Texts by Lara Antonioni
Photography by Antono Mingot
To speak about Atsuko Kudo is to speak about freedom, London based, latex designer, who certainly consider her brand out of the fashion circuit, has achieved what any fashion designer is yearning for: a clothing revolution. The last year, 2012, has been a year of achievements, recognitions and honour. We speak with the heart and soul of the brand: Atsuko Kudo and her business partner, Simon Hoare.
Atsuko Kudo’s boutique is on the main road just on one of the neighbourhoods in the north-east of London. We have an appointment at 4:00 pm, normally I always follow a rule which it is to stay in the place of my meeting ten minutes earlier. I do not even know where this rule comes from. However this time I am not ten minutes, I am twenty minutes earlier. It is quite cold outside, so I decide to walk around. No fashion boutiques, hardly hipsters, trendies or any young tribe around. Just local shops with their local people. I have a good feeling. A clear reflection of Atsuko Kudo’s core, latex, it is not on sale on the main street, they are not expanding their boutiques or have their own show in each fashion season -wherever you prefer. Atsuko Kudo’s collection is only on sale in four exclusives places around the world or perhaps three: a pop-store, just by the time of christmas 2012 in Selfridges, renowned Showstudio’s Gallery, where the designer has done many collaborations with Nick Knight, Le Petit Coquette in New York and emblematic female shop, Coco de Mer in London.
Her boutique is always there, and the place where finally I decide to come in. All outfits and accessories,or most of them, which you can see in editorials, internet or in celebrities ,as the likes of Gaga and Dita Von Tesse, are there, unless they belong to her Haute Couture line. Also the famous European Fetish award, who Atsuko has won in 2012 for the second time.
When Atsuko comes to great me with her business partner, Simon Hoare. The designer is straight forward and looks direct into my eyes. Let’s start. A week before this interview Atsuko Kudo had her first fashion show in London, the collection Restricted Love were showed in the Lingerie London 2012, which belongs to the Seven Bar Foundation. An initiative that has bases in Miami and New York, where the last year Atsuko Kudo showed for the first time ever. Surprisingly the pieces of the show in London are already in the boutique, after my amazement, the answer is clear: ”we don’t have seasons, we are not a fashion brand” the designer sentences.
Atsuko Kudo has been always involved in the sex industry, making clothes on latex for the woman to feel beautiful, fetching, different. Latex is like a second skin, that adapts into the female shape, an unusual fabric which is a strength of desire. Perhaps Atsuko Kudo does not consider her brand in the fashion industry yet or as she says: ”it’s a point between the sex and fashion industry.” Latex empowers the woman making her feeling passionate about life and steeping into a world full of freedom. The intermediate point which Atsuko Kudo is talking is the point of the clothing revolution.
LARA ANTONIONI — First I would like to start from your background. How did you spend you golden teens in Japan? Have you been always interested in the sex industry?
ATSUKO KUDO — I was born in a suburb of Tokyo and I was always fascinated by erotism, and in Japan my parents wanted me to study a lot but I was just interesting in some sort of sex maybe. I was really interested in Japanese fetish/SEX sense in my teenage. I run the watching porn club when I was in Junior high school. I have worked as hostess, my friends were in the Sex business.
I was interested in all and all my research for the fashion collage. I love the underground culture there and love Japanese bondage too. I looked around and thought quality sex clothes were missing in the market. I wanted to be different, feel and look beautiful and strong. Latex gave me all of that and it became my mission to introduce to the world. also last collection we just showed in Lingerie london was based on oriental fetish. I love those different way of approach to love. It’s very fetish.
LA — So,did you always know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
AK — No, I didn’t. I kind of was interested on it, and I got in fashion college by chance because I was still looking for what I wanted to do at that time, then I got into the college and after that I started to kind of find out more about creating clothes all that came after college, maybe because of that my approach to fashion is not really ”fashion”. At the time, so when everyone at the school was doing research for all the fashion labels or some work, I always used to go to sex-shops to do some research.
I wanted to make something sexy for the female. I thought what they had before in a sex, maybe because I was in Japan, I thought sex is very important to women and men, to everyone. So I think it is nice to do something. I did not really like what was available at that time.
LA — When did you decide to work with latex?
AK — I found this fabric when I was in Tokyo, I did not know before, and I thought it was very interesting and not many people are using it and then I thought there was so much you can do. And latex is so unique, gives some sort of super high-gross that you can’t really get from anywhere and kind of shapes female body in a different way. And I wanted to develop that. I did not know how to make latex at that time because none knew in Japan.
So then I was also interested in those period costumes like gothic or this sort of costumes that look deform like nuclear and I thought it was beautiful and kind of different world from where I was, so I was kind of fascinated in it.
When I decided to come to Europe where those period costumes in latex meet, that is why I came here to find out about it more.
LA — But you came to London in 2000?
AK — No, I came here much before. I came here in early nineties. I kind of land and started to work in night clubs. I started to make theatrical costumes because but that time I was not ready to study, but I think if I could go back I would do much more.
LA — When did you meet? How did you start to work together?
SIMON HOARE — We met in a sex-shop, and Atsuko came for a job there, as I was managing the shop, and she got the job as assistant making pieces and she got fired, not by me, by the other guy. So at the end she ended up working with me doing the mail order, this was many years ago.
But then she started to work on latex in the evenings and with time she developed her or techniques, which very unusual for latex at that time. She started hand-painting latex, which it was beautiful, but very limited and then she started printing latex, and also the frilly frills effects and all these types and she started to make latex more feminine. We are been working together all this time, and specificity the last past four-five years is taking off more. Obviously there is lots of developing time before that and lots of avenues that you go down. But particularly from 2006 is really taking off more.
LA — Does latex empower a woman? How different is latex from another type of fabric?
AK — For me, maybe latex is not sort of usual, everyday fabric. Some people can do it but for me, it is like some sort of clothing for an special event but at the same time it is almost the same feeling if you dress like going to opera or going, you know… the fabric, people think it’s a sex fabric but for me it is more like transformation from normal day to something more spectacular. When I first time worn latex, I felt really empowered and also because I was from a suburb in Tokyo, in japan most of the people are from there no many foreigners around. And I felt I was like everyone else, and everybody does the same things and follows the same trends. And then I felt I was strong and it is ok to be different and sexy with it. I wanted to be maybe like different and I wanted to be feminine with it. So I hope if someone wears our clothes, ladies can feel something like that, something special and unique person and she has to be sexy and I want to give that feeling to the people.
I think latex has been in a quite dark place before and I wanted to bring latex into more like lighter place. Not like lighting as mainstream, it is not that. I think everyone has different view of beauty and this is mine way of expression and thinking and what I can do with fabric and I think it is beautiful. But I thought if I apply to that, maybe people might change the way of seeing it.
SH — Latex is a special fabric more for special occasions,it is becoming more widespread that is because people are more interested in marking an special occasion, perhaps by wearing latex, it doesn’t mean people are going to wear it to go to the supermarket, well some people will!
It’s more to make and special moment, it is a physical and mental thing together, because it is a big statement. When you step into latex, you kind of step into another world, you are taking beyond your normal premises, I think that what people are interested in, whereas in the bedroom or nightclub, or in a premier or some private performances, still the same, And your thing in the head it is a special moment.
LA — Before you started to work with latex did you do any design on fabric?
AK — Yes, I did. Because I was quite young then.
LA — Did you do any collection?
AK — First I did some sort of show collection in Tokyo, in a club night called Gold at that time. And I did some pieces in fabric, not latex. And all was kind of fetish, I was thinking even then I have been liking these fetish for a long time, sometimes I feel I haven’t moved on but you know, it has been always my obsession like it gives me power to think about, it is a sort of angle to see.
LA — In your daily basis when you are about to design, where do you get your inspiration from?
AK — From everywhere, if I see something beautiful, it could be some shape, it could be some person or personality, anything that brings some sort of feeling.Something beautiful makes me want to make something.
LA — Would you like to see your pieces on the high street?
AK — In fact we are just about to open a pop up store in Selfridges, which is quite interesting because there are in here, people come here specially for latex and some many people come from abroad to come to this shop even it is not in central London, we cause we offered something is quite specialist. But it is nice it is only short pop-up shop. It might show to someone who is not related to latex. And I think latex would not become main-street because, I think about it quite a lot, it could be but because it is quite difficult to wear or ,you know, it is like you’ve got to love it. You have to put lubricant or you have to care of it, it is like you have to go through quite a lot to look as you see it. That is why everyone calls it kind of fetish fabric because it is not easy but you want to wear it.
Even if we have this pop- up shop in Selfridges, I do not really think it is going to became mainstream, I might be wrong .But I think it might open up some people even to recognise the fabric, how it can be. It is quite interesting. Latex is a good example like high heels it is something you want to wear, but it is not easy to wear or like corsets, it’s the same. Not very comfortable. And I think latex is kind of the same for me. But I do not know I might be wrong, it could be mainstream. It is a fabric that it remains it is not going to become in some sort of t-shirt. To wear latex it is quite commitment and also makes an statement, but sometimes there is a little you can choose. Like you can adjust it as a gloves or in just accessories and I wanted to people just to have fun with the fabric. Because a bit of it like in gloves or somethings gives you a special feeling.
LA — When are you having this pop up store in Selfridge?
AK — It’s just opened last Saturday, but it is not totally opened yet so we have a little details, maybe its almost ready. But we need to put more stuff in there. So I think it should be ready maybe in December. Just before Christmas maybe.
I think you can already buy items there but we only got small selection at the moment, we have to send them more stuff. And put maybe some little sign up. It is really exciting.
SH — it will be interesting to see where it goes, because still incredibly unusual. It is quite interesting to see people’s reaction in Selfridges. Generally very positive but still many people that think it is the devil’s clothes. -laughs-
AK — it is hint of dark side! -laughs-
LA — Would you like to expand your business?
AK — I haven’t really thought about it, everything is handmade in the london studio,here. Everything has quite a lot of details, hand-sewn, and at this point not really thinking about it. But let’s see how it goes with Selfridges. I don’t know yet.
SH — this store -Atsuko Kudo’s boutique- used to be a different store, it was not only Atsuko’s stock there were more brands, but gradually Atsuko Kudo’s garments started to take it over. And then the shop came out as Atsuko Kudo’s shop. So we worked together all that time and now we’re back in Coco de Mer, actually, we’re going to Selfridge, which it is kind of crazy. And store in New York called Le Petite Coquette. So still only four shops in the world, and Showstudio, where they are selling selected pieces in the gallery space, which it is very nice.
LA — You have been selling in Coco de Mer for a long time.
AK — When I started this label or even before I started they were the first to place an order. And then they opened the shop and at the time I didn’t have available a whole sale price or anything like that, so that was the first place and I stop selling for a while and now they kind of came back to ask to start selling again. And it is being doing quite well there, which it is very nice.
Simon Hoare: This was all around 00′s. And by the time Coco de Mer first opened, which it was in 2001-2002, there was the first shop to take the first collection. So they were the first store who stocktake it.
LA — Tell us about your involment with Seven Bar Foundation.
AK — We work with Seven Bar Foundation and it is a charity group ,that we just did a show with them together with Agent Provocateur. We all kind of think to wear lingery and being sexy to create some sort release of money to help poor people and they can open up the business. So it is good about this foundation, I think, it is not just about to give money to poor people, they also led the money to these people so they can actually develop their business and stand up themselves, because they need to be able to be independent. I think that is great.
We have done shows with them twice. And I am hoping to be able to do more and I think for us to make awerness of a woman can be feminine and being strong and sexy, positive things rather than negative things. If we could be able to help other people or other women too, it think that is great. This is the sort of things we have been involved with and making latex to individual ladies.
LA — You showed in New York with Seven Bar Foundation, which belongs to the lingery New York week, right? And recently you have showed here in London, which it was your first time, how was the experience? You would like to have a regular show in London?
AK — We are not really a fashion company, we do not really do collections pretty much, so it was nice to be able to do the show because it is quite rare to put the show together. But I do not really think we will do it a normal fashion week because, I would say no though, but at the moment it is slightly different to other fashion houses. We are not in the fashion scene, but we are not totally fetish. We are something between. And we are just trying to do what we think its appropriated.
LA — Another big event that happened to be in 2012 is your exhibition at the V&A. How did you feel about it?
AK — Yes we have quite a lot good news this year, like we had a gown in the V&A for the exhibition The British Glamour since 1950 and we designed specially for this exhibition, and it started from may and it finish in january so all together all these amazing gowns and royal gowns. So we got a little of latex gown in there. And again I think it is nice some people can see it.
I was quite shocked when we first were asked about it, like putting up a dress for them. You can imagine it was like -what’s?!
We were just so happy to be in an exhibition. So many great gowns in there.
LA — What type of woman is your average client?
AK — We have so many types of women, not only the one who likes to wear fetish (laughs) I think it is nice. The age group could be from teenagers to eighty years old. It is nice because different people wear our pieces in different occasions. Our range it is quiet wider too. It is for everyone.
LA — When do you think a woman is erotic?
AK — Generally a woman is erotic, I’ve found even a woman writing on the desk I quite find erotism in that. Just thinking in erotic things.
LA — Ok for example you come from Japan to London, and there is a clash of cultures here. Do you think still certain taboos in sex?
AK — Between Japan and here is different. I think in Japan still male dominant. The young girls are quite normal and then they do like hostess job or something like that quite easily. It is a different culture here and there. The law of sex have change in this country (England) a lot. Even in the last twenty years, I think, before you could not show any video or even what you see on the TV now , you could see it in the sex-shop before. I only know in more depth in this country or Japan, but I do travel and I can see there is a different approach of sex in every country. And that is quite interesting. It is not a taboo as much as before,but even though I think it is very important and everyone has to do it right. Ten years ago when I google latex in Japanese website, kind of directs you to dark places. -laughs-
LA — So you think it is happening the same with latex, are people having another point of view?
AK — I thought it is the same like I approach -as sex- to make something I think it is beautiful with fabric then. People might change the way of seeing this fabric. It is like war if you fight, you fight back. I think everyone has different view of beauty and this is mine way of expression and thinking and what I can do with fabric and I think it is beautiful. But I thought if I apply to that, maybe people might change the way of seeing it.
LA — You think sex is essential?
AK — Sex shows how close to your partner, it is how you communicate with this person. If you are really connected to someone that you really love I think you should do it right. So I am making all this clothes is not because sex, it is about looking beautiful.I think because sex is so important and how you approach it, it is kind of similar or how people connect and it is so important and you should do it right and I think you want to look nice when you do it -laughs-
LA — There is a very fine line between erotism and sexisms, what do you think about this?
AK — I never think being sexy is a but thing, I think it is a way of expression, and a way of doing it. And I think it is not going to kill you.
You said erotism could be sexism. You really think so?
LA — No, for certain parts in the society, in the culture, it could be a fine line between them. Maybe an artist can project a photograph, a garment as erotic but for certain groups can be consider as the woman as an object. This debate has been going on for years.
AK — I never think erotism is sexism, maybe because I live in this world for so long, I do not really see it or everyone who comes here is an open-mind people. But I understand some people think like that. If they annoyed by a sexy women, it must be because they are scared. They don’t need to. Beautiful woman can be more powerful than armed solders, but … We must let woman be sexy and beautiful!
LA — Before your boom in the fashion industry, you got attention from fetish magazines. Do you think there a big different in the crowd between sex industry and fashion industry?
AK — I think there is some of the fetish people are not really into fashion, I think it is kind of middle. Specially in the last twenty years more fashion companies started using it in magazines, more provocative images than before and this makes it more close between industries.
LA — This year it has been the second time you have won the Fetish European Award. How do you feel about that?
AK — First one in 2008 was for Feminize style latex. I was happy that Fetish people liked this approach. Mistresses become feminine too. and 2012 for “Opening doors for the whole latex industry with it’s amazing work in high fashion” . And those voted for the awards were pretty much who’s who of the European fetish sense in the editors of all the major magazines and latex website/blogs. so we are so thrilled!
LA — When did you start to get attention from the fashion industry then?
AK — Steven Meisel did a shoot with italian Vogue with Eva Mendes and she was wearing from head to toe latex outfit. We were quite surprised because we have never seen latex in a fashion magazine. And then at the same time Carine Roitfeld used our clothes for her big story, she used our items for like ten pages so it was more like mixing with normal fabrics. We could not really believe it. It was nice.
LA — Once you started to get attention from the fashion industry, you began to make collaborations with designers as Manish Arora. You helped NicolaFormichetti to launch Mugler with the A/W11
AK — when he got in touch and we were about to start Gaga’s project and deciding. It was a nice a experience. Every collaboration is different. But yes it was a fun project.
LA — You also did a collaboration with men’s designer Tim Soar. How did you feel working with menswear? Would you a menswear line?
AK — We do some menswear but we are more specialist in ladies, but it was nice to work with him. Men’s clothes are so particular and he wanted to do something and had a strong idea and we tried to kind of make it work, it was fun because we both worked together to make it happened.
LA — Back in summer you made a collaboration with the makeup brand Illamasqua,which it is called,Naked strangers. Although it is not your first collaboration in cosmetics.
AK — Illamasqua is a very unique brand and it was nice to kind of collaborate and we like the same things so it was fun. But we do work with lot cosmetic labels, with Illamasqua we have been working a lot this year, and I have done few campaigns with Mac too.
And in fact with Mac, we did the Hello Kitty campaign which it was photographed by Nick Knight and styled by Kate England, where I did the costume for it. We also have been working for L’oreal this year.
LA — Would you do your own perfume?
AK — Yeah, someone actually approached us but I am not sure. We do not know.
LA — Your pieces have been worn by most of the pop divas but would you like to see your pieces on other sort of personality, maybe someone more political?
AK — Well, I feel like everyone, but our dream is The Queen Of England. Thant would be amazing. In fact it might not be to ridiculous because we saw when Gaga met the Queen, she was smiling. We could not believe it! And it was the Diamond Jubilee this year, she had a special exhibition going on in Windsor castle and she choose one favourite picture every year, so there was an exhibition of sixty pictures and the one of this year, it was the one she was meeting Gaga. So maybe the dream is not too far! We would make her something really smart. A nice suit or something…
LA — Actually your garments are quite affordable but you have two lines: ready to wear and haute couture but all of them are handmade in your studio. Can you tell us about the haute couture line.
AK — We can do any design from the scratch but it will be more expensive, because we have to work out, Gaga’s outfits start from the scratch often. If someone comes here and it doesn’t have too much budget they can find something quite similar as they had in mind, then started from there it wont be too expensive. We always try to work out how much price would take.
LA — What ideas would you inspired you in the future? I mean what it is your next step.
AK — We just did a show and it was quite a lot of work as it is just us here and we are having the pop-up store in Selfridge. Actually we are so tired! that we have not decided yet what to do. There are few plans floating around for the next year, but I think it is time just to sit down in Christmas and think about it more. So I do not have the right answer at the moment, because this year has been a lot of steps forward, we’re done quite a lot of interesting projects, so let’s see how everything pans out and we can do more exciting projects. We want to make the world more shinny place.
SH — Yes, this year has been extraordinary with all the things have happened, V&A, Showstudio… it has been fantastic. We have done a runway show for the first time in Europe, this year. It is been a very big year. If we think, Gosh what else could happen in 2013, it has been such a big year in 2012. I think we did not quite expect, I mean major things have happened before that, but I think it has been more a wider recognition. They have been more culture things.
By Lara Antonioni
15 de noviembre de 2015