Catalyst Latex are known to be big proponents of chlorinated latex, which is latex chemically treated to change the surface quality of the rubber. One of the major benefits of this is to reduce the friction of the latex and make dressing easier. Besides this, Catalyst aim to produce designs with a cut and fit akin to more regular clothing – “real clothes in rubber”. Gord from Catalyst talked in detail about these subjects with Kyle&Selina of the Dark Shiny Fashion Alternatives blog.
This is Dark Shiny Fashion Alternatives fourth Q&A, and we thank them once more for sharing.
Can you provide a short bio of your background in fashion?
My name is Gord and I may be seen as the frontman at Catalyst Latex. However, I’m just part of the management team including my partner Hils and daughter Kit. My management background in engineering and materials provides functionality and rationale, but Hils’ degree from the London College of Fashion and Kit’s art college background together provided the creative aspects for Catalyst.
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?
I have been a latex lover for many years, but a high-flying career kept me as a purchaser of latex designs, with no time or inclination to actually make any clothing. However, my interest in latex and science led me to experiment with the chlorination of rubber – a process that gives latex clothing a totally smooth finish, ending the need for talcum powder as it was then, or lubes as used today.
photo: Mary Anne Bailie; model: Tamar Roxx
Can you provide a bit more in depth explanation regarding chlorination? We understand it makes it smooth, knocks down the natural latex smell and may dull it.
Chlorination is a “wet” process that micro-smoothes the surface of the latex. As an end result, you will not need talc or lube in most cases to get the garment on. The outside of the garment will also be smooth.
Chlorination has added benefits as it reduces the noise and natural smell of the latex material. It will not self-stick when dried after cleaning, thus allowing for better and easier storage. The lower friction reduces external wear and enhances “layering”. Finally, there seems to be a decrease in allergenic behaviour.
Allergies to latex appear to have become an issue. Whether or not a person has a latex allergy has become a standard question when visiting a doctor or dentist.
The allergy aspect is interesting, but as I am not a medic I cannot offer any explanation. It appears that people with a latex allergy can handle chlorinated latex. We offer free samples for people to try out for allergy. After 11 years, we have not had A SINGLE REPORT of allergic reaction to our latex samples. Though, as we’ve not plied the Pharma industries with thousands of monetary units for Official Tests, we may not claim it to work. But it sure as hell seems to.
“Yes – we know about your latex allergy. And no – there’s nothing for you to worry about.” photo: John McRae
To what degree does it still take shine and hold it? Does polishing the latex have an effect on the chlorination effect?
We don’t use or recommend shine. We’re not against it. It’s just something we don’t do.
Most latex wearing is either party or private. For party you want to show it off at its best and polish it to a perfect shine. In private that may matter less, and the sensual feel of unpolished, chlorinated latex is truly something to behold. So it’s just a bit of my own history really, not doing parties in my early days, that never brought me in touch with polish and techniques.
When you polish latex, the polish – whatever it may be – coats the surface if the latex, burying the soft, smooth caress it once held, beneath a veneer of sticky silicone stuff. You can gauge my standpoint here. The process of donning and doffing will lead to spreading that polish to the inside of the garment, concealing the smooth chlorinated surface and making it like any other ordinary latex.
Of course, if you are actually able to completely remove that silicone – and good luck to you – the original chlorinated surface will still be there for you.
How long does the chlorination effect last? Is it permanent or does it diminish in the long run?
Chlorination, as a surface process, lasts as long as the surface. High wear areas – depending on your activity that might be knees, bums etc. – may lose the natural latex shine earlier than other areas. Chlorinated or not. Makes no difference. It is possible to rechlorinate the latex and restore the smooth feel, though not the natural shine.
photo: Nicholas Gray; models: Morphine and Dee La Beau
How difficult are repairs since latex does tear when you are not careful?
Chlorinated latex is so soft and smooth that regular latex glue has a hard time sticking to it. A conventional repair might just fail in seconds for that very reason. So you need to prep the latex first by physically breaking down the outer chlorinated skin with fine grit sandpaper, or like Scotchbrite™ nylon scourer, or similar, to score the surface and provide a good key for the adhesive. Apart from a bit of extra prep then, it’s as repairable as normal latex.
That was an interesting and informative digression on Chlorination. Back to the fashion questions: At what point did you decide to take your personal interest in latex and transition it to a vocation?
Having discovered the chlorination process, in 2004 we offered it as a service to fellow latex lovers on the internet, which drew remarkable interest and provided a second, tiny income stream. This was to prove invaluable in 2009 when redundancy from full-time management forced big decisions to be made..
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. 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?
You don’t take up mountaineering tomorrow and tackle Everest next weekend. We started slowly, in a small way, with our main income from fitting bathrooms and other small renovation works, where self-employment enabled the flexibility to maintain an income stream, while developing our latex offering.
We recognized there was a number of strong players already on the scene and felt we needed to have a clear identity to offer, so developed two clear tag-lines.
“Rubber without the Rub” summarized our promotion of chlorinated latex and at the time I believe we were the only latex clothing maker to offer full chlorination of all our products – a market leader if you like.
“Real clothes in Rubber” was put together to explain that we made latex versions of clothing you’d find in Marks & Spencer UK, Macy’s etc. So we don’t do catsuits and gimp masks, but we do beautifully tailored proper clothing, outerwear and underwear – in rubber!
photo: Retrofotostudio; model: Jeanie Wishes
You’re running a business. You have competition. Rubberists often feel alone – as if they’re the only ones with this interest. The cost of latex garments is not crazy when compared to well made traditional clothes.
How sizeable do you feel the latex market is? It must be substantially larger than a small group of people to support so many companies.
Before the advent of World Wide Web, rubberists were indeed “Alone”. Sure there were exclusive clubs, clandestine private gatherings and small adverts for “please rush me …”. The internet did as much to change all that as the steam engine did for industry.
Catalyst started with the internet, recognizing many established players, and found its own niche with Real Clothes in Rubber, and Rubber without the Rub offering of chlorinated latex. By this time, people were no longer alone and the interweb gave instant access and the ability to compare price, delivery and quality at the flick of a mouse.
Our market research shows the marketplace to be growing still, with a huge influx of young adventurous, sexy, nerdy types hungry for shiny, cosplay, streetable, sexy latex that’s easy to wear and care for, and those criteria are a big part of what we offer the market today.
But we still offer the old school mainstays and find a remarkable following in our Victorian latex line, sleepwear, and just real clothes in rubber.
In our short existence on the scene, we have already seen several brands come and go, some with adventurous styles, others with knock-down prices. We’re here for good, with the stuff that most people really want to wear.
photo: Shaun Hodge; model: Araneae Mactans
Latex can be described as a “Fetish,” a “kink”, “Alternative fashion” or simply “fashion”. Do you prefer one description over another?
With “Real clothes in Rubber” becoming accepted as a tagline, we found the sweet spot between fetish and fashion where folk of all ages and backgrounds could find latex they could be comfortable with, and comfortable in.
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?
Looking again at real clothing, we see some garments need to be close-fitting like undergarments, lingerie, stockings, swimwear etc., whereas flowy dresses, puffer jackets, lounge pants are better as a loose fit. The extra benefit of chlorinated latex is the ‘swish factor’ as the latex will never self-stick, but moves and flows like silk!
If it’s a “second skin” does it mean it needs to be worn without “undergarments”? Does that intimidate people from wearing it?
Someone asked if they should wear their bra under a latex dress. It was hard to find kind words to portray the mush of damp polyester wadding and wet flesh that would occur, so we only ever recommend wearing latex under latex, under latex – hell, as many layers as you like! Chlorinated latex layers just slide over one another. Wear latex knickers under your latex dress – real clothes.
photo: Chris Gray; model: Arum (@littlesquiggle)
In your experience, how concerned are people about body image when considering fashion choices? Does latex, as a material, help or hinder these decisions?
Latex can be as revealing or concealing, according to garment style and size; our client base runs from stick-thin to absolutely huge (can we say that??). We can only guess that it depends on the context of how and where an outfit will be worn, and many other factors personal to the individual.
Do you feel latex tends to express one’s body with honesty as if is was no different than a “second skin” or is it more of a fashionable type of shapewear that fixes a person’s perceived “flaws”?
Very similar to your previous point. More a question for the catsuit manufacturers I reckon. Look at our flowing styles to see that latex clothing can be selected to enhance any body type or shape. It’s a beautifully natural, draping fabric that can flatter anyone in the right garment.
photo: Darkslide Photography; model: Baneology
How do you find the market for latex wear distributed between men, women, cross-dressers (men or women), celebrity couture?
Celebrity couture is quite subtle and usually it is the stylist making the inquiry/order. It will be quite specific and exacting, and surprisingly tight on budget at the outset. Get the stylist onside with a basic appraisal, add in the extras and get famous! Not quite, as you may never be fully sure who will wear it and to what event.
With regard to real folk like you and I, we need to define the word ‘customer’. There’s the adventurous ‘vanilla’ girl buying a pencil dress for a party, there’s a man buying for his partner, there’s a Domme being bought-for by a client, there’s a pseudonym buying a dress for himself … you should never doubt or question, but so often the sizing data will reveal another story so yes, regardless of the name on the PayPal, the end-wearer could be anyone. Who is the customer there?
Our only concern, particularly when a man buys a woman’s style for himself is that it should end up looking good, so that he will feel great. When people try to conceal or blur the truth, it makes it harder for us to deliver the look they ultimately crave. So please folk, be honest and upfront!
What is your favorite piece of latex that you’ve created in your career for a man and for a woman?
One of our earliest and most enduring Statement Pieces is still our Catalyst Kilt. It remains to this day the most authentically styled kilt on the market. Sure, it’s not cheap but takes a full 2-3 days to make and meticulously finish, gives years of service and excellent value.
Women’s wear is harder to pinpoint as we change many of our styles each season, but for sheer volume, our underwired pencil dress, fully chlorinated for easy-on, has been a runaway winner the past 18 months!
photo: Shayne Fergusson; models: Aussie Pole Boys Steve Watson & Peter Pavlov
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 tell them to buy Spandex! Seriously, people that drill down to us are already committed to latex. We are not an entry-level designer, and happily rarely get entry-level questions (We do, but we’re not telling!). Has to be said also that all our chlorinated pieces have reduced odour and increased wearability.
What is your design philosophy? What drives your creativity?
Listen to your customers and watch TV! Filter out the background of catsuit inquiries and see what interesting outfits people want. Keep an eye to the Cosplay arena. Listen to your photo models as they pick up on styles from places we don’t go. Watch TV, read fashion mags. Our best-selling dress ever evolved from a UK TV prog! See what’s trending, what the people are ‘liking’ and above all, be aware of Copyright.
photo: Steve Prue for Cosplay Culture Magazine; models (left to right): Luna Lovebad, Kota Wade, Kelly Eden, Vivid Vivka, Stephanie Michelle
Less or More? Do you prefer designing a latex outfit which is more on the revealing side or leaning towards full coverage?
Not fussed. We all have skin and integrate it with our clothing. I’m not a 100% coverage purist. Whatever works and makes a confident look is more important than some random ethos.
How do you feel is the best way to integrate latex into an everyday “public” outfit. How would you mix it with other materials?
Oh wow. I think this is our Soapbox.
To begin, chlorinated latex needs no talc or lube and so can just be ‘worn’ like everyday clothing. It is soft and smooth and has no surface drag so integrates nicely with/over/under other fabrics. Chlorination does NOT make the latex more shiny (mythbuster there), rather if anything it dulls down the lustre. Many folk find our chlorinated blends in with everyday clothing, as opposed to the highly polished ‘obviously fetish’ latex we see elsewhere. Again it’s that wearing just one piece of soft chlorinated latex, typically a tee or leggings, with your 90% regular streetwear that gives you the buzz without the attention. When you get real confident – then get out the polish, if you need to make a statement.
What are your goals for your future in latex design?
Carry on making Real clothes in Rubber, and get our chlorination better than perfect! Avoid the catsuit trap – everyone else makes them, mostly very well – no benefit for us. Listen to customers and try to make their dreams come true (unless they want a catsuit).
What is your favorite part of being a latex fashion designer?
Not sure there is one. It’s bloody hard work. You have to deal with a whole range of customer inquiries from the most sensible to the most, well, rude! It’s not just about cutting and glueing, but we do accounts and payroll, health and safety, purchasing and stock control, social media … but I think I personally get into the best headspace when I’m actually making up a garment. It’s the craft, the feel, the aim for total perfection every time and the satisfaction of holding up a customer order when made, looking at it and thinking, that’s perfect!
Natalie Nightwolf fell in love with the Connie Dress when she tried it on her youtube channel
What is your blue sky accomplishment to achieve in the world of latex clothing or fashion in general?
To build a business with a solid reputation, a go-to brand, a name people know they can trust, a place they can always find something new and exciting, an entity I can pass on to our next generation to carry on developing and delivering.
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?
Hmmm – not my president, but I take the sentiment. Nah, latex will never be mainstream. Too picky and care-needy. Men will always be the big fetishistas and women the fashionistas. Generally.
Women’s clothing seems to have such variety. Can men’s latex be as interesting? What are your thoughts on men’s latex fashion?
Most men are too scared to buy anything slightly unusual (exceptions always exist – I’m talking down the average). A designer may invest a lot of time and resource designing a new rage for men, big launch etc., and never see the sales to recover the investment. Sad but true. So why should a designer bother, frankly?
Example – we put a photo of a new style on Social Media. If it’s a girl’s style we get hundreds of likes, if it’s for men, maybe a handful. What does that tell you?
Is there anything you would like to add?
No – I’d just add it’s taken me 8 weeks to get to this point and I’d not want to delay any further. Thanks for the opportunity to express!
photo: Mary Anne Bailie; model: Tamar Roxx
Thank you to Gord for his participation, and to Kyle&Selina of the Dark Shiny Fashion Alternatives blog for holding the Q&A.
Header photo: Paul Ward Photography, Model Tamar Roxx