From 2010 to 2019, the BDSM-themes erotic novel series Fifty Shades of Grey sold over 15.2 million copies receiving the title of the best-selling book of the past decade. The subsequent movie series based off the novel by the same name harnessed the fanbase catapulting the trilogy’s success to raking in over billion at the box office. Though BDSM has existed in various forms for centuries, the mega-hit film brought an attentiveness to the topic that once was deemed taboo diverging from a conservative sexual attitude within American culture. For the first time, fetish was at the forefront. So, what is the obsession with getting our kink on and where does it come from?
Over time, BDSM has crept into the wardrobes of the biggest pop stars of our time as a performance style normalizing BDSM and fetish culture through fashion. From A-listers to rap icons, entertainers across the globe are openly harnessing the sensational and subversive power of fetish clothing traditionally associated with BDSM.
Following World War I, North America and Europe experienced economic and social prosperity. The 1920s was an era of loose morals, big parties, and sexual freedom. The hems of dresses were jacked up high, women smoked and drank for the first time, and all were in pursuit of hedonism in stark contrast to the rigid ideals of previous decades. Two Parisian companies, Yva Richard and Diana Slip, produced fetish lingerie that were readily available for women who enjoyed in indulging in deviancy. Thanks to the work of iconic photographers and models, we are able to marvel today at the origins of fetish creations from decades past. The tantalizing strappy details of these creations continue to tease at our imagination.
The popularity of fetish exploded in the 1950s and 60s. The prevalence of photography provided a hotbed for nurturing the imminent sexual revolution. Women were transformed into femme fatales in bondage themed sets. The influence of pin-up models such as Bettie Page is still felt today: Page’s signature jet black curls and irreverent on-camera style are copied tenfold by today’s biggest burlesque stars such as Dita Von Teese. Fetish no longer remained an underground taboo.
The single moment that culminated in fetish fashion’s esteemed place in modern celebrity dressing was the moment Madonna flaunted her Jean Paul Gaultier corset for her 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour. During the concert, Madonna whipped off her jacket mid-way during the performance of her single “Express Yourself”. Underneath, the singer revealed an astonishing Jean Paul Gaultier corset. The corset had exaggerated coned busts. Instead of the soft curves of the traditional corset, Gaultier’s corset was spiky and belligerent. The corset amplified the singer’s charisma. Without explicitly explaining her thinking, Madonna showed women that wearing fetish fashion can grant women the freedom to be sensual and powerful.
Come the 2000s, television, radio, and MTV have exploded, the pop star was bigger than ever before. They became the absolute dictators of our pop culture. At the turn of the century, Britney Spears released her hit single “Oops I Did it Again”. In the music video, Spears plays an extraterrestrial being who is fully clad in latex looks. The most memorable of the looks is the red latex body suit fit Spears makes her entrance in. The smooth fabric hugs her body in all the right places and the vibrant color makes an unforgettable visual impact.
In the 2010s, collaborations of entertainment and high fashion effectively enhanced the notoriety of both parties. In the music video of single “Partition”, Beyoncé dazzles in a corset from the archive of French couturier Christian Lacroix. And in 2011, Lady Gaga made a runway appearance in Mugler’s Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear show. Gaga walked to her own track “Government Hooker” in a black bra, mesh bodysuit, towering platforms, and a cigarette in hand. The eye for design that high fashion creative directors have lends fetish fashion an ultra-chic quality.
Fast forward to 2021, fetish has become a wardrobe staple for entertainers around the world. In Asia, the stylists of It-girl and boy bands such as Blackpink, BTS and NCT mix fetish pieces such as harnesses and garters with more casual pieces to create youthful but edgy looks.
No one does fetish as well as K Pop queen Sunmi. The OG K-Pop star understands the visual power of fetish thoroughly. Sunmi’s new single “Tail” taps into her sexual desires and fantasies. In the music video, Sunmi has two split selves, one innocent and conformist, the other wild and feline-like. The innocent self suffers from abuse from men as well as pressure from society. The wild self, clad in shiny latex is free from any restraints. The fearless charisma the Korean pop star exudes in fetish is quite similar to the sensation Madonna’s sartorial statement generated two decades past.
So what is the future for fetish fashion? As we evolve into an increasingly inclusive and fluid society, surely more and more people will be drawn to the sensation and empowerment fetish fashion provide. We imagine a society where people of all genders and sexual orientations have the capability to live and express their sexuality fearlessly and fashionably.END
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