When new owner Iris Trika bought the label, she’d been working for founder Robin Archer for four years, and had become main garment maker for the brand.
Once in sole charge, she set up a new House of Harlot design and production studio, complete with a small showroom, in London’s Docklands.
And she has been working there solidly ever since — mostly seven days a week, and often without assistance either on production or admin.
Fortunately this bright 26-year-old is not just a very talented and hard-working designer/maker. She’s also a pretty tough cookie.
She has needed to be, given the opposition she has encountered from elements within the London scene who seem to believe she did not “deserve” to take over this famous brand.
But Iris is totally committed to maintaining the standards of design and manufacturing the original label was renowned for. And she is well placed to do so.
“When Robin decided to quit,” she says when we meet at her studio, “I was the main maker for the company so basically it’s run the same way as it used to be.
“I do the pattern work the way he taught me to do it. I make the clothes the same way I always used to do in the past, since the start of 2012.”
What she is changing, albeit gradually, is the Harlot range, which in her view had been in need of a refresh for some time before she took over.
In the past year she has dropped some of the most dated styles, and has been replacing them with designs more suited to contemporary tastes and to the new markets she is keen to reach.
“I think House of Harlot has a really strong image,” she says, “but some really simple designs and easy-to-make garments are needed for the people that want the brand but cannot afford something really expensive — or do not want really complicated stuff.
“I think the best idea is to keep the strong attitude, strong image and authority that we always had, and then have some other items for the people that want the brand but are scared to ‘go extreme’.
“I have already created some easier items for the website, but most of them are included in the Iris Thespider section. I don’t want people to think the quality has gone down because some designs are simple.
“These new strong but simpler designs are maybe for different ages — easier things to wear when people go out, not just to a fetish party.”
Iris Thespider (pronounced “the spider” if you weren’t sure) is the personal label Ms Trika launched to express ideas, simple or complex, that didn’t fit easily with the original Harlot design ethos.
Now Iris Thespider is a fully paid-up part of House of Harlot. A cross between sub-brand and sister label, it has already enjoyed equal billing with House of Harlot in recent fashion shows.
In November last year, Trika’s fashion show at Unleashed Stockholm combined latex dresses and lingerie from both labels.
“You can just have it and go on a night out to a normal bar. Because I want people to use latex in their everyday lives.”
At Holland’s Dominatrix Weekend in December, she premièred more new designs with separate shows for each brand.
And at the German Fetish Ball in Berlin in a couple of weeks time, we’re promised the launch of the House of Harlot Black Widow collection — an Iris Thespider collaboration with the designer’s close pal, fetish supermodel Dani Divine.
The collection, co-designed with Dani, is described by Iris as “a combination of Iris Thespider style — the strong style with spikes and everything — and Dani’s personal style” which embraces goth and ‘rock chick’ influences among others.
The result is a collection of pieces featuring buckles, chains, spikes, hotpants, jackets “and other nice pretty stuff”, says Iris.
But you don’t even have to be in Berlin at the end of April to see Black Widow, as we have the first photos of the new designs, modelled for us by Dani and Masuimi Max, accompanying this very article.
A week after Berlin, the House of Harlot Black Widow show will travel to Greece. And hopefully there will be a London show later in the year too.
Reflecting on the designer’s ambition for her latex to be something people can wear in ‘normal’ situations, I suggest to her that all the celebrity interest must surely be making people more amenable to the fabric now.
“In a way,” she replies. “The celebrity thing I think really affects the fashion. But once they stop wearing it — if they do — then the people who were so interested in it and excited about it will probably stop getting involved and buying it.
“It’s just a trend for them, it’s not something they want because they’ve touched it, because they appreciate it. Maybe they do eventually, but I don’t think that’s the first reason for them wearing it.
“I want to make it so people buy latex like they would buy leather or velvet. So it’s nothing to do with fashion, it has to do with what they want to wear when they go out.”
How, then, does she rate of House of Harlot’s previous achievements getting women’s latex first into Top Shop (where it was sold under the store’s own label), and more recently into the Asos online catalogue (where it was branded House of Harlot)?
Could such ventures into ‘high street’ retail territory have a more lasting influence than celebrity endorsements on mainstream buyers’ taste for latex? Iris doesn’t think so.
“What people bought on Asos was because it was Asos — something acceptable because it was on their website,” she contends.
“I don’t think I’ve dealt with anyone who found us on Asos and bought something else direct from us. Except some people who wanted the dress that was out of stock at Asos. But they just wanted that dress, nothing else.”READ MORE QUICK LINK:
BELOW: House of Harlot/Iris Thespider owner Iris Trika at her Docklands HQ (photo: Tony Mitchell)