Posted by Fashion Editor at Large 

Marc Jacobs AW11 with rubber sequin dress by Robin Archer at House of Harlot
Angelina's handcuff clutch (from dailymail.co.uk)
High fashion is all over fetish like a rash. All that rubber, leather and fierce S&M chic is such a sexy visual. Funny thing is, though, despite all of Lady Gaga's efforts at Mugler, I haven't seen a single fashionista who has yet adopted an element of fetish for her wardrobe this season. Have you? OK Angelina Jolie has the handcuff handbag from Louis Vuitton and Jessie J is never knowingly dressed without an element of rubber about her person, but that's about it.

Fleet Ilya by Rankin

HOWEVER that isn't to say fetish should be ignored. The fashion and bondage label Fleet Ilya (above), designed by Ilya Fleet and his wife Resha Sharma create exquisite leather work that takes my breath away, not to mention the  Rankin shoot of Sophie + Jethro, from which the above photograph is taken. I will be blogging more about them in the next week.

Now, I would like to I to introduce to you what I consider to be the true source of the fetish trend for this season, a company little known outside the fetish world, and one which is on the speed-dial of Marc Jacobs: House of Harlot.

One of my favourite pieces from House of Harlot, the Bella skirt 

The first five exits of the Marc Jacobs autumn/fall winter 2011 collection featured rubber pieces all of which were created  by House of Harlot, run by Robin Archer, a Saint Martins trained designer in his forties who has been fetish obsessed since he experienced a night at the famous Torture Garden club in the early nineties with his wife and muse Michelle.

“It was pretty hardcore,” says Robin. “Full of straight-up perverts, but there was an element of kinky interest in the world of design, and a group of us went.” For the occasion Robin made himself a top-to-toe coverage rubber outfit with strategic zips; Michelle bought a super-sexy rubber dress to pour her very curvy figure into. This single visit turned the couple into kinky fashion junkies whose aim was to have the best outfits around – and they did. “Michelle was my muse, and I began to make her different outfits for each event," says Robin. They turned up as Kinky Wasps, as the Hussar & Hussee they even created some genius rubber pinstripe suits.

Robin and Michelle in full fetish mode (their picture)
Soon people were asking Robin to create outfits for them and House of Harlot was born. Today it is the go-to design house not just for anyone with a bit of kink in their blood, (they create custom fetish wear as well as rubber fashion essentials) but also global designers who want high fashion rubber clothes. “The first designer who came to us was Thierry Mugler, who said ‘I understand you are the people who make best practise rubber fashion.’ We were like, yesss!” They haven’t looked back since, and have created rubber clothes for Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, House of Holland, Nicole Farhi and, as I was saying, Marc Jacobs.

The best-selling House of Harlot Mabel waist-cincher

I popped to see Robin a few weeks ago at the new House of Harlot store just off Brick Lane so he could tell me all about how the Marc Jacobs collaboration came about. And he told me everything.

FASHION EDITOR AT LARGE: How did Marc Jacobs hear about House of Harlot?
ROBIN ARCHER: "Marc reminded me that he had actually rung me 12 years ago, to ask me whether I could help him make clothes out of rubber. I said "I will make them for you." I didn't even know who he was then, which is pretty unforgivable, I worked exclusively for the fetish world then, creating one-off pieces on commission. But he called me back in 2003 and we began working with him at Louis Vuitton, and we've been collaborating on and off since. The last time we did Louis Vuitton was 2007."

FEAL: How was he to work with?
RA: "He is very easy to work with. He has got easier..it was harder in the old days. Now it is easy and enjoyable."

FEAL: Why would a designer need to come to a rubber specialist, surely one fabric shouldn't confound a world-class designer?
RA: "The rubber world is so small and full of skilled people. We need our own guild really, to protect the secrets. It is so highly specialised, and Marc respects that. We design and make the pieces to his brief, he knows we are the ones the Haute Couture houses deal with. And he knows we will work out complicated things. For the Autumn/Winter 2011 Marc Jacobs show he asked us to create tops, skirts, dresses and a jacket. For the skirts and tops he wanted them covered with rubber sequins that had the look of fish scales. Each skirt in the show took over a day to make.

FEAL: How did the collaboration work?
RA: I was backstage at the show as the specialised dresser for all the rubber pieces. I worked with Marc on each piece before the show. We worked piece by piece, the work was so well received by Marc that our looks were the first five looks on the runway. Considering how much he has to do, he is calm, controlled, organised and collected. Totally great too work with."

FEAL: How many pieces did you do, how long did it take?
RA: "We made a total of 12 individual items for the show, and then when orders came in for Marc Jacobs global network of stores, we created a few dozen skirts at retail for the global market, and for the top we made significantly more.  The great thing was I didn't have to alter a single thing from our samples; just a handful of tweaks for the fit. The design process is: we receive sketches, and then we create prototypes. We did that, but next the sketches came with a new addition of rubber sequins on, so we started all over again, working out how to do it by hand. [Every order that comes in online results in the order then being individually handmade by one of Robins team of two designers and two interns.] And then we stuck with it."

FEAL: How was the whole process?
RA: "The great thing about Marc is he knows what he wants, makes decisions, and gets on with it. I was backstage to get the clothes on and off in the right way. Its a hard job, but someone has to do it!! I gifted Marc a transparent royal blue rubber shirt and he wore it backstage and to take his bow, which was really nice. Marc Jacobs wore HOH at his own show." Bless.

Visit HouseofHarlot.com
Robin Archer also has a new store and design studio at 63-65 Princelet Street, E1.
0207 247 1069


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