For Atsuko Kudo, the London-based Japanese owner of the brand in question, life as a serious latex designer began back in 2002 when Coco de Mer took her first collection. And 2012, the tenth anniversary of that debut, turned out to be a year filled with wonderful birthday presents.
These included dressing supermodel Kate Moss as a latex nun for W magazine, a live-streaming performance for photographer Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, an AK fashion segment in the L’Oréal Colour Trophy Awards, the launch of a new collection, Restricted Love, at the prestigious Lingerie London charity fashion show, fabulous fetishistic photo shoots with Steven Klein for W mag and Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia, and, of course, kitting out Lady Gaga for her Born This Way world tour.
But the suggestion that such high profile collaborations confirm Atsuko as the world’s most successful latex designer is met with the same modesty she seems to reserve for any such attempts at flattery.
“All I can say is that we just try to do our best,” she says. “We always want everyone who wears AK clothing to look and feel the best they can. We put a huge effort into making sure that the design and fit of the clothing is as close to perfect as possible.
“This is always a work in progress! If, as you say, we have a reputation as a good brand, it becomes more important than ever to make sure that all expectations are met.
“Everything is made by hand and that takes time. But also getting the best fit close to the skin takes a lot of time too. And we dress every shape, size and age of person. Every order is different and you have to have a special type of concentration for each one — each brings its own challenge.”
But while the quality of her finished product explains the label’s appeal both to discerning fetishists and the world of high fashion, Kudo’s regular collaborations with top fashion ’togs, supermodels and the cream of the fashion press are not seen as a cause for smugness on her part.
“We just work hard, and in the way we think is best,” she explains. “We don’t know how else to approach it. We don’t have the luxury to sit around congratulating ourselves, and we have to make sure everything continues and the designs and service maintain their quality.
“Also, because this is a tough business to do well, you can’t let any details slip. It’s very demanding.”
Simon Hoare, Atsuko’s husband and business partner, echoes her sentiments: “There have been some very nice things said about the label. It’s very nice to read those things, but you are only as good as the last thing you do, so each new thing has to be as good or better. We don’t feel at all complacent — there’s no time for that in any way.
“There’s really no sense at all that we can rest on our laurels. In fact the opposite is true. The work never stops — there are so many more challenges ahead. In many ways it feels like we’ve only just begun. And you can never stop wanting to achieve the very best for all of your customers. Every new piece has to be the absolute best it can be.
“Atsuko started the label from her King’s Cross flat many years ago and we remain an independent brand and do everything ourselves — with our wonderful staff of course!
“And of course my talented husband works very hard on everything!” adds the designer.
In the past, fashionistas have often been sniffy about anything with kinky connotations. So I’m interested in the couple’s view of how completely the high fashion world accepts the Atsuko Kudo brand.
Do Atsuko and Simon now feel fully integrated into the fashion world — as if they’re running a fashion label that just happens to work in latex — or do they still feel, to some extent, like fashion outsiders?
“I think we are still outsiders from the main fashion world, from the point of view that we don’t do seasonal collections, or plan to at this stage,” is Atsuko’s response.
“But we have been lucky enough to present two major new collections in full scale runway shows during the past two years — one in New York in 2010 and one in London in 2012. So this definitely feels more like a way of showing the work as a fashion presentation.”
“Yes, this has given us a tremendous direction, energy and freshness to the choices we can offer,” Simon agrees. “And of course it has given us fantastic exposure as a fashion brand regardless of the fact that all Atsuko Kudo collections are one hundred percent latex.
‘Lingerie New York + London shows have given us fantastic exposure as a fashion brand regardless of the fact that all AK collections are latex’
“The main reason the label remains at the cutting edge is that Atsuko designs from the heart. To present feminine emotions and sexuality so strongly as fashion is hardcore. The fact that we have had the opportunity to present this in fashion shows makes it even stronger because the vision can be more refined.”
Simon reckons AK is also lucky to have been embraced by some “very interesting” people and projects. “So while we remain specialised in a fabric that is outside the mainstream, we have worked with that fabric in some fairly overground situations.
“A good example would be the dress which the V&A asked Atsuko to design to launch their Ballgowns exhibition last year [see Timeline Pix gallery]. That still seems slightly surreal as the exhibition was basically full of legendary British or British-based designers, from Hardy Amies through to Westwood and McQueen.
“It was a very touching moment because it really felt that latex as a fabric was being recognised, as well as Atsuko’s designs.”
But how important do the couple think fashion-world acceptance is to Atsuko Kudo’s image within the fetish scene, and to its fetish customers?
“We don’t think of it like that,” says Simon, “because we think people just like and choose what appeals to them. But of course there are fashion trends in all worlds — including the fetish world.
“We always take the approach that good style never goes out of fashion. Dividing the worlds of fashion and fetish is becoming increasingly pointless.
“Many of the best fetish photo spreads in recent years have appeared in fashion publications while many of the trends themselves have originated in the fetish world. We are making clothes and either the clothes are good and people like them or… not! So it’s our job to design and make good clothes.”READ MORE
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