Kim West: On Rubber

"It's not all sex, submission and seediness..."
Kim West's iconic playsuit design
Rubber. It’s not all sex, submission and seediness: the way we view latex is changing and Kim West is back on the scene to spearhead the new rubber revolution.

According to designer Kim West, rubber can be slotted into our daily wardrobe with relative ease and she believes that the material, previously associated with fetish wear, can be worked into mainstream.

Inspired by the prevalence of the theatrical style of hyper-real pop star (and increasingly culturally significant) Lady GaGa - who has been a leading ambassador of the sexy trend - Kim West relaunched her line in November and since then rubber has been experiencing a noticeable revival. Even Topshop has started to stock it.
“I’m amazed it still has that ‘naughty’ aspect to it,” says West, chief ambassador for the malleable fabric that she believes should be used more for everyday staples not just suspenders or gimp suits. “It looks so great when it’s on, nothing else looks like it, it’s completely unique.”
 
Kim West is a veteran in rubber and a name that many musicians have associated themselves with. Her designs can deliver shock and are subversive whilst remaining cool. So how did she come to work with the stuff?

It was London, 1984, and West was working as a waitress at the time and planning a hot date where she wanted to impress. Being skint, but a women with an imagination, she crafted a dress from rubber from a Hoxton sex shop and cemented it with a bottle of Copydex. The response was encouraging.

“People were coming up to me all night asking me what it was made of and whether or not they could touch it,” she recalls. “So a friend of mine said that she would sell one of my dresses in her shop at The Great Gear Market. Ten were sold on the first day. I made £400, which is more than I would make in a month from my job as a waitress.”

Before long, she had her own stall and was selling her wares to visionaries including Tina Turner, Madonna and even Kylie Minogue. These iconic figures wore West’s creations in photo-shoots, videos and live performances.

“Kylie had a zebra striped skirt and jacket; Madonna, a pair of the shoes, and I sold a tight-fitting bustier dress to Tina Turner,” she remembers. “It was a lot easier then to sell to famous musicians; they, or their stylists, would wander around markets looking for clothes to pull.”

It was Eighties pin-up and punk flirt Adam Ant who encouraged West’s expansion into menswear.

“He wanted to wear one of my fringed jackets for a show he was co-presenting with Muriel Gray,” she says. “His stylist asked me to make the jacket bigger on the shoulders. The next thing I knew, Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s bassist Tony James was in asking me if they could wear some fringe jackets for Top Of The Pops.”

As her popularity as a designer grew, her newfound fame brought a few inevitable raised eyebrows but also some unwanted attention from perverts, who would call her up to forty times a day with requests to ‘sniff her rubber’ amongst other similar vulgar comments.

Having seen David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust at the age of thirteen (having to miss school for a week because she “couldn’t stop crying through the hysteria of it all”), her choice of pseudo name Kim West came from the K West sign on Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album, a homage to the impact Bowie’s music had made on her young life. 

As trends are recycled, re-vamped and rejuvenated, West has now found herself in the spotlight once again. As an originator she is now inspiring a new wave of designers, as well as creating her own new pieces.

“It’s all a happy coincidence for me,” she says on the cycle of fashion. “Things like fringing, leggings, and playsuits are my best sellers at the moment.”

One of her most notable designs is an animal print playsuit, which is on the right side of fashion/fetish and is bound to be a sure fire hit with hipsters like Katy Perry, and rockabillies who want that 1940s Betty Page pin-up look.

What’s truly impressive about these new designs is that they have been completely revolutionised by her use of ‘glyde-on’ latex, which is treated in a chemical process so it easily slides up the body. Wearers no longer have to endure putting sticky regular latex onto their bare skin or having to bask in talc to reduce the traction.

Using the ‘glyde-on’ rubber, West has developed a festival range including hot pants, bikinis and capes. Designing the range has reminded West that she is at her best when it come to designing ‘everyday’ wear for women, although her Autumn/Winter 2010 collection features a couple of killer standout pieces, including a pair of snakeskin leggings, aimed at the more daring male dresser - such as an exuberant front man perhaps?

Will you be working rubber into your wardrobe this summer? Let’s see.

Words by April Welsh

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Clash Magazine Issue 52




This article appears in the 52nd issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from July 1st.

Find out more about the issue HERE. Subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.


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