I am a wee bit nervous as I approach the Baroness and her eponymous latex shop at 530 13th St. (between Avenues A and B). I’d never worn latex before and tend to go through life in jeans and tees, which is a definite no-no at the elegant, well-appointed and provocative showroom where the Baroness designs, creates, fits and sells her line of custom, bespoke, and ready-to-wear latex fashion.
It is always a challenge to step outside one’s comfort zone, but the Baroness’ no-nonsense yet encouraging and confident demeanor guided me through the process. And I saw myself differently in the mirror…speaking of which, the fitting room mirror at the atelier is kind and the dressing room space is set up to allow for best-case scenarios when trying on outfits.
Due to COVID-19, people are not dressing up that much, there are fewer parties and events, and although the Baroness wears latex on the regular, most people would be looking for something special, maybe for a holiday? In that light, I ask the proprietrix to show me what the store has for Halloween as we chat about her history in the neighborhood and her passion for latex.
Can you speak a bit about the history of the shop and how it came to be? What drew you to the East Village and what has kept you here? Are there any special challenges to living and working in the neighborhood?
When I first started my business (almost 30 years ago) I ran it from my studio. Then the building required work on the front wall, which would mean a total disruption, so I set out to look for another workspace. I needed to keep it close-by as I had been spoiled and feared that if I had to travel too far I would not.
I was very fortunate to find more than an atelier, the ideal workspace came with a shop at street level. Prior to my moving in the space had been poorly used but that both allowed and necessitated renovations including knocking down walls, replacing flooring, establishing lighting and electrical outlets (all in the perfect locations). As our workspace is below-ground, I painted it in lighter tones of purples, pinks and greens and had work tables and closets built so everything was at hand.
Upstairs I chose soft blues, pinks and purples forgoing the traditional red and black of other fetish shops. I wanted it to be a place that would welcome women and make them feel safe. The dressing room was huge and hung with fabric and fitted with flattering mirrors.
What I hadn't realized is just how much help it would be for my fit and designs as I now saw more varied body shapes in my elegant latex fashions.
Being on a side street and in the East Village meant that although I had limited foot traffic (which didn’t matter much as The Baroness is a destination) my rent was also lower than in other parts of New York. After all the work involved in renovating and establishing myself on East 13th Street it was easiest to stay put as we have for the last 12 years (despite the steady yearly increase in rent).
Of course, now with COVID-19 and having the boutique closed for months, everyone has been affected and there are many empty storefronts throughout the neighborhood. My business has been particularly affected as many of my customers now have limited funds and the usual parties and events that they would wear latex for have been canceled or simply postponed until next year. I am fortunate that much of my business comes from elaborate custom creations commissioned by loyal longtime clients and that my landlady has been most understanding during this troubled time.
Latex is both more complicated (in construction of the garments) and more simple (in cleaning and caring for the clothes) than I’d realized. What made you choose latex as a fabric, and what can you tell beginners about wearing it?
My background has always been in clothing, fabric and art, and my motto is "any occasion to dress is an occasion to overdress," so when I discovered latex my life was instantly transformed.
Once I began to work with latex, I enjoyed learning and exploring its mysteries. The largest being how to make it! Everything is glued and when I started, I was one of only three latex designers in North America. Latex is still a niche market and now The Baroness boutique is the ONLY shop in the U.S. that makes and sells only its own latex!
What I tell latex virgins (my absolute favorite customers) is to give in, to allow their senses to take over, to inhale the vanilla milk-chocolate aroma, to savor the sensual feeling of it against your body or the touch of another latex-clad enthusiast, to marvel in the gleam, the shine, and the highlights and lowlights of this amazing material as they watch it in motion. There is no material more sensual than latex.
On the practical side I inquire as to their budget, their intentions, and where they will wear it to help in their choice. I explain and demonstrate how to shine and care for their latex along with assuring them of my lifetime guarantee.
I believe wearing latex should be comfortable not only on the body. If you want discomfort, buy it super tight, our sizes range from extra-small to extra-large, along with queen size and custom for both men and women, but also to your personal style and body image. If you aren’t comfortable in what you wear you will never look the best you can and probably that garment will be relegated to the back of the drawer or closet.
Halloween is my birthday and even as a child I fantasized about watching a gathering of well-dressed people. When I moved [from the UK] to the U.S. and discovered it was a holiday where everyone dressed, my dream came true.
Halloween is (as you may imagine) one of our busiest seasons, although this year is obviously an exception. We usually do the best when it falls on a Friday or Saturday and there are many vanilla parties. The most common requests are either Catwoman or a dominatrix, although we also have made an assortment of custom creations including Britney Spears, various cosplay characters, crossdressing and regular ensembles that are so unusual for the customers life as to be considered a costume, but which I hope shall be the start of their latex addiction!
You missed the sign’s other side, which says "You Need Latex!" What I want currently is what everyone wants: An end and cure for the virus. That, and for a world dressed in Baroness latex!