No one can deny the ways that fashion and politics are connected – how we choose to portray our race, gender, class and sexuality is visible through how we adorn our bodies. With this in mind, I often wonder why more designers don’t actively try and engage with this power – you can dress models with these symbols and send them down the runway or photograph them for editorials, disseminating these images to the masses.
Zana Bayne is the leatherwear designer who began in 2010 with the objective of empowering her customer and, six years later, has seen her label metamorphosed into a thriving business. Her harnesses have been seen on some of the world’s biggest celebrities and are worn by everyday women experimenting with accessories often deemed “sex objects” within “regular” fashion.
Arriving at her studio in the centre of Manhattan’s garment district last week, I was met with the alluring scent of leather, in all of its musky brilliance. Here, Bayne and her co-creative director Todd Pendu discuss the symbolism of leather, its associations with sex, and their new collaboration with & Other Stories – through which their designs will become accessible to a new and much wider audience.
Reba Maybury: How did your collaboration with & Other Stories come about?
Zana Bayne: Last spring, they emailed us out of the blue – we were both interested and surprised, and thought it could be a really good collaboration. We ended up meeting in New York to talk about it. You could tell they had a progressive way of looking at things – they were interested in working with smaller designers and taking risks.
Reba Maybury: It’s interesting how there’s almost a fetishisation of fetish in fashion right now. You've been doing this for a while, so have you noticed a change in attitudes?
Todd Pendu: You know, it hasn’t actually changed that much. Everybody thinks it has because if you look at the press, it seems that way.
Reba Maybury: What do you mean?
Todd Pendu: Well, there’s a division between the mainstream press – which is still upset by the idea of fetish – and the youth-oriented publications who are very interested in it. But that’s sometimes more about clickbait than it is about changing people’s viewpoints.
Reba Maybury: But I do think the way people are looking at their sexuality has drastically changed over the last ten years...
Todd Pendu: Well I would say with gender, but not so much sexuality. I actually think we’re at a point where people are becoming more anti-sex.
Reba Maybury: Why do you think that people are becoming more anti-sex?
Todd Pendu: I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out.
Zana Bayne: We were just talking this just now. Todd was telling me about how Pamela Anderson has joined an anti-porn campaign.
Todd Pendu: Yeah, and how the state of Utah have declared porn a medical problem. We’re seeing this backlash against sex itself but it’s weird because we’re witnessing a really impressive and interesting change in how people are looking gender. It’s strange how the two aren't running together.
Reba Maybury: Do you think your customers have changed over the last six years?
Zana Bayne: Absolutely! But thing is, since the beginning our customers were made up of so many types of people – from someone buying something to wear to their prom to someone in their 50s who loves wearing Comme des Garçons. When we were in Hong Kong, we had this woman who looked like a school teacher come into Lane Crawford and try on all these pieces over her very conservative clothing and love how she looked. Straight afterwards, the head dominatrix of Hong Kong came in and bought pieces for herself. We’ve seen the range of different people.
Reba Maybury: It’s that thing where sex is universal, sex is enjoyed by everyone to some extent. Sex takes on so many different formations and isn’t as simple as: you’re kinky or you’re not. I think your stuff isn't directly fetishwear, some of it could definitely be seen as that, but it’s just about a woman being empowered by her sexuality.
Todd Pendu: It also has something to do with how we always talk about fetishwear. People go out and buy a leather jacket and they buy it for the connotations of rebellion or being a badass, you know? Even if, say, you’re quite meek and mild. The same idea could be said for a harness – it doesn't always have to be seen necessarily from the fetish point of view. You could see it as something like a deconstructed jacket, as something to wear over.
Zana Bayne: You know, we’re always talking to people who buy our pieces just because they look cool and feel really good to have on your body.
Todd Pendu: They’re certainly not for someone who doesn't want to attract attention, you know. So they have to have some kind of point of view of already about what or who they want to be.
Reba Maybury: But it doesn't have to be an extreme statement, there can be a subtlety to it much as wearing a small dog collar, belts…
Zana Bayne: Right, it’s always something which can bring out a part of the person who’s wearing it.
“...since the beginning our audience has been made up of so many types of people – from someone buying something to wear to their prom to someone in their 50s who loves wearing Comme des Garçons” – Zana Bayne
Todd Pendu: We’ve never really put ourselves out there as being a fetish brand necessarily. We’ve been talking about post-fetish as a phrase which we’ve been using for a little while now.
Reba Maybury: What do you mean by that?
Todd Pendu: The idea of taking something outside of its original context, so out of the fetish context, and turning it completely into something that’s meant to be worn outside of the bedroom, placing it in a whole new environment and so it suddenly has a new ring to it. When we were talking to people at & Other Stories, fetish never came up. Never!
Zana Bayne: Never. They were like ‘Ooh it’s great with all these great harnesses’ and they even sent us an initial mood board in the beginning, which had a lot of clippings from our past press and it was all about being worn over clothing. It’s not as if they didn’t know...
Todd Pendu: ...They just see it aesthetically. So I feel as though there’s a lot of people who see it aesthetically.
Reba Maybury: It’s purely aesthetic, it’s not labelled with this kind of symbolism.
Todd Pendu: Exactly.
Zana Bayne: But it’s also about acknowledging and respecting where everything has come from, and knowing that the pieces aren't meant to be seen as direct correlations to fetish culture. They can be whatever they want to be.
Todd Pendu: They allow people to translate it for themselves, which becomes interesting because then people are kind of self-empowered with whatever it is that they can get – they literally can make it what they want.
Reba Maybury: How many pieces are in the collection?
Zana Bayne: I believe it’s 13. There are all these beautiful colourways.
Reba Maybury: And which one is your favourite piece?
Todd Pendu: Well my favourite is the vest – that was a piece that I dreamed of having from the very get go and they did it 100 per cent right.
Zana Bayne: Everybody’s been asking if it’s real leather and yes, everything is.
Todd Pendu: And it literally goes with anything; I was so impressed by how versatile it was.
Zana Bayne: So that’s a favourite, and then the belt with the tassels – I remember the first sample came back and all the tassels were really small and at different lengths and we were like “bigger tassels!” The whole team were awesome to work with, it was just such a lovely process.
Todd Pendu: They’re a very progressive group of people who really want to do something using a platform as big as & Other Stories. I think the biggest thing is the fact that we didn't have conversations about fetish, these weren't political conversations – they weren't interested in any of that – they were like let’s do something because we like what you do, do that for us. It was obvious they really liked the brand and that was a surprise.
Zana Bayne & Other Stories will be available in select stores and on and stories.com from 22 September