Dawn Mostow, a Harvard-educated artist and longtime cosplayer, has been crafting wearable pieces –and dare we say it, daily essentials–out of latex since 2009, accumulating a loyal following of dominatrixes, cosplay and comic-con fanatics, costume designers and celebrities. Her rubber-centric and cleverly-named e-commerce business, Dawnamatrix, has seen a consistent rise in stylist inquiries for custom bodysuits, gloves and dresses–with prices ranging from $35 for a latex bowtie to over $600 for a custom kimono–in the last few years, and every time a 50 Shades of Grey movie is released, Mostow’s monthly sales increase 20%-30%.
The latex boom is here–and as Mostow argues–has been percolating for decades. “The collections of Vivienne Westwood in the 70’s or Michelle Pfieffer wearing the “Catwoman” catsuit in Batman Returns (1992) come to mind,” the fashion and textile designer tells Billboard of the material’s popularity. “Latex has been mainstream for a while now–think Madonna’s “Human Nature” music video (1995) and more recently, the emergence of Lady Gaga–and we’ve reached a level of comfort with the material that sees it incorporated into daily fashion.”
Thanks to this trend, Dawnamatrix has become one of the premier latex designers in the world, creating babydoll latex dresses for Katy Perry’s CoverGirl commercial, crafting rubberized, Japanese-inspired pencil skirts for Vogue fashion features, molding a custom bustier with matching panties for Kylie Jenner and is currently working with Nicki Minaj on an upcoming project that’s under wraps.
We spoke to Mostow about when she started working with rubber, how to incorporate latex separates into the wardrobes of people who don’t work in the fetish and fantasy industries, and what working with Katy Perry was really like.
When did you begin working with latex? Why the material?
It all started with a kimono. I began working with latex in 2009 as a means of artistically exploring my experience of living in Japan, and it quickly grew into a latex fashion business. Having designed traditional fabric clothing since 1997, latex as a medium always intrigued me. It is futuristic, evocative, playful, with visual qualities similar to animation and graphic design. It demands attention and invites questions, while transforming the wearer. I fell in love!
Walk us through the process of designing something, like a bodysuit, out of latex. Are there any material quirks you deal with?
The entire process starts in planning the garment through sketches. We have made many different types of catsuits and bodysuits, and the details vary with every project.
We work with bolts of premium quality latex sheeting that, just like other textiles, is available in a huge range of colors. We work directly with sheeting manufacturers to customize the precise color, thickness, texture, or even color marbling when the project calls for this. Once the materials are selected, and the design is finalized, patterns are drafted.
The actual process of construction varies quite a bit from working with fabric. Each cut must be made with a rotary cutter. Also, there is no stitching involved. Every seam is finished with a solvent-based adhesive, creating a molecular bond between each panel. All hardware and zippers must be reinforced with rubberized fabric. Latex garments naturally have a matte finish, so silicone shine is used to give a glossy finish.
What are your three most popular pieces and why?
[All of our items are available] in XS (32 inch bust, 23 inch waist, 34 inch hip) through XXXL (46 inch bust, 37 inch waist, 48 inch hip), in addition to made-to-measure, and the most popular pieces are gloves, dresses and bodysuits/catsuits. Gloves because they accessorize any look, and add a pop of shine and color. Dresses since we have something to suit any personality or occasion; wild or elegant. And, of course, bodysuits/catsuits; these are the classic and quintessential latex garments that can transform a human into a super-human!
You’re literally writing the book on the “mainstreaming” of latex. When do you think that shift happened and why?
There have been dozens of superhero movies, music videos, and fashion collections featuring latex in the 2010’s decade alone. Latex has been mainstream for a while now, and we’ve reached a level of comfort with the material that sees it incorporated into daily fashion. Our newest collection for men and women, Waterproof, utilizes latex for raincoats and outerwear—a particularly practical category of garments.
You lived in Japan for many years, and that Asian influence is evident in a lot of your designs. How did that experience shape your aesthetic and affinity for the material?
Studying traditional kimono wearing and construction in rural Takayama City in the central Japanese Alps, and then heading to Harajuku, Tokyo for fashion and cosplay events allowed me to translate my experience into a unique aesthetic by combining the classical with the modern. I use principles of Japanese design, such as color layout and balance, along with meticulous construction standards, to inform my process. Even with garment designs not specifically themed in the Japanese tradition, the design principles and attention to detail are applicable. Especially inspiring is how Harajuku fashion represents all of style history existing simultaneously, and the wearers go about daily activities like dining, shopping, and strolling in a park rather than just reserving that fabulous attire for dark nightclubs.
Most people think of latex as a fetish material, but a lot of your pieces prove otherwise, the bodysuit and babydoll dress as great examples. How do you suggest wearing latex in everyday life?
Latex separates are a great way of incorporating some eye-catching interest into your look, and depending on the fit of the garment and personal preference, latex can be quite comfortable. Leggings, skirts, or even a latex bowtie or collar are a fun way to mix-and-match into your wardrobe.
Any tips for how to actually wear such a a constricting material?
I recommend wearing as little as you are comfortable with under your latex, as the material does not breathe and adjusts to the ambient temperature, so a layer of sweat may form on the skin if the environment is too warm. Most people wear latex garments for a few hours, but it isn’t uncommon to wear a latex outfit for an all-day event or an evening party.
When wearing, the garments, do not wear any oil based lubricants as those can seep into the seams and cause them to unbound. I recommend avoiding sharp objects, such as long nails and jewelry, and metal objects, such as coins, belts, and body piercings or copper, brass, and bronze based items. To clean, soak the piece in a tub full of water with beGLOSS Special Wash or mild dish detergent such as Dawn or Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo. Hang garment to dry, but do not use thin straps or metal hangers. Once the garment is completely dry, inside and out, treat your garments with silicone or talcum powder and store garment away from sunlight, as the light can stain and alter the colors.
You’ve created some really great pieces for celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Beyonce for the 2014 MTV VMAs. Why do you think celebrities are so into latex right now?
It’s sensual, bold, mysterious, strong, and everything these celebrities represent wrapped up in a garment. It turns heads, and makes headlines. Latex’s look is futuristic and freeing. There’s no lying or hiding in latex. A celebrity visage in latex alludes to an empowering future that is within our grasp.
Any recent ones we might’ve seen?
We just worked with Nicki Minaj to dress her for an upcoming project. I can’t say much about the project beyond that, but please look out for it!
What’s been your favorite custom piece for a musician, and what was the design/collaboration process like?
We were contacted by stylist Andrew Richardson to create a larger-than-life look for Katy Perry, for a CoverGirl “Plumpify Mascara” commercial. Katy Perry: a woman known for her outrageous and innovative fantasy costume designs, someone who can straddle both the sexy and the silly, a pop star of infinite different looks and persona. We knew we had to bring the very best to this assignment and take the word “Plumpify” to a whole new level.
Our challenge was to engineer an inflatable skirt to simulate the Covergirl lashes sporting their plumping mascara. We used 15 meters of super thin .20mm latex, then blew it up using a compressor on the day of the shoot.
The second piece Katy wears in the commercial, our “Skater Dress”, is made of structured 1.05mm latex usually reserved for corsets. This gave it the extra bounce and body as Katy struts around with a gigantic mascara bottle. At times in the commercial she appears to be born of pure confection, tongue-in-cheeky playing with her image and attitude. Then there are moments she’s sporting a vintage classic look to hug her curves, managing her hair and make-up in celebrity fashion from a bygone age.
What was it like to see it all come together?
I was ecstatic the first time that I saw the commercial. But perhaps the best thing was seeing it multiple times per day, and getting calls from friends and family each time they watched it, too! “Pump Up The Jam,” the commercial’s theme music, always makes me grin now.