The hidden world of conservative latex fashion.
“Being a fan of conservative fashion I do my best to be not too original.”
So says Sebastian Cauchos, who nevertheless has caused some attention amongst the fetish crowd with his designs that play with religious images of modesty, but are crafted in latex – traditionally a material related to kink and BDSM rather than conservative dress. Indeed, if someone wanted to divert attention away from themselves as an object of desire, then rubber seems to most inappropriate material, given both its figure-hugging properties and erotic connections.
There is, of course, a long tradition of combining the kinky and the divine in a sacrilegious manner. You only have to look at the history of nunsploitation – and try to find a well-attended fetish night without at least one rubber nun – as well as the use of Christian religious imagery, from crucifixes to crowns of thorns, that have been taken up by kinksters, fetish filmmakers and subversive artists. This in itself could be risky, especially when blasphemy laws were in place (just ask Nigel Wingrove), and even amongst fetishists, there seemed lines that they felt shouldn’t be crossed. Some years ago, I had the bizarre experience of being shouted at by a girl because I was selling a videotape of underground short films called The Holy Trinity – she felt strongly that this was blasphemous and that I was going to go to Hell for selling it. The fact that the stall was at fetish club Torture Garden, and that she was dressed in a skimpy latex outfit made the whole experience rather surreal – but I guess religious devotion worms its way into people more than they would care to think.
Cauchos’ work is of a rather more ambiguous nature – to suggest that it is blasphemous would be to admit that latex clothing is, by nature, sexual – and there is no suggestion of sexuality at work here beyond the material used. It is, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder. “The only taboo I cultivate in my pictures is a self-imposed taboo on (partial) nudity and hair, to replace it with rubber clothes in a way as if the taboo on rubber never has existed”, comments Cachos. “I don’t want to portray a model in a seductive way. Fetish has become a synonym for all the things that I don’t want to display. It becomes much more intriguing to present rubber fashion as totally normal fashion, not to be worn just for the photoshoot, but being worn in everyday life by conservative, devoted, proper looking ladies of outstanding dignity, who are totally oblivious of it being considered as a possible fetish.”
In theory, there is no reason why rubber wear shouldn’t be mainstreamed as a fashion option. Okay, there are some practical aspects to wearing it that perhaps exclude it from being something that we might just throw on in the morning, but it’s no more impractical than many other fashion choices for nights out. And it’s probably handy in a rainy country. But of course, we live in a world where latex fashion has long been fetishised and the tactile feel and figure-hugging nature of the material certainly lend themselves to sexual imagery. But equally, it seems the ideal material for covering up rather than revealing – much rubber fetishwear entirely covers the body from neck to foot anyway, so in that sense, Cauchos is not reinventing the wheel.
But of course, his modest fashion brings to mind Islamic clothing, the hijab in particular, and that perhaps alters the interpretation of what he is doing for some. It might be easy to see his designs as sexualising or mocking Islamic religious wear, something that could be considered highly provocative. But there is no reason why this clothing should be seen as even remotely disrespectful, and Cauchos denies that he is directly referencing Islamic dress, stating that “my fashion is not about a specific religion and I have no statement to make. I’m just inspired by conservative fashion styles, and one of the sources of inspiration is veiled luxury lifestyle divas with full-blown make-up. I just apply another type of fabric within that style.”
He is aware of how an audience where such conservative dress is the norm might react, however.
“I have a lot of followers from the Middle East. Apparently many like it. But some – not necessarily the hardliners – feel deeply offended by seeing a woman with a rubber headscarf. They assume I do all this time-consuming effort to provoke. But I never thought about provoking or breaking taboos. I just do this because I think it looks nice. I don’t want my pictures to be seen by people who are deeply hurt and devastated by seeing them. Recently, someone commented that it was the most horrible thing that she’d ever seen. I understand that it must have been a traumatic experience, and I hope that this woman managed to get over her grief.”
While it might be a stretch to expect the religiously conservative to actually add these clothes to their wardrobe, Cauchos has found an audience amongst cross-dressing men. “That was a great eyeopener, something I hadn’t thought of before. But of course, they want to embody that proper modest conservative lady shown in my pictures, instead of a playmate in a bikini. When I thought about it, it made perfect sense to me.”
For all his own disdain for the scene (“I want to stay away from the fetish/BDSM association. I never mention that word”), it does seem as though the main market for the clothes would be within a culture where latex remains the uniform of choice rather than seen as strange and eccentric, which it certainly is in the ‘real’ world. Whether Cauchos’ modest fashion takes off in the fetish world remains to be seen – stranger things have happened. I fully believe Cauchos when he says that he personally is not interested in breaking religious taboos, but nevertheless, the idea of taking clothing styles that have – at least to many in the West – connotations of sexual repression and combining them with a material that is connected to sexual rebellion is fascinating, especially as both Islamic wear and fetish wear are looked at with fear and suspicion by the same fear-driven groups. And in a world where nakedness is commonplace, perhaps there are subversive pleasures to be had from leaving everything to the imagination…
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