Atsuko Kudo is the ultimate in Haute Couture. So iconic are her designs that Lady Gaga has appeared countless times in her creations. They have graced the covers of Vogue and W, and she most recently became a contributor to Nick Knight’s infamous SHOWstudio. It was here that I first had the pleasure of working with Atsuko on her video, Dressing for Pleasure, where a unique, and subversively fetishistic exploration of the dialogue between clothing and empowerment was created over a four hour period of dressing a nude model in skin tight latex.
A few weeks ago, I worked with Atsuko on her show for The Seven Bar Foundation’s Couture and Luxury Lingerie Show alongside Agent Provovateur, who was showing for the first time in 10 years. Held at London’s infamous Old Billingsgate venue, the evening was held to raise awareness and funds to empower women in poverty-stricken areas through microfinance loans.
The look of the show was inspired by Wong Kar-wai’s neo-noir classic, In the Mood for Love—with soft, powdery skin, a black flicked eyelid, and a cherry red glossed lip alongside global sensation Snowden Hill, for Fudge Hair, creating the glamorous ‘disparate housewife’ look with a twist on the iconic 1950s Beehive.
Atsuko’s designs are notorious for their risqué quality and sexually discernible shapes, and they somehow manage to retain a sort of hushed elegance—a characteristic that is held in practice by the designer herself, always managing to stay calm, even during the rushed hours of the show.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Chiba, near Tokyo in Japan.
Describe the importance of Eastern vs. Western influences within your work.
I am from the East, but love Western culture as well. There are many ways of beauty. They are different but the same.
Where did your inspirations for this collection come from?
The new collection is called “Restricted Love” inspired by the movie In the Mood for Love. In this film, the collar of beautiful Choengsam dresses looks (to me) like a neck corset and the very tight fit of the dresses reminds me of latex. When love clearly exists but is not fulfilled because other emotions or circumstances restrict its full blossom, what remains is bittersweet. I wanted to connect this emotional feeling with fetish.
Describe the model casting process and fittings.
Finding models was more difficult than I thought it would be. Some girls didn’t want to wear see-through items. As a woman, I never want girls to be exploited. I want all the women to feel sexy in my clothes, so I think this re-assured them. There are many see-through items, and even nipple showing items in lots of fashion collections, so I never thought we’d have a problem finding models. Maybe because still not so many people are used to latex it’s a little more difficult? Anyway, we found lovely models in the end, and we were very happy with them. They look absolutely beautiful. Especially with Isamaya’s make up and Snowden Hill (at Fudge) doing hair. And on their feet they had Nicholas Kirkwood shoes so it was all a dream! We fitted each model to each outfit separately so that everything would look as perfect as possible.
When did you fall in love with Latex?
I was in fashion college in Tokyo. I found latex in a sex shop. I liked how it felt and looked.
Latex is often described as fetish apparel. Do you feel we are moving toward a mainstream appreciation of it as a wearable fabric?
Latex needs special care, like any other special fabric. You need to use talc or lube to help put the garments on. It’s like corsets and high heels. It remains fetish. so it won’t be for everyone, but if you want to feel and look good and special, latex is for you! More people seem to be discovering it now.
How has celebrity culture helped this?
Yes. Celebs and superstars love latex. Latex will make you look and feel amazing. They have helped to show people how spectacular latex can look.
Who would be your dream client?
The Queen! We saw her smiling when Lady Gaga met her wearing an Atsuko Kudo red latex dress. So we might have a little chance? I’d make something very smart for her. Maybe a fitted suit?
Female latex wearers often describe a feeling of empowerment when wearing constrictive garments. Is this something you bear in mind when creating pieces?
Latex empowers women. We love seeing them enjoying themselves. We want women to feel beautiful, feminine, and strong. That’s what keeps us going. We fit everything so that it looks its best, and then it has a restrictive quality in any case, due to the latex fabric. But there is a limit to how tight you should go before it doesn’t look so nice. Certain garments like corsets of course can make it feel more restrictive if that’s what you want. The empowerment given by wearing latex in different ways is very important to us, and as the collection we showed at Lingerie London is called ‘Restricted Love,’ we hope we showed this through the clothes. So even being restricted can be powerful.
What is the best way to put latex on? any special powders/oils?
Talcum powder or water-based lubricant. DO NOT use oil. It will perish the latex.
What is your greatest achievement?
Together with Simon Hoare who is my husband and partner in business, and all our great staff, we have dressed so many ladies. Some who are famous and some who are not famous. They are all special to us and we want to dress more. We want to make the world a more shiny place.