Fifty Shades of Grey is out in theaters today, amidst a flurry of criticism that its portrayal of BDSM closer resembles domestic violence than a consensual erotic relationship. In search of an authority on the matter, we ventured over to East 13th Street to spend an afternoon with The Baroness, a dominatrix and latex clothing designer who, rumor has it, once spit-roasted a man for three and a half hours.
“Fifty Shades of Grey is going to bring a lot more business,” The Baroness predicted. “But I shudder to think what kind of business because both the book and the movie portray BDSM as something that’s freakish – that you’ve got to be a freak to be into it.”
The truth is, being totally uninitiated in the world of straightjackets and rubber body bags, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d always associated latex with mysterious fetish parties where acolytes wearing chains and kinky catsuits gather in darkened rooms to drip hot wax onto each other’s bodies. Turns out, I’ve watched Eyes Wide Shut one too many times. While this is indeed what happens at some of the kinkier fetish parties, wearing latex can be for anyone from the “just for funs” to the “seasoned professionals.”
The Baroness is anything but a freak, even if she’s been known to lead the occasional parade of latex-loving elves into Santa’s lap. With wild magenta hair that floats around her head like an extravagant crown, she comes off as more of a queen than a homicidal mistress as she shows me the different kinds of outfits I could buy if I had a mind to try out some latex.
There’s “The Femme Fatale” – a curve-fitting knee length dress with an accentuating stripe of red material that runs down the front. There’s “The Latex Flirty Dress” – which is as youthful and provocative as it sounds, and “The Tart” – which is more of a “Fuck Me Now” model, apparently. And if I want to make my look even more exciting, I can shine up any of these outfits with personal lubricant, which I’m definitely going to need to get into them.
Latex, it seems, is all about the art of dressing. In a world of athleisure wear, where most people like to go for what’s comfortable, there’s an element of power to be found in wearing something different. “People are interested in the unknown, which is ultimately the power within us. Latex forces you to ask the question, “Am I brave enough?” says The Baroness.
She remembers the feeling of power she discovered when she first started her business 20 years ago. “People had this certain conception of me, like, ‘Oh, she has sex with everybody.’ But then they saw me in a business suit made out of latex and that really threw them off! I was scared, but I had power.”
But even as mainstream brands embrace the BDSM aesthetic, sensationalist narratives like Fifty Shades of Grey fail to capture the complexity and respect necessary for a real BDSM experience. According to The Atlantic, many fetishists are worried about what’s going to change in popular culture if people start to confuse domestic violence with consensual sex. The Baroness may be one of the first to find out.