The Baroness, NYC Queen of Latex Fashion, Is Closing Up Shop

The baroness at work.
Photo: DeSean McClinton-Holland

The sidewalk sizzled and royalty descended on the streets of Avenue B. On this recent 90-degree afternoon, drinkers were silenced as the Baroness, the pink-haired queen in fetishistic couture clothes, passed by. , heels snapping, her lavender latex A-line skirt swirling around her ankles. She also knew it. As we sat down for lunch, she said to me, “People have literally fallen to their knees because of my appearance and the way I dress. I have always felt very powerful and clothing-oriented to the point of obsession.

The Baroness (and that’s her legal name, despite being born Varcra Russal) is 70 but looks younger, and for three decades she was the go-to designer and tailor for fashion items. latex. His store, on 13th Street east of A Avenue, is the only all-latex store in the country. Come in and it smells like your childhood vanilla gum. In order to squeeze into his clothes, you need to apply a special lubricant to your skin. A first-time customer can spend $ 49 for a latex thong; a 1930s-inspired full-length Myrna Loy dress costs $ 450. Custom designs can reach tens of thousands. Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj have all worn her clothes and her designs are all over the FX show. Pose. She or an assistant handcraft every item she designs and sells, from opera-length latex gloves to waist cinchers. It is full of aphorisms, like “Every occasion to dress is an occasion to dress too much”.

But the rubber will soon be back on the road: despite a caring owner and loyal customers who have kept her business afloat during the pandemic, the baroness will close her storefront and move to France at the end of August. Even though there is latex, latex everywhere – on the catwalks, on the red carpet, on Pornhub – there are less of the delicious folds and power plays, she says, that initially ignited her imagination. That, and the rent is not going down, and COVID has closed many parties for which it provided the clothes. Besides, “I started to be less interested in all the requests for our black Marilyn Monroe top, one of our most popular pieces, in a size medium,” she says. “I started to understand, Damn, I don’t want to do them anymore.

Her raison d’être, she said, has always given weirdos confidence and made them feel valued and beautiful in their bodies. She is English, originally from Surrey, but her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 12. It didn’t go well for her. “I was made to feel like I was not a good person because of my clothes,” she says. “I was constantly sent to the principal’s office because I dressed very Mary Quant. I had a white PVC dress with a tie and cuffs with white polka dots. She dropped out of school at age 13 and, having pieced together pieces of education on her own terms, began to sew. Shortly thereafter, she drove to Haight-Ashbury (“I was arrested for using American flags to make patches. They said I degraded the flag!”), Then, at age 21, “I hitchhiked from California trying to get to Paris,” she says. Instead, she moved to the East Village.

This was in the early 1970s. The neighborhood was “an open-air drug market with needles all over the sidewalks.” I remember sleeping in Port Authority after a boyfriend couldn’t meet me after my FIT class, ”she recalls. “Living in New York back then, it was like someone putting their hand on your back and pushing you off a building – you fell and you fell quickly. It was great for me.

After working as a designer, selling lingerie-inspired clothes to retailers like Patricia Field, she had a eureka moment when she tried on a red latex dress at a store in St. Marks Place. “I felt like a sausage in it. But everyone kept telling me how fabulous I was! she said. “Then I realized that I wanted to design latex clothes that could make women feel sexy and comfortable. Because if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t feel sexy. She launched the Baroness brand in 1993 and quickly became the go-to designer for kinky revelers with money to spend. In 2004, looking for a space to open the shop, she found a storefront full of squatters who had restrooms in the center of the room. “I had my work cut out for me,” she recalls, and signed a lease and painted the place a deep blue with lavender accents and draperies.

“At that point,” she said, “I was already famous because of my segment on the HBO show. The real sex.“(The episode, which premiered in 2001 and remained in intensive rotation for months, featured the Baroness placing a man in a” bed of wind, “which seals your body under vacuum with only a breathing tube for keep you alive.) Over the past 15 years, her Fetish Retinue parties have become the place for wild performance art on the theme of BDSM. One participant remembers seeing the Baroness arrive in search of a cheerful and sadistic Queen of May, clad in purple latex, a sparkling tiara on her head, a pair of enthusiastic slaves following her on a leash in matching costumes.

Domme by nature, though never domineering by profession, she loves the effect of a woman walking into a room and flipping all the power dynamics on her head. Remind her and the stories flow freely: “On one of my favorite parties we covered a woman in bubble wrap and liquid latex and everyone stormed the stage to pop the bubbles. She said fondly. “Another time we had a medical fetish theme and we had ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’ saw off a woman’s leg. There was blood spattered all over the place.

“The woman only had one leg, obviously,” she added. “But the effect must have been great, because some people thought it was all real.”

Maybe inevitably she finds her business a little tame these days, now that there’s latex, latex everywhere. “When I started it was pure fetishism,” she says. “Now it’s more of a fashion item, something to add to an outfit to make her ‘edgy’,” she said. “Even though that represents a large part of my clientele now, I find it a little offensive. “

But it’s not just the integration of latex that’s starting to bother him. “I was very lucky to float between the worlds: the gay BDSM world, the gothic world, the business world, the fetish world, the burlesque world, the queer world,” she says. “Now I see a lot less crosses. We had fewer options then. We just wanted to project what we wanted to project and not get pissed off about it. Parties have also changed. There is more judgment, more focus on getting through. “More and more parties are more and more geared towards men, which means there is more sex there,” she says.

This replaced the emphasis on the intellectual aspect of BDSM. “It sounds snobby, but a lot of people don’t realize that this is an arena where the brain is really important. And they only react at the physical level, ”she continued. “Mental entrapment is more interesting than physical entrapment. Plus, she says, the parties “were getting too crowded. You couldn’t throw a bull whip in there.

Baroness says she will likely move to southern Beaujolais, completing the move she started 50 years ago, provided she can find a great place to work and the ability to host parties intimate while contemplating his heritage. “I’ve always been happier when I see people transform in my clothes,” she says. “They become themselves – the latex disappears.” She says a Baroness podcast may be on the way.

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