He and ExxEss owners Al Holt and Jeannie Lou discovered a mutual admiration for each other’s experimental approach to latex design, and a strong friendship soon developed.
Once back home, Catasta and Jeannie began to Skype every day, exchanging progress reports and ideas for taking things forward, with each constantly pushing the other to try something new.
Al and Jeannie had strong connections with Europe (especially Germany) and were keen to showcase ExxEss at some major European fetish events.
In December 2015, soon after appearing at Amsterdam’s Dominatrix weekend, ExxEss was hit by catastrophe when the couple’s home and studio in the States burnt down.
Despite the devastation of this event, and the temptation to give up, the pair decided to press on with preparing for their next European engagement at the 2016 German Fetish Ball.
They wanted to create a catwalk show that would both celebrate what they had loved and lost, and demonstrate that the disaster could be turned into something positive.
But with all their resources gone up in smoke, the ExxEss duo were going to need help to realise that objective. Fortunately, back in the UK, Catasta had decided it was time to start designing and making things for people other than himself.
So, after having previously modelled and done some artistic consultancy for ExxEss Latex, he offered to become more involved with the US label. His offer was accepted.
The resulting Berlin collaboration between ExxEss and Catasta in 2016 featured various creations by Cat, and his appearance on the catwalk in one of them. He was led onstage as a hermaphrodite statue — blindfolded, gagged and with movements severely restricted — by Montreal mistress and designer Devi Irony as the one remaining unicorn to have survived the fire.
Unhappily, later that same year more misfortune befell ExxEss Latex, when Jeannie suffered a brain aneurism and was hospitalised shortly before she and Al were due to fly to Canada for that year’s Montreal event. To add insult to injury, the garments for the Montreal show were lost en route.
Unsurprisingly, the three agreed to ease off and work towards just one big show for 2017 that would showcase Jeannie and Cat’s combined talents.
But things didn’t quite go to plan, because 2017 ended up as the year ExxEss staged six shows presenting around 300 brand new garments — including two shows in one (very long) day as part of Avantgardista’s November debut in Munich.
Prior to this in 2017, Jeannie had made two extended visits to the UK while still recuperating, and worked closely alongside Cat in his new studio. She helped with promoting his Hood book at Rubber Cult, and with two small ZDR shows in Manchester and London.
The pair formulated the designs for two future shows — for Montreal and Rubber Cult. Shortly after Montreal, with its 1990s streetwear theme, ExxEss Latex revealed a completely different collection at Rubber Cult in a 15-minute show that featured the designers appearing as models.
Soon after this came the Avantgardista launch, which was such a successful collaboration for ExxEss and Catasta that they have been invited back for the 2018 event this October.
Now that we’re up to date on the basic history of the relationship, we can look in more detail at this unique transatlantic collaboration, thanks to Catasta’s finding the time to participate in a Q&A with us about it.
The Fetishistas: Your role with ExxEss Latex has been described by Al Holt as “basically ExxEss UK”. How would you describe the current nature of your collaboration?
Catasta Charsima: My current work with ExxEss Latex is for Avangardista this coming October. The idea for the show from Jeannie and myself is, well, imagine a cruise liner that is sailing through the open spaces of the universe picking up passengers from planet to planet to take them to the first Intergalactic Fetish Party.
We thought this appropriate as the after-party to Avantgardista is Sub Rosa Dictum’s Space Intruders. But basically the theme allows us to just go crazy. It also allowed us to ask the models who’d be joining us what kind of fetishistic character they would imagine themselves to be.
We got numerous android suggestions but also strange aliens and elemental creatures born from the sun. Now I’m not saying all the models will get what they want as some of their ideas would take a lot of time to make, but it is proving huge fun in trying to realise some of them.
One such entity is the Insecticorn [The Fetishistas’ June cover image], this weird snail-like unicorn that is part animal and part humanoid and kind of animated with cybernetics!
The outfits are really pushing us to the very limits of our understanding of how to get the most out of rubber, but that seems right for an idea that reaches to the outer limits of the fetish cosmos!
Roughly what proportion of the garments that appear in a typical collaborative ExxEss and Catasta show are you responsible for designing, making, or both?
My contribution to the shows varies depending on the shows we do. If I take 2017 as an example, I tended to concentrate on Rubber Cult and Avantgardista while Jeannie concentrated on the two Zara DuRose shows and the Montreal Fetish Weekend.
There is some crossover with each show and I guess in the physical making of the garments for each, it works out around 80 percent to one of us and 20 percent to the other.
For each show, however, we remain in close communication about our various ideas and designs and there are many outfits that are hybrids. This can
So what proportion of your total creative time is left for you to do your own projects?
I haven’t had much time for my own projects for the last two years as I’ve been concentrating on Avantgardista. These very large shows have involved over 20 models each time with something like 200 garments and accessories to make for each.
However, as my own personal projects are aimed at writing more and establishing a library of manuals on rubber garment making alongside a series of small projects for beginners, I see my work with ExxEss as contributing towards this.
Working with ExxEss Latex has not just helped to push me ever further to explore the full potential of what can be achieved with rubber.
It has also given me the opportunity to work with bodies other than my own: different shapes and sizes, genders, ages and colours; individuals with their own unique requirements.
This has been hugely beneficial for my writing and in regards to photography for the manuals.
Is everything under the ExxEss banner produced by Jeannie and you, or are there other team members or collaborators involved in the label’s design or manufacturing?
ExxEss Latex is Jeannie and her husband Al. Al is the driving force behind its organisation: he arranges the shows, communicates with the organisers and gets the models on board. Al will from time to time make the occasional garment but his focus is to act as the glue that bonds this larger entity of ExxEss together.
Jeannie is the heart of ExxEss. She is the one who inspires us all with her enthusiasm for the vision she has that rubber can be many things. Jeannie is also the principal garment maker in the States. I am the principal garment maker on the other side of the pond here in the UK.
However, wherever we may go with the shows, what Jeannie and Al do is enthuse others. So it can be that in Canada you will see the rubber tie-dye work of Devi Irony from Montreal or, like in the last Avantgardista, the rubber boots made by Latex Lotty to compliment the outfit I made for Miss Fetilicious.
What do you see as the main benefits of this UK-US collaboration, both to ExxEss and Catasta Charisma?
The main benefit for me is that I now get to work with other people. It has been fine for me in the past to solely make for myself in my Catasta persona but to now make for others has been hugely rewarding.
I now get to make things my own body frame and shape just couldn’t do any justice to, and to appreciate people’s limitations and extremes — even to test their own boundaries in some of the garments I make.
People sometimes assume the outfits I and Jeannie make for ExxEss are all surface and sweet and fluffy. But in truth many of them can be extremely complicated to put on, multi-layered, heavy and incorporating various sensory deprivation features.
Another mistake people make is thinking that some of our outfits aren’t rubber. Everything we do is rubber and just because it doesn’t look like what one may typically assume rubber to look like doesn’t mean it isn’t. I get huge rewards from that — that ExxEss is allowing me to challenge people’s perceptions of what rubber can be and what fetish can be.
As regards what benefit ExxEss gets from me, well that is a question for Jeannie and Al. But I suppose they get a nutcase who is passionate about his love for this rubber material, from its most excessive pantomine manifestation to its most conservative fetish refinement!
Do you have any thoughts on where the partnership between ExxEss and Catasta Charisma might go in the future?
For the last few years we have done one show after another and we have aims to do more. We would very much like to go to Japan and give them an example of our twist. But the level of production for the shows has been intense, so in the immediate future, after Avant- gardista, we will slow down our production for shows.
This will allow us to increase production for commissions, and so sales, but also, from past experiences, what this also permits for us all, on both sides of the Atlantic, is to have a little more time to do some private experimentation with rubber.
Jeannie and I can get quite competitive with this, showing each other what we have come up with each day or so, explaining how we have done it and pushing ourselves to go a step further or take it in a direction we haven’t thought of.
It is through this process that even bolder, whackier and more extreme outfits for shows are born. I am very much looking forward to that. I am wanting to do a lot more mould-making experiments and a lot more traditional painting with latex as well as getting back to writing more manuals.
Finally, what are you working on right now, and what else is in the immediate pipeline?
Until October I will be flat out making garments for the ExxEss Latex show at Avantgardista. I am currently on my seventh outfit which is a heavy rubber version of a catsuit with an overlaying bondage body suit with breath play apparatus attached. I still have around 12 more outfits to make, so I’m busy-busy every day in the studio.
After that I have a couple of fun commissions to do; a quick change rainbow unicorn headpiece and horse’s tail for Max Ryder, the drag king superstar, a zombie-type hood and maybe an apocalyptic Egyptian pharaoh, as well as a full navy blues outfit in rubber to fit in somewhere.
I should be back into the writing by that stage too. Work on the Trousers manual has already begun but is currently on hold, so I think some easy beginner projects will be next. Then I might have a little sleep!
Published June 20, 2018
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