Photography by Christopher Erk
What do Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Ryan Ashley and a slew of RuPaul’s fabulous drag queens have in common? They’ve all been dressed in Nina Kate’s custom latex creations. Kate is one of the top latex designers in the world, creating couture garments using one of the most unpredictable fabrics known to man. However, as a product of the London underground, latex became second nature to the costume designer through her early induction into punk subculture. We had the chance to catch up with the latex liaison to learn how she got her start in fashion design, which celebrity client put her on the map and what advice she’d give to latex virgins.
When did you first develop an interest in fashion design and was there a specific designer who influenced your decision to pursue this career? At school I always loved art class, then when I reached about 15 years-old I really got into subculture and getting dressing up. I started sewing, gluing and safety pinning my own outfits together, mostly because I didn’t have the budget to buy the amazing things I really wanted to wear. At this time, I also started obsessing over avant-garde catwalk shows by Galliano, Viktor and Rolf, and Gautier.
What made you decide to create your company around latex and was there a specific garment, scene or event that sparked your interest? I started working with latex soon after I left school as an apprentice for a company and I’d worked for various other latex brands from the age of 18 to 21. By that time, I really knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to get there, so I was impatient to get out on my own. There wasn’t ever really a question of choosing latex or fabric, it’s always been latex.
How does the pin-up community of the past and present influence the aesthetic of your designs? Growing up, I was in love with all the classic John Willie’s Bizarre books— the outfits, the make-up, the hair, I loved everything! As a child, I looked up to many different characters as icons and images of what I wanted to be. I mostly loved Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Show, which is a film I’ve watched since I was five.
What are the pros and cons of designing a garment using latex? I’ve only ever worked with latex, so I couldn’t really tell you the exact differences. There are things that you would do differently in regards to the pattern making and, of course, in the construction. With latex, there are some things that don’t translate from a fabric design so sometimes I have to help clients realize what’s feasible and what’s going to work the best for the design they might have in mind.
How long does it take to create a custom piece and which piece took the longest to make? The more intricate the piece, the longer it takes to make. I’ve made several pieces covered in individual hand-crafted flowers and those certainly took a long time. The piece that took the longest to make was a kimono I’d made years ago. It had floor-length sleeves that had an applique picture of a woman getting eaten by an octopus. However, these pieces do tend to be the most fun to make.
What tips and tricks would you give to someone wearing latex for the first time? One of my favorite things is helping latex virgins with their first pieces because I think people have a lot of preconceived ideas and confusion around latex. My first piece of advice would be to make sure to buy the right item. It may seem tempting to go for the cheapest thing you can find for a bargain; however good latex should be handmade and with care. All latex is not created equal and a good latex dress should fit in all the right ways. It’s better to take your time and invest in something quality. Also, don’t be scared! People often tell me that they aren’t “thin enough” for latex, which is crazy to me. First off, latex holds everything in better than any type of ‘Spanx’ and secondly it is incredibly flattering for all shapes and sizes. I’d urge anyone unsure to contact me and I can always help them choose a style that’s most flattering for their body type
Your clientele ranges from award-winning musicians to drag queens to tattoo artists. Who was the first celebrity client that you created a custom piece for? With latex becoming more mainstream, my clients began almost entirely as fetish models, goth girls, and club kids. I can’t remember who exactly my very first celebrity client was, but I think either Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.
Going along the same lines, you create pieces for all genders and body types. Why is diversity an important part of your company and what can other fashion brands learn about inclusion from this message? It’s not something that I ever did “on purpose,” but it’s just natural that I should make things for all types of people. There’s nothing like that feeling of putting on something amazing that fits perfectly and makes you truly feel at your best. I’m so happy that I get to give people that feeling.
Where do you hope Jane Doe Latex will be in one year, five years and ten years? In one year, we will have the new location fully up and running. I’m really excited about this next move, as it’ll be a totally new thing compared the old location. As for the long term, there are plenty of things I would like to see happen. The landscape of latex clothing has changed a lot since it became popular, but I feel like Jane Doe’s basic principals have remained the same. High quality, hand made pieces with a personal touch.
What’s up next for Jane Doe Latex and how can they get in touch with you about a customized design? Next up is getting the new location ready and there’s not a great deal I can say about it now, as it’s all in the preparation stages. But in the meantime, people can still order as usual and talk to me about any custom ideas they may have via email or phone.