity?
I want to empower woman through latex. I want to see a shiny sexy woman living the life she wants and deserves. I want to see a more shiny world full of love.
Less or More? Do you prefer designing a latex outfit which is more on the revealing side or leaning towards full coverage?
I love both. It is not necessary to decide one or another.
How do you feel is the best way to integrate latex into an everyday “public” outfit. How would you mix it with other materials?
There are no rules. But you may not want to wear head to toe latex for every day. You can easily mix a latex pencil skirt or leggings with other materials. And accessories such as gloves, collars, belts, hats, look great. It’s however you feel – do what you want to do!
Mixing a latex pencil skirt with other materiels, by Style On The Couch blog.
What are your goals for your future in latex design?
I want to dress the Queen of England in our latex one day. When she celebrated her 60 year diamond jubilee she had a photographic exhibition in Windsor castle with one photo per year and chose that picture with Lady Gaga to represent the year 2009. It seemed so far away before but after seing her with Gaga there may be a tiny chance? I would design a classical style suit and hat like she wears now in a bright colour would be nice. It would be a pleasure and my ultimate dream.
What is your favorite part of being a latex fashion designer?
To be able to meet and work with so many amazing people and projects. We get to work with the world’s top superstars and creative artists but also what nobody sees is that we mostly work with people you will never hear about because they are ordinary people buying an extraordinary product to make some special moments in their life feel even more special.
Some time ago we made briefs and a corset for a very large sized girl (14 x XL) who wanted to feel and look beautiful for her husband. She could not find the outfit that made her feel that way so visited us to make her own unique pieces. When she wore the outfit there were some tears both in her and her husband’s eyes.
These stories of ordinary people you never really hear about but they are just as beautiful as the ones in the newspaper. Often more so.
What is your “Blue Sky” accomplishment to achieve in the world of latex clothing or fashion in general?
I want to dress many more women to make the world more shiny and lovely. That can happen in many unexpected ways. Recently we dressed a car and supermodel Natasha Poly at the same time for a fashion campaign for Mercedes Benz A/W 2016 in which AK was the chosen brand. We vacuum bagged the car in a concrete factory in Miami, Florida – it was epic!
Also we dressed a set and models covered in 99.9% latex for a Veuve Cliquot champagne party last year. It was a fashion/art event curated by former French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld and we collaborated with her along with work from Karl Lagerfeld and Tom Ford. The event was directed by theatre director Patrick Kinmonth. It was such a thrill and a great experience and I think took latex to another place as the audience were coming into the concept from a very different angle.
Now we have dressed a big car and the set that we never thought to dress, what’s next? The blue sky can be anything…
Top: Mercedes Benz Fashion Film; Above: Atsuko Kudo with models for the Veuve Clicquot event ‘SEVEN’. Photo: Dave Benett
President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” People tend to be fearful of things that are different. They express that fear through aggressive or demeaning behavior towards others to express that their position is superior. Even without external pressure, a person can be fearful due to internal thoughts over how people will react.
This brings us to fashion. You can say the more different something is from the norm, the more people will react negatively. Do you agree with this? Is latex “too different” from what is accepted fashion to be commonplace? How much more extreme is it than wearing leather? Women often wear leather to corporate jobs. Is latex that much more extreme? Is men’s latex wear more “extreme” than women’s wear?
What do you say to someone who deep down would want to wear latex in public settings?
It’s ok to be yourself and respect others, we are all different. If someone is nervous about a fabric choice then it is probably them that has the problem. Stop fear and make love the goal.
Women’s clothing seems to have such variety. Can men’s latex be as interesting? What are your thoughts on men’s latex fashion?
Men’s latex can look great too. But it’s different of course. We specialize in women but we do a range of good suits and accessories for men – but only really in store. So you have to visit us! Then I can show what is available for men.
Is there anything you would like to add?
If you are thinking about trying latex or even Atsuko Kudo latex for the first time I would say if you can then try to visit us. The experience we try to give is unlike normal shopping. We sell our clothes in our flagship store in London.
But we also sell to many people online who we never meet by using measurements and possibly some photos. We always prefer to meet in person but it’s not always possible. Some of the public/celebrity work that you may have seen might be done this way too. We hope we can help you too. Looking forward to seeing you in Atsuko Kudo! xx
Photo: Amy Spanos, Model: Em Cmk
Thank you to KyleSelina of the Dark Shiny Fashion Alternatives blog for holding the Q&A, and to Atsuko Kudo for her participation.
Header photo: Peter Ashworth