An interview with London based designer and costumier William Wilde
William Wilde is a London based designer and costumier who specialises in exquisite hand-made rubber clothing and accessories. Inspired by Glamazons and Showgirls, Wilde has enjoyed a life-long obsession with costume and clothing that in 2010 culminated in his debut clothing collection. His distinct and elegant clothes combine latex with luxury fabrics, signature prints and unique detailing.
We interviewed William with your questions, submitted on Instagram.
How did you start your business and get the confidence to make it grow?
I actually started really small, I had always dreamt about having my own label, and was ultimately always working towards it, but I just couldn’t work out how to do it, and make a living at the same time? Taking a ‘plunge’ seemed impossible, so when I finally started out, I was just working on a bench in the corner of my bedroom, alongside my full time design job, I could only afford two rolls of latex, and I sampled the first collection in my spare time. Making money wasn’t playing a part in any of my choices, I just wanted to create the ideas in my head, and have them come to life; it was my creative outlet, and selling the clothing was not really my focus. I’d worked in the industry for about 9 years by then, and was really feeling the strain of having to design within ‘real world’ considerations all the time. The planets did seem to align when I launched the first collection, as it was really well received, and quite quickly I felt like I was going in the right direction, but there were years of desperately wanting/planning for it, before it started to grow, so it wasn’t always an easy ride! I didn’t really know at first that it would grow into a ‘business’, but when I’d crossed the starting hurdle, I wasn’t going to stop again without a fight!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs behind you.
If you could do a collaboration with any designer, living or dead, who would you love to work with?
I’d have to say Christian Dior. Growing up I was absolutely obsessed with the silhouette of the fifties, and that obsession has lasted a lifetime. I love period costume, and 20th Century Fashion, but this era I think is my favourite, and I find Dior’s designs mind-blowingly elegant, and exquisitely crafted. I’m really drawn to the complexity of construction that at the same time looks effortless, that’s something that I always try to achieve in my designs, but I think I could learn a thing, or a hundred, from Dior!
Do you have a muse for Inspiration?
Instinctively I’d say Marilyn Monroe has always been my immediate go-to, again I was obsessed with her as a child, and I think her look and character convey something that really strikes a chord with me; it’s more than just looks, it’s an energy. Over the years though, I have obsessed over lots of other influences, and I think there are aspects of many people in my work. I don’t really design with a real someone in mind, but the character will become obvious to me when I am imagining the finished garments or shoot set up. I will often have hair, make up and accessories in my mind very early in the process, as I need all this to create the image that I see in my head.
Do you do runway shows, and if so: where and when?
I would LOVE to do more runway shows, the last one I did was around 2015 I think? Shows are probably the closest that I can come to seeing my work come alive, in the same way that I have seen it in my head. Shoots are, of course, a wonderful representation of the clothes and mood, but a picture sometimes can’t convey the ‘life’ in a look. Sadly, at the moment, there are no shows on the horizon, the work involved is immense, and I don’t want to do something that isn’t fantastical! I really hope I can plan for a show again in the next couple of years though, at the moment, (during lockdown), all of that kind of thing just feels other-worldly and extremely seductive, I can’t wait to actually consider something other than being indoors!
Do you franchise? We would love to have your things in Israel.
Not at the moment, but perhaps in the future?! Everything is currently exclusively available at willliamwilde.com. I do quite like that control, as it means we can really keep an eye on quality, and customer service, but actually having bases in other countries would be great! We ship worldwide on a daily basis, and often to Israel!
Other than latex, what 3 materials/objects do you most like to use and why? Perhaps you would give one from work, one from home and a bonus one of your choice.
I’m for some reason obsessed with Gingham fabric! I don’t know why, but I love making shirt dresses in Gingham. I love working with all, or any fabric really, I love sewing! I used to pattern cut wedding dresses before starting my label, and there isn’t an area of clothing or fashion that I’m not interested in, I love making clothes, out of anything! My second passion is probably drawing, (mostly figures/fashion!), so my second material/object would probably be pencil and paper. I’ve recently really enjoyed experimenting with illustrating into/onto my iPad with an iPencil, (or whatever it is called!) So this would be my third choice as it is a little bit like learning to draw all over again, which is very exciting for me!
Will you bring back cool pieces from previous collections at some point?
I’d love to bring some archive pieces back at some point, I’d just want to do it in a way that didn’t feel like ‘moving backwards’. I was hoping to do a 10 year anniversary shoot last year, celebrating some of my favourite looks from over the years but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I abandoned those plans, or postponed them anyway. As each piece is made to order, in theory we can reproduce any archive style at any time; the only consideration, is that in the early days I used to be able to make some ‘show pieces’ that took forever to produce, and nowadays there just isn’t very much spare time! So we would always need to check what we could fit in, but no patterns have been thrown away!
When using latex, what are it’s most challenging or problematic characteristics to overcome, so that your outfit looks stunning while remaining functional?
Latex manufacture is very different from making regular clothing using a sewing machine, there are some aspects that are easier and some that are more challenging. Sometimes, the fun is trying to make latex behave in the same way as fabric, whilst working with the techniques required for latex construction. The challenges of working with latex are perhaps what make it fun?! From a design perspective, latex clothing can seem very ‘familiar’, certain colours are often used for certain things, and certain techniques are seen again and again, so it’s a design challenge to really create something that is completely new, but I think that’s probably what has kept me stimulated? There aren’t the same variety in latex of finishes, trims, colours, weights, prints, etc., as there are with regular fabrics, so it’s limitations make exploring it both challenging, and exciting!
Besides from a commercial point of view: What do you think about latex clothing becoming a trend and the fact that people outside fetish culture started wearing it openly? Is it a good thing or you miss the old days when it wasn’t mainstream?
To be honest, it seems to me to pop up in fashion, (along with lots of other fetish/club inspired clothing), often, and has done for all of my lifetime, and I’m totally fine with that. I think it’s great that more people have opened up to the idea of it, it’s only a material, so it doesn’t really make sense to me that it should only be favoured by a certain group? Maybe the acceptance of many ideas and behaviours, that used to be considered as underground, says something about the way that the world has changed anyway, and that’s also fine, or maybe great! In terms of caring for, and keeping latex clothing, it’s more difficult to look after than many commonly used fabrics, and much more expensive to produce, so I don’t think we’ll ever see it becoming ‘everyday’. It’s characteristics make clothing made from it look ‘special’ and perhaps inescapably ‘sexy’, so I think it will always run side by side with fashion, perhaps sometimes just seeming more popular than others?
Would you class your clothing as fetish or fashion? And, do you think that there has to be a difference between the two – which there still seems to be?
I don’t really think it matters what it is classed as? Certainly not from a design perspective anyway. Fetish is only a word that implies a sort of secret sexiness, and are people really particularly secretive about sex anymore? I don’t consider there to be anything secretive or underground about my clothing, it’s intended to be loud, proud and fabulous! Fashion is often sexy anyway, and the lines between the two are merged and blurred all the time, so I think it’s perhaps up to the wearer to decide it’s context? I’m a gay man, so while the sexiness in my clothing is a language that I understand, it’s not really my primary focus, I’m all about beautiful clothing, art and expression, I’m happy for people to digest that as Fashion or Fetish.
Do you wear latex and have you considered a men’s collection?
I don’t actually wear latex at all! I did a menswear underwear collection a few years ago, (chiefly because I really wanted to call the collection ‘William Wilde Does Boys’!) It actually did really well, and I enjoyed doing it, but I discontinued it a while back, and I don’t currently have any plans to revisit menswear. I’m a womenswear designer in my heart, and I’ve still got so much to explore in that area, so I try to remind myself often to concentrate on things that I really do believe in, and am passionate about.
What inspired you to focus purely on latex clothing?
It’s funny how that came about really?! I never actually made that decision, I started working with latex straight out of university, (where I had studied Fashion). I got a job designing and pattern cutting fetish clothing; I’d never worked with latex before, and I just remember feeling like there was SO MUCH that I could do with it. Things were a bit different back then, (or at least it felt that way to a 21 year old!), and I had only ever seen latex and PVC used in a particular context; and though I loved that context from an inspiration/mood point of view, I thought about using it for ball gowns in pastel colours, and skirt suits, and shirt dresses, and bows, and glamour! So while I was still always working with other fabrics alongside latex, I became quite experienced designing and making latex clothing, and felt like I could do something with it that would be new, and ‘unseen’, to some extent. I was so familiar with working with latex at the point that I launched the label, that my first collection was bound to be an opportunity to showcase the ideas that I had been harbouring, but I always intended to work with, and add in other fabrics to the label, whenever the time was right. My studio is now so latex orientated, that it can just be challenging to actually physically incorporate fabric garment construction into the same space, but it is on the cards!
What are your plans for the future for your brand?
My dream has always been to offer a sort of complete wardrobe of fantasy clothing, not necessarily fancy dress, but clothing that is fun, glamorous, larger than life, out of the ordinary, special, colourful, innovative, and empowering. I still have that goal in mind, so I’d like to add much more variety of clothing and accessories to my site, all with the same signature in design of course. Plans have all gone a bit askew over the last year, but I’m currently working on a new collection of fabric clothing, which I’m really excited about, so I’m hoping to launch that later this year. I’d like to extend my product range also, perhaps to include wigs and shoes? (I love wigs and shoes!). And I will hopefully soon be shooting a new range of latex costumes. Always lots and lots of ideas, just never enough time! I always strive to produce clothing that I love, as opposed to making choices based on sales alone, so I just hope that I continue with integrity, and that I always challenge myself, and love the clothing that I produce!