The name Eustratia was passed down to me from my Greek grandmother and it means the good or right way, in regards to the path one takes.
I wanted to learn how to make latex garments because their construction wasn’t obvious. I was used to the appearance of fabric clothes and how they were created (the aforementioned grandmother was a seamstress).
But latex clothes were beautiful and mysterious and I couldn’t wait to learn their secrets.
Fetish fashion is interesting to me because the focus is on how the items make the wearer feel. I also enjoy the symbolism. I feel like there is more to explore and the finished article is more valuable to the recipient.
So much of mainstream fashion is meaningless and easily discarded. This really isn’t something I want for my creations.
By the time I started university in Manchester, I knew that I would most likely be starting my own brand and business. I wanted to be as well-equipped to do that as possible so I spent some time searching for the most suitable course.
I enrolled in Fashion Design and Technology instead of the straight-up fashion course which would have played to my more traditional strengths of moodboards and illustrations.
I made this decision despite barely being able to use a computer at the time, and knowing I would probably have a hard four years ahead.
The four years included an internship placement year, which I was apprehensive about at the time but which ended up being a fantastic experience.
I sourced my own placement and had the opportunity to work as part of the team at Cyberdog Camden, a brand whose ethos and design aesthetic I had admired for a few years. (I returned a few years later to design a latex collection for them!)
A lot of things about university and the quality of learning were not as I imagined, and I consider myself self-taught in many aspects of my business.
But I am grateful for my conceptual development skills, and the pattern cutting and construction techniques we practised have definitely given me an edge.
I find it easy to create new patterns and alter them for custom orders, which is an invaluable skill when working alone.
I decided to start my own label in Manchester because it seemed to me that the latex on the market at the time was limited in style. I wanted to create latex with all the inspiration and influences available in the vast world of fashion.
The point of latex fashion is to have a fantasy element and I could think of so many new ways to do that.
I started making latex clothing in 2009. I designed and made my inaugural collection, Dryad, in 2010 and officially launched Eustratia as a business in January 2011.
Shortly after this followed my first ever feature — in none other than The Fetishistas — and I staged my debut fashion show at Torture Garden in April, on my 25th birthday.
I celebrated my birthday backstage at Mass in Brixton, eating cake with my models. Although not all aspects of the show went as smoothly as I had planned, I had a fantastic line-up of models and a unique show featuring elements of ballet and belly dance to a specially composed soundtrack, as well as storytelling.
The latter went on to become a signature element in Eustratia shows to come.
Although I was a regular TG model at the time, I wasn’t sure if I should be part of my own show, or if I should model for my own brand at all. As it happened, a couple of people pulled out at the last minute and I did end up being in the show.
This also set a precedent for future events: I was always my own backup. If I could get enough models or if someone pulled out, I knew I could model my own designs.
With time, I actually came to rely on myself being able to take on that role. It was helpful because I knew the concepts and what the finished outcome looked like in my head. But it was also good for team building.
It’s a lot easier to get a group of people to take slightly off-the-wall direction if you’re also taking part. I never asked my models to do something I wouldn’t do and I think that helped me form stronger relationships with them.
As time went on, it also gave me a valuable insight into my own products. I have worn every single item on my website, so it’s easy for me to advise customers which Eustratia design would be best suited to their purpose.
My initial goal was to show at Fashion Week in London and elsewhere, and bring latex further into the fashion world, so for the first three years I released a collection every season.
I focused on different key elements for each one, and it was during this period that I tried out the largest variety of new techniques and discovered what would later become the signature features of the Eustratia brand.
For my inaugural latex collection Dryad, developed as part of my final collection for university, I focused on my signature latex-lace fabric and triple pleated ruffs, another favourite that has stood the test of time.
I had already spent time deciding on the precise technique I wanted to use for the latex-lace the year before and actually, when I first developed it, I was researching a way to add a pattern onto latex that wouldn’t rub off.
I made it with a translucent latex base and was actually planning to use it with the latex layer on top so the lace pattern was visible through it.
I changed my mind when I looked at the underside more closely and realised the added texture fitted in with my concept of mixing more tactile materials with the sleek, smooth latex.
As a brand, Eustratia has a dark and a light side. Dryad — a wood nymph in Greek mythology — was a balanced collection, featuring light and dark looks in equal parts.
But some of the later Eustratia collections were designed to highlight one side or the other.
My second collection, Stellar (S/S 11), highlighted the light side. It was more about streamlined silhouettes with added volume from strategically placed, pleated pockets or pattern from custom, hand-cut, damask appliqué.
It explored the concept of retrofuturism (as did Dryad, in a different way) and how aspects of period clothing can be brought into the 21st century and beyond.
The most challenging aspect was designing the damask pattern — my first time creating a tessellated vector. I went on to use the design for my website, wallpaper, packaging and flyers and even a perspex jewellery range that I sold alongside the collection.
For my third Eustratia collection, Chimera (A/W 11/12), I collaborated with my partner and then chainmail jewellery designer Richard Ayres, to produce a fusion range combining latex and chainmail pieces.
This was also my first collection to include hoods and was definitely a journey into the darker side of Eustratia.
Key shapes included the inverted-cross pencil skirt, the pattern of which went on to form the base for the belted pencil skirt in my current Core collection and the iconic ‘Tumor’ sleeves, which I frequently bring back for custom work.
I felt like Chimera was very tough and I needed some softness back in my life. I also thought that maybe after a few seasons of different details, it might be time to feature my favourite latex-lace again. Maybe there would be an audience ready to appreciate its beauty this time!
During this same period, the alternative scene exploded with a love of unicorns and I released the initial version of my unicorn set. This started out as a custom design for a model friend and went on to be my best-seller for years to come.
Although the unicorns were a success, I wanted to go back to my roots with more decadence and a period influence and so I came back with Opulence.
This was a baroque-inspired Eustratia collection featuring gowns, gold, more appliqué and a small hint of unicorns! By this time, it was becoming harder to find shoot locations so I decided on my parents’ garden for this one!
Straight off the back of Opulence, I created a Winter Pales capsule collection, to pad out my already existing assortment of white and light coloured garments for an upcoming show.
This was when my obsession with winter wonderland themes and icy latex started.
In 2012/13 I did a lot of Eustratia shows. I felt that I had been putting a lot of effort into the collections but I needed to grow the brand’s audience, as no one can appreciate the work that goes into something if they don’t know about it!
Eustratia graced the stages of Birmingham’s Alternative and Burlesque Fair, London Fetish Weekend and Manchester’s Club Lash among others.
Alongside these shows, there were often stalls and from the stalls came stockists. For the first time, I was having to consider the idea of holding stock and selling off the rack, and this posed a struggle for a brand that so far had really not been geared up for that.READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 3
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