The brand, whose name is derived from the latin amentiam, meaning infatuation or madness, was officially launched by owner/designer Helen T at Liverpool Fashion Week in October 2015, while she was still a student.
The collection she debuted there — called The Launch collection — was notable for its creative use of laser-cut patterns — making Amentium possibly the first latex label to employ this technology from the outset.
Helen graduated in 2016 with a 2:1 from Leicester De Montfort University’s Contour Fashion course, which had previously produced latex designers Catriona Stewart (currently taking a break from latex for new motherhood duties) and Elissa Poppy.
“I was never really aware of latex before I started at university so it has been a very unexpected path,” Helen confesses. “If you’d told me two years ago I would have my own latex brand, I would have told you you’re mad!”
Surprisingly perhaps, when she started her degree course, she had neither sewn nor drawn a fashion illustration before. “I was going into it completely blind,” she recalls, “and I always had to work so much harder to catch up to my peers.
“As a result I never had the confidence in my first year to apply for a fashion internship. Nobody thought I would stay in university after my first term because I hated it that much.”
But she stuck with it and, in her second year, began applying for as many internships as she could, knowing that without that experience she would struggle to find a job when she graduated.
“I thought I would give myself a new challenge and try a different material other than lace or Lycra. Having seen many images of celebrities in latex and extravagant costumes online I was curious about latex.
“I nervously contacted Catriona Stewart on Facebook, to ask if she needed an intern for the upcoming Christmas period. I contacted her just before Christmas 2014 so it was perfect timing as she had a large workload to get done for the Christmas season.”
Catriona accepted Helen as an intern and later hired her as her assistant, a position she held for just over a year until she finished University and moved back to her family home in Liverpool. As Catriona’s assistant, Helen attended Sexhibition in Manchester, the Great British Tattoo Show at Alexandra Palace and Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar.
“We got on really well,” Helen says. “It was like working with a mate and helping her succeed. We definitely went through highs and lows together. We laugh about the craziness now.
“She gave me a lot of responsibility and I ended up running her stand while she was backstage or elsewhere. I’ll forever be grateful to her as she gave me my introduction to the latex world.”
Soon after Helen began working with Catriona, she had to start thinking ahead to her second year project, whose theme — Cabinet of Curiosities — allowed each student’s creativity to “go wild”. All it demanded was a development sketchbook and an outfit to match.
“When I raised it with Catriona she was totally on board to guide me whenever I got stuck,” Helen says. “I ended up making the outfit in her studio as I was so flustered and panicking that I would do it wrong.
“She would just laugh. Most things she found hilarious because of my Scouse accent!”
After completing her second year, Helen was pleased with how much progress she’d made. So she uploaded images of her best work onto PurplePort, including swimwear and lingerie as well as her very first latex outfit — The Launch Bustle Body.
“The attention my profile got was crazy — I had so many people asking to buy my outfits. I’d uploaded them onto PurplePort just to have an online portfolio for myself, but never expected anyone to actually want to wear them!”
Still on the hunt for more fashion internships, Helen got another surprise when, in her final year, she contacted the organiser of Liverpool Fashion Week to ask if she could help backstage at the 2015 event.
Instead of offering her a backstage job, the organiser asked her if she would like her own show as a designer.
“I thought that, with the interest I had received on social media, this event would be the perfect platform to potentially start my own business and make some money for my final year at university.”
So she developed the ideas embodied in her original Cabinet of Curiosities project (The Launch Bustle Body) to create The Launch collection.
She had originally conceived Amentium as a brand embracing lingerie and swimwear as well as latex, but decided that focusing on latex was the way to go.
“I found that latex brought me the most press coverage and outfit hires, gave me the most freedom as a designer — and was more fun too,” she explains.
“In the commercial lingerie and swimwear market everything is based on cost, so as a designer you’re limited. I don’t want my creativity to be limited.
“I will never compromise on quality, and latex is a niche market where customers are willing to pay for creativity and quality. I feel like latex clothing is more respected as art than just clothing.
“I wanted to design those kinds of statement outfits, something to be seen and flaunted, and latex allows that. People that wear latex exude confidence and there’s nothing better than having someone proud to wear your designs.”
Asked about the pros and cons of being based in Liverpool, she explains that while her sights are set on eventually moving south, Liverpool is her home city and it made sound economic sense to get Amentium off the ground while still based in her family home.
That way, she explains, “I can spend more money on the brand and going to international events rather than working another job in London to get by.
“I have no issue travelling to London frequently as I love London as a city and most of the photoshoots I do for Amentium are done in London.”
The laser-cut patterns she employed for her first collection were inspired by cathedral woodwork. Where did she find this inspiration?
“I was out with my boyfriend at the time looking for filming locations so we went into Manchester Cathedral just to look around. I found the woodwork fascinating so took pictures to draw later on.
“The shapes made me think of lace patterns found on bridal wear but I didn’t want to design a bridal gown as that’s not my style as a designer. I thought I could use latex instead and create my own laser-cut lace.”
In the latex fashion world, laser cutting is still a relative novelty, and to launch a new label using laser cutting from the start still looks pretty adventurous. What drove this decision?
“I love print, so laser cutting helps put my designer stamp on my garments,” she replies. “I looked at screen printing before laser cutting and it was far too expensive as a student.
“Not only that, I didn’t have enough time for a major trial-and-error process since I didn’t have a clue what I was doing — so laser cutting was the next go-to idea.
“While in university I had the luxury to use a laser cutter for free. The only downside was that for the entire university there were only two laser cutters so you had to book a slot.
“These slots were booked a week in advance and only available in two-hour blocks. Every Monday at 8:20am I would be waiting for the plastics lab to open at 8:30am to gain priority booking, as generally by 9am all the slots for the week would be booked up.
“For each collection I had three sketchbooks filled will designs, but would narrow these down to around eight designs to be put through the laser cutter. I would then narrow these down to two or three to play around with scales before selecting the final laser-cut print pattern.”
After leaving university — with its free laser cutters — Helen couldn’t immediately contemplate investing in a cutter of her own. So she has been using a laser-cutting service to produce the patterns she creates.
“The pros of this are that I don’t waste the hours cutting the latex myself, as time is very valuable in a one-person business.
“The cons are that it takes generally two to three weeks to get patterns cut and sent back to me before I can complete a customer’s order — and of course there’s the obvious cost.”
Can she foresee a time when laser cutting will become the industry standard for latex clothing producers — and would she consider that a good thing?
“It will be a shame if laser cutting becomes too accessible, as individuality will be lost,” she reckonss. “Amentium is remembered for the laser cutting but if everyone is doing it then our USP is gone.
“The main reason my costings are what they are is because of how expensive and time-consuming laser cutting is. My garments aren’t something anyone can buy.”
While she feels this is a shame in one sense, it “makes Amentium garments a luxury, and to own a luxury item should feel special”.
On the Amentium website, Helen refers to other creative inspirations for her work as diverse as French Renaissance designs and Ancient Roman aesthetics. How did she come upon these influences?
“I enjoy travelling,” she explains, “so the current collections were based around my trips. I do tend to take trips overseas to inspire new collections so it all depends on where I go in the future.
“I have plans to go to Marrakech and Barcelona for inspiration for a collection next year.”
This mention of travel reminds me that Helen has been putting a fair amount of effort this year into going to events at home and overseas.
April was a particularly busy month, with a stand at London’s Le Boutique Bazaar pop-up alt-shopping event, a trip to Essen for Fetish Evolution over Easter, and a catwalk show at Torture Garden’s Birthday Ball all in quick succession.
“2017 was the first year I thought, I’m going to give events a go, mainly down to a confidence thing,” she explains. “I never thought people would actually want to buy my outfits.READ MORE QUICK LINK:
BELOW: Click previews to view Amentium’s Illusion collection and selections from earlier collections
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