How the BRIT Awards 2023 cemented fetishcore’s comeback

By Jack Ramage

Published Feb 18, 2023 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

The BRITs are back, baby. But this time, they’ve got a kinky twist. From Ashnikko’s skin on skin alienesque layered look to Sam Smith’s latex HARRI suit which was giving Chinese spy balloon realness, one thing was clear: fetish fashion is back. But what exactly is fetishcore?

Although at face value, it may seem like a quirky and out-there aesthetic, a dive beneath the surface reveals its rich history, tied to sexual liberation movements, LGBTQIA+ rights, and rebellion against bigotry. Here’s why the latest resurgence of fetish fashion matters, and how it reflects our current society.

Understanding fetishcore at its core

In a nutshell, fetishcore is a subculture and fashion style that blends elements of fetish fashion and BDSM with punk, goth, and other alternative styles. BDSM has long been an inspiration in the fashion world, however, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the concept became mainstream.

What sets this trend apart? Rather than focusing on the future, fetishcore typically draws inspiration from the past—with ties to the historical struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights, discrimination, and the sexual liberation movements of the 1960s and 70s.

After the Stonewall riots of 1969 and the establishment of Pride as a means of protest, members of previously underground LGBTQIA+ communities and sex workers began to publicly demonstrate the mistreatment and violence they faced from law enforcement.

These protests provided a platform for individuals to express their sexuality without fear of judgement. And wearing fetish and bondage attire was a simple yet bold statement of unapologetic acceptance and protest against heteronormativity and social conservatism.

The resurgence of fetish fashion

In the ‘highbrow’ fashion world, fetishcore has been used by designers like Gianni Versace and Vivienne Westwood as an unapologetic statement about sexuality and freedom of expression.

In recent years, the style has risen to notoriety again. For example, in 2022, Dua Lipa made headlines by wearing a re-creation of a dress from Versace’s famous Miss S&M collection to the Grammy Awards, sparking a renewed interest in the BDSM-inspired aesthetic.

Fashion theorists posit that the COVID-19 pandemic may be partly responsible for the recent revival of fetishcore. In a 2021 interview with The Guardian, Professor Andrew Groves, who teaches fashion design at the University of Westminster and is the director of the Westminster Menswear Archive, said that the BDSM resurgence may be “in part a reaction to lockdown.”

“For the last 18 months, we’ve all been in a strange BDSM relationship with the government—which has controlled our bodies, forcing us to wear masks and told us who we can kiss or touch. Adopting fetish clothing as fashion can be interpreted as a desire to switch the relationship, take back control and show them who is really in charge,” Groves explained.

Whether you personally agree or reject this theory, it’s clear that the trend isn’t going anywhere soon. And, as the stigma of sexuality in society continues to erode, we’re likely to see more elaborate fits that evoke your wildest erotic fantasies become the norm. The latest BRIT Awards, which arguably showcased some of the most fabulous, creative and kinky fashion to date, is a testament to that.

How the BRITs cemented fetishcore as the look of 2023

It goes without saying, of course, that Smith’s iconic latex look stole the show (and the internet) last week. As the brainchild of menswear designer HARRI, well-known for his unique fetish-esque style, the singer sported the billowing black suit across the red carpet like a pro.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by SAM SMITH (@samsmith)

American pop star Ashnikko also turned heads this year, flaunting an eye-catching and extraterrestrial-inspired plastic ensemble. The outfit—which can be placed somewhere between the lines of anti-fashion and body horror—was a custom concept by the London-based founder and creative director, HYDRA.

In an interview with Dazed, the designer recalled that the outfit was “extremely polarising. Those who loved it really did and those who hated it did so with equal intensity.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by ashnikko (@ashnikko)

“Ash wanted lots of skin showing and a very abstract component to her fleshy augmentations,” HYDRA continued. “I wanted everything (the gown, her body, and the prosthetics) to look like there was no separation between the single elements, as they would all osmotically grow out of each other.”

Both Smith and Ashnikko, who openly identify as queer and have faced criticism for it, used these outfits as a firm assertion of their otherness—a defiant middle finger to the often heteronormative landscape of showbiz.

Away from the limelight were the celebs who opted for the slightly more demure sex club fantasy. Munroe Bergdorf made quite the statement in a skintight black latex dress, emulating big dominatrix energy. The outfit was specially crafted by Atsuko Kudo, a brand renowned for its high-end expensive latex garments. Another standout was Iris Law, who brought the heat with a daring leather buckle bra top.

The head-turning, creative and instantly memeable fits of the BRITs embody the resurgence of fetish fashion in mainstream culture. And it’s something to celebrate. Society is growing ever more liberal and accepting of other sexual identities and interests, and fashion is at the forefront of that. The bottom line? Whether you’re a latex lover or an ardent rubberist, BDSM gear is now on trend. Let your freak flag fly high.

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