Sequin season may be over, but why let a little thing like January sap your sparkle? To quote Marc Jacobs, ‘my fave finish is glossy, glossy black,’ because nothing makes you feel more sharp and in control than a glazy sheen - even if slumping on the sofa still looks very tempting. That’s why I’m stepping into 2022 with a megawatt wardrobe of PVC delights, guaranteed to add a pinch of glamour to this typically gloomy time of year.
As a high shine, fun fabric, PVC (also known as vinyl) has so much more to offer than just slinky getups for Halloween and risqué outfits reserved for the bedroom. There's no denying the obvious link between PVC and fetish wear, but channeling Miss Whiplash isn’t the only option. While a sense of kink is part of its cachet, I'd argue there's more romance to this material than meets the eye, especially when you consider its femme fatale heritage.
Top of my list of PVC fashion icons isn't Carrie-Anne Moss from the Matrix, nor is it Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Instead, it's Catherine Deneuve as the seductive Séverine Serizy in 1967 movie Belle de Jour, kitted out in a slick Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche black vinyl trench coat, a classic that remains a staple in the Parisian fashion house's collection. In fact, the brand's autumn/winter 2021 version is almost an exact replica, complete with buckled belt.
In second place is Diana Rigg with her kickass PVC jumpsuits in seminal 1960s series The Avengers followed closely by Raquel Welch as a skydiving secret agent in 1967 spy caper Fathom. Forget the lime green bikini she spends much of the film in (the movie hasn't aged well in that respect), the best bit is when her character jumps out of a plane in a silver PVC romper designed by late French couturier Michèle Rosier, who was known as the ‘Queen of Vinyl’ thanks to her pioneering use of plastic in fashion.
Vinyl has its place in musical history too: just consider the on-stage looks of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and Grace Jones who practically lived in the stuff in the mid-Seventies and early Eighties. We also saw it on Tina Turner, Madonna, Janet Jackson. Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and Beyonce championed daring rubberized wardrobes too, although these stars revelled in the material’s erotic overtones.
Kim Kardashian has a lot to answer for too: she’s raised PVC and latex to another level with her bondage-inspired looks, many by her friend Olivier Rousteing of Balmain. Hers is definitely a bold kind of power dressing, but what if the style you're after is kittenishly edgy rather than eat-you-alive sexpot?
I don't think PVC needs to be sexed-up, in fact, it should be toned down, worn in a way that's chic with a bit of bite. Take Victoria Beckham, who pairs wetlook vinyl trousers with a loose-fit white shirt or a sharply tailored jacket. I'm clearly not alone in coveting her slinky style: her label's classic ‘skinny’ PVC trousers are regularly sold out.
Alexa Chung also puts a coquettish spin on PVC, softening the look with contrasting materials. She'll wear a black vinyl spaghetti strap dress with an angora-mix coat or a chunky knit flung around her shoulders. Her label’s Challice PVC trench reminds me of the red YSL coat worn by Sophia Loren in 1966 film Arabesque.
I recently discovered Commando, a US brand whose wet-look garments are loved by Gigi and Bella Hadid, Rihanna and Serena Williams, which has a clever 'fit-testing' design process. "Rather than fitting a style on one model and simply grading the pattern up and down proportionately, we test our garments on all sizes and create custom patterns to optimize fit,” says founder Kerry O’Brien. “We have multiple subjects in each size wear a garment for several days and wash them at home to understand fabric response and durability.”
I can vouch for the fit - I've her knee length vinyl pencil skirt in black and purple, and the silhouette doesn't shift about as you walk; there's no squeak and no sweat. “One of my favorite pieces is the faux patent leather bodysuit. I throw it on under my 'CEO suit' for an unexpected bit of shine,” says O’Brien.
That sense of the unexpected is key when it comes to wearing PVC. One of the most interesting labels to subvert the erotic associations of the fabric is Batsheva, a New York-based brand conceived by Orthodox Jewish designer Batsheva Hay, who designs collections according to the laws of tzniut, the Hebrew word for modesty. Her whimsical dresses have high collars and below-the-knee hemlines, and draw on Victoriana ruffles and hippie florals. Her latest styles come in bright pink and red PVC, bringing erotica into more wholesome territory, or perhaps not, depending on how you see this naughty-but-nice approach. “I love PVC because it is so unexpected for the designs that I do,” Hay says. “The juxtaposition of a prim, old-fashioned style with a sexy modern fabric like PVC is playful and fun. They are some of my best-sellers.”
It's true that plastics don’t decompose and aren’t eco-friendly, but if you buy smart and little, these items last a lifetime and require very little upkeep. One of the most treasured pieces in my wardrobe is an original 1960s Mary Quant orange vinyl miniskirt given to me by my mother, which still looks brand new.
Groundbreaking materials are also paving the way towards a more sustainable route to glossy fashion. H&M recently launched its latest Innovation range with some wet-look vegan leather pieces including a strapless black minidress and a long shiny black trench. The fabric is partly made from grape skins, stalks and seeds discarded during wine making and it won H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award in 2017. Unfortunately these limited-edition pieces have already sold out, but a new range is expected soon. In the meantime I'm coveting Amina Muaddi’s crystal-embellished PVC courts – a perfectly polished nod to the trend without looking OTT.