Earlier this year, during London Fashion Week, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Violet Chachki walked the Richard Quinn runway dressed in a latex bodysuit and black pumps with a leash in her hand, while a man tied to the leather accessory walked by her side. It was just one of the few instances in 2022 in which fetishes have appeared on the fashion scene, making style sexier, kinkier, and freer.
Trend forecasters at the shopping platform Lyst have deemed this trend “fetishcore,” highlighting that searches for related items on the site have jumped amid an increasing acceptance of BDSM-adjacent styles on the runways and red carpets. Searches for “harness” have increased 132% month-over-month on the platform, while queries for “leather choker” have increased by 100% since the beginning of the year. The platform has also seen a 26% rise in page views for “latex.”
Since the beginning of 2022, aesthetics associated with BDSM — a set of erotic practices that include bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism — have entered the mainstream fashion landscape. Actress Julia Fox has channeled her former profession as a dominatrix through her viral looks, sporting head-to-toe leather, including pants and strapless tops, and more recently, a necklace shaped like a hand choking her at the Vanity Fair Oscars after party. Dua Lipa also tapped into fetishcore by wearing a black-and-gold Versace dress from the house’s fall 1992 collection, aptly titled “Miss S&M,” to the 2022 Grammy Awards.
On the runways, designers have also embraced the trend. Take, for example, Vaquera’s fall 2022 collection, which included latex bodysuits underneath T-shirts and dresses, or Richard Quinn’s multiple latex pieces in the fall 2022 lineup, which varied from bodysuits to opera gloves. Meanwhile, Coach showed choker necklaces with keys attached to them, as well as a wide array of leather jackets, for fall 2022, and LaPointe took BDSM into workwear with harnesses worn over monochrome suits for spring 2022.
Like many trends in fashion, this one is also cyclical. In the 1980s, a precursor of fetishcore emerged in pop culture with the help of artists like Madonna and Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, who used leather, lingerie and harnesses to exhibit the subculture’s impact on the world stage. Later, in the 2010s, Lady Gaga also ushered in a new era of kinkcore through latex ensembles, harnesses and sky-high black boots, while Rihanna unleashed her kinky persona wearing shibari-style ties and latex for the music video for her hit single “S&M.” Kim Kardashian more recently made the tight-fitting material a must-have with various outfits that resembled American Horror Story’s Rubber Man.
Yet, the trend is not without controversy. Sex workers have often pointed out that designers borrow the styles they've championed without paying homage to these communities and highlighting their struggles. "Being inspired by sex work is not surprising or wrong," wrote Gigi Fong in Hypebae. "But until sex workers can exist without shame, lack of safety and fear of imprisonment, the appropriation of their lifestyle and aesthetic will continue to be offensive." Still, Fong celebrated some instances where appreciation is still welcomed, including Chachki's walk during the Richard Quinn fashion show and Gianni Versace's "Miss S&M" collection.
Now, the evidence suggests that, much like in the 1980s, when excess and liberation led the aesthetics of the era, both designers and mainstream culture are thirsty for some vision of freedom. After two years in an ongoing pandemic and amid a nationwide repression of LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, fashion is inviting people to celebrate their sexuality, from workwear-ready leather harnesses to party-all-night leather dresses and dungeon-appropriate latex bodysuits.
Will you obey fashion’s command?
Credits images: from web