Libidex first came to the latex scene in 1989 when designer Helen Saffery launched a brand new range of latex clothing. She dubbed it "Libidex" - combining libido with latex. Helen teamed up with rubber enthusiast and designer Simon Rose, and the two of them developed a collection of stunning latex garments that made rubber fetishists and fashion designers alike sit up and take notice.
The designs created by Libidex back then were ground-breaking in the latex world, pre-empting the couture/latex crossover designs of Gaultier, Mugler and McQueen. Helen was the first person to design legs and feet on latex garments which were actually tailored from the human body – her own, in fact. The Libidex latex fit was famous – and of course it got copied by a lot of other people, so now it’s the industry standard. The Matrix Catsuit was a real innovation – making a fashion feature of building the garment from a series of panels. It’s not surprising that the Matrix became the benchmark Libidex latex catsuit.
Over the next ten years, the latex fetish scene scene grew fast, with fashion luminaries such as Jean-Paul Gaultier himself appearing at events such as Torture Garden and the Rubber Ball. Libidex too got to be quite well known amongst the glitterati and some of society's more colourful characters. In the quintessential nineties scandal, Tory MP David Mellor's mistress Antonia de Sancha cavorted Sun style in a Libidex catsuit, and the late Paula Yates chose to relaunch Britain's seminal style and music show The Tube in Libidex. Caprice front-paged on Esquire in Libidex designs, doing a double encore on the cover of The Times magazine. Libidex began a close association with photographer Bob Carlos Clarke, who photographed numerous Libidex latex outfits, including a shoot for his fetish calendars. Libidex latex was also popular with actress Rachel Weisz and models Paula Hamilton and Vanessa Upton. Vanessa, one of London's favourite fetish models also appeared in the Loaded Calendar, this time in a Libidex nurse's outfit.
In the early years, Libidex was a very small but exclusive latex label making high-quality couture latex garments for a very select group of customers, working from tiny premises in Shoreditch – next door to budding artist Tracey Emin (Simon used to describe the Libidex studio as 'Tracy Emin’s broom cupboard'). But things were about to change dramatically. In 1998, Simon and his associate Nigel Walker bought the company from Helen and set up Libidex Ltd. In 1999, the company moved into a new – and just slightly larger - premises near St Pancras station in London, and took on more staff. The Libidex 'Big Bang' had begun!
The first thing Simon and Nigel did after acquiring Libidex was to complete the company’s first photoshoot at a small studio in London's Camden Town – which was the first time Libidex had produced a comprehensive catalogue of all its designs. Following that came the launch the company’s first website – and at the time, Libidex was one of the few latex fashion companies to go on line – yes, really!
The website brought Libidex latex clothing to an international audience for the first time. Business immediately started to boom, and the name Libidex began to be recognised around the world. Simon took the view that latex didn’t have to be exclusive – he believed that rubber is for everyone, and his vision was to bring latex to a much wider audience.
According to Simon, "Our main selling point is that we offer a high quality latex clothing at a very reasonable price. We are always keen to create new looks from our customers' ideas as well as our own, and our aim always is to produce something that suits in style, appearance and fit”.
Simon’s philosophy has always been to create new and innovative designs in latex which appeal to a wide audience, rather than to a ‘rubber elite’. In fact, Libidex customers come from all walks of life and in all shapes and sizes. From mature, experienced rubber aficionados, to the gay scene, transsexuals and transvestites, clubbers just looking for something funky to wear, and shy first-timers, and even theatre and opera designers. Simon’s approach is to use classic, popular designs and give them his own latex twist, resulting in creations that make a statement but are also eminently wearable.
Libidex offers a very wide range of styles and colours, from classic to more stylised designs, including latex catsuits, latex tops, latex leggings, latex trousers, latex shorts and lingerie to more exotic outfits based on military uniforms and even more fantastic designs using techniques such as appliqué, printing, inflatable rubber and combining rubber with other materials.
Over the last few years, Libidex has added substantially to its collection, designing new ranges of latex lingerie, catsuits and latex corsets, along with latex dresses and fantasy uniforms, as well as a very well-received new range of latex clothing exclusively for men – LIBIDEX:MAN, which was launched in August 2011. The latest collection - over 200 new designs for women - was launched under the title "Mademoiselle" in March 2014.
Libidex’s reputation as one of the leading latex fashion designers has led the company to become associated with some of the world’s top fashion gurus and show business personalities. Clients have included Emma Bunton, Eminem, Oasis, Caprice, Lady Gaga and Julian Clary, and Libidex has worked with fashion houses such as Vivienne Westwood, Dolce and Gabbana, and the late Alexander McQueen. It has even dressed the Opera at La Scala Milan, and a production of Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppaea at English National Opera in London.
Libidex has a well-established reputation with party-goers and clubbers, and its creations are often to be seen at events such as Torture Garden, Wasteland, Club Rub, Rubbercult, Antichrist and many others. Libidex latex clothing has also been photographed on models such as Esmé Bianco and Monica Harris, whose names are becoming increasingly well known.
In 2007, Libidex formed a partnership with a company in Malaysia to begin producing its own brand of fashion-grade latex sheeting for use in the production of latex garments. Radical Rubber, as it was called, was the first serious challenge to 4D Rubber in the UK, which had up to then practically monopolised the supply of latex sheeting to garment makers throughout the world. Radical Rubber offered the industry a choice of two suppliers, new colours and effects in latex - and a sharp drop in prices when it came on the market!
At the beginning of December 2010, Libidex launched its ‘LatexEXPRESS’ range: a selection of simple but attractive ‘latex basics’ such as catsuits, leggings, shorts, stockings, hoods and so on which Libidex keeps in stock and which can be ordered through the website and delivered to the customer’s door within a few days (normal waiting time for made-to-order items is 3-4 weeks). Libidex offers this range at a 30% discount to its normal prices to encourage younger, perhaps less affluent customers to give latex a go. It’s already proving a success, and Libidex is constantly adding more items to its LatexEXPRESS selection.
Libidex is now one of the largest producers of high quality latex garments in the world, and in 2010 moved into new (though actually 150 year old), larger premises in a converted Victorian factory in Bloomsbury, London. In 2015, the company moved into its present premises in Islington - originally one of the first ever cimemas in the country, which closed in 1915! This now houses the Libidex design studio and offices, as well as the Radical Rubber trade counter. The main Radical Rubber warehouse has been moved to Sudbury, Suffolk.
According to Simon, "It's our ability to think differently and to push forward the boundaries of latex fashion that people seem to like. It's great that so many people come back to us again and again - we must be doing something right!"