What are you willing to wear on your next Zoom? Fetish fashion is on the rise
You might call it the roaring ’20s for some Angelenos, but maybe not in the way you’re thinking. Not everyone spent the last year stuck inside, eating frozen pizzas or making maple syrup or baking bread or catching up on the latest shows on Netflix.
Although the pandemic may have hurt retail sectors, sales figures for niche goods, particularly sex toys and fetish fashion, helped tell another pandemic story.
Sales last year were strong, say L.A. designers of fetish fashion, a category that includes bodysuits, crotchless underwear, bralettes, ball gags and pants made from materials such as leather, latex, vinyl, silicone and synthetic rubber.
“Compared to 2019, sales grew by 466% in 2020,” says designer Mariano Cortez of L.A.-based fetish-wear studio Busted, which offers fetish pieces ranging from latex masks and corsets to latex pants and dresses.
Designer Laura Petrielli-Pulice, founder of L.A. fetish-wear studio Vex, says she also saw a pandemic-era spike in sales with more than 3,093 garments selling on her website. The figure doesn’t include her more upscale custom orders for celebrities who might wear latex garments for performances or photo shoots.
“Thankfully I already had an online store outside of all the celebrity and custom work I do,” Petrielli-Pulice says. “My web shopping was up 145% last year.”
“Over the last year our sales have increased,” says Zana Bayne, a designer who launched her brand in 2010 with operations in Los Angeles. “There were new people discovering the brand through Instagram every day. … We’ve always been really strong in terms of a direct-to-consumer, e-commerce presence. Because we had that already in place before the pandemic, we were able to build on it.”
Bayne’s appointment-only showroom is more of a working studio than a store. “I’m able to have more space here than in New York and I’m able to produce 100% in-house,” says Bayne, who closed her New York showroom in 2019. “We have all of our own machinery. So the production process didn’t stop during the pandemic. We had some employees who were able to set up at home.”
These increased sales suggest that Angelenos stuck at home last year were seeking avenues of expression and pleasure and found ways to escape boredom or pandemic fears through leather harnesses, latex gloves and TikTok fetish videos.
The unplanned hours during the pandemic have offered plenty of moments to open a fresh browser window and explore adult-oriented offerings from strip clubs launching their own virtual entertainment to professionals, influencers and amateurs creating free and paid sexual content for OnlyFans, a London-based content subscription service.
Bayne, who collaborated with Marc Jacobs and made accessories worn by celebrities including Lady Gaga and Madonna, says the renewed interest in the fetish-fashion category, in particular, is happening because of increased visibility in digital media. Also, recent attention has ballooned in part because of articles about the fetish community, including profiles of well-known dominatrices, in newspapers and magazines.