When Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Debbie Harry, Madonna, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj and Gwen Stefani need to take a walk on the wild side with a bespoke BDSM-style get-up, they (or their “people”) call on the design team of Zana Bayne and Todd Pendu.
Though the designing duo known simply as Zana Bayne demurred when asked if they have a safe word, they’re going bold this week with a new exhibition at the Museum of Sex in New York that showcases the bondage-influenced designs (some replicas) they’ve created for pop culture’s elite, alongside images and videos of the performances, appearances and videos in which the designs were worn.
But as this exhibition makes clear, bondage isn’t just for daring stage acts these days. Zana Bayne has also built a thriving retail brand around BDSM, which (for the unschooled, or those pretending to be) stands for the overlapping acronyms of Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission and Sadism and Masochism. Bayne and Pendu also make skirts, tops, bustiers, shoes and hats, mostly for women — as well as limited styles for men (leather sock garters, gentlemen?). And they’ve also collaborated with big-time international fashion designers, including Prabal Gurung, Marc Jacobs and Rei Kawakubo (the subject of the current Costume Institute exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Comme des Garcons.
For the curious, Zana Bayne wares are available online (bags are priced from $275 to $750; harnesses retail from $175 to $525), including through Net-a-Porter. If you want an in–person look-see, you have to hit Selfridges in London or Opening Ceremony in New York or simply wait for the occasional pop-up shop like the one in January in a spacious warehouse in the Arts District of Los Angeles, or the one at the Museum of Sex for the duration of the exhibition. But if you’re a bit reticent (read: repressed), their New York atelier will schedule private shopping appointments, and the company will be doing the same in Los Angeles starting later this year.
(Fun fact: Bayne, a curvy brunette who founded the company in 2010, has made headlines with another Hollywood connection as well. She is a Game of Thrones superfan whose fun Tumblr blog GoTRunway smartly contrasted costumes from the HBO hit with couture from the likes of Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Jean-Paul Gautier and most especially Rick Owens.)
Bayne and Pendu took time from the completion of the installation for the exhibition, which opens Friday, to talk to Pret-a-Reporter.
You two have designed for some of the most powerful and successful women in popular culture, yet these designs often play on ideas of women as slaves, chattel or the objects of sadism — how do you reconcile that?
Bayne: Our designs are meant to accentuate the power that these performers exude. It’s all about owning one’s presence and projecting confidence through what you wear. Wearing leather makes you feel strong and invincible, and the women we dress often tell us that’s how it makes them feel.
Walk us through the thinking behind how dressing as a submissive can be empowering.
Pendu: The term “post-fetish” refers to taking elements from traditional fetish wear and reimagining them into the accessories that we make for everyday wear. We apply this idea to all of our designs, from handbags to harnesses. Punks adopted fetish tropes, abandoning the original BDSM meanings, and we have continued in that way forward. By thinking of it as post-fetish, we acknowledge the inspiration but no longer see it as referring to submission at all. In fact, it’s the opposite — it’s a statement of rebellion and freedom to us.
How did the BDSM aesthetic become acceptable to wear in public?
Pendu: There are plenty of people who still don’t find it acceptable today, but it is an aesthetic that has existed outside of its traditional BDSM meaning for decades, going back to the punk rockers of the ’70s in London. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren really brought it to the forefront of fashion design, and so many designers have since incorporated the aesthetic into various collections over the years, most famously Thierry Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen. One would be remiss to underestimate the influence of Versace’s “Miss S&M” show in fall 1992.
Describe your fashion and cultural influences.
Pendu: Who hasn’t been influenced by Marlon Brando in The Wild One or Marianne Faithfull in The Girl on a Motorcycle? Almost all of the original fashion houses began originally as brands producing quality leather goods: Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Loewe, Gucci, etc.
Bayne: Also, we are influenced by the early days of punk, glam rock and goth as much as by surrealist art and abstract sculpture. We are often digging through the archives of Paco Rabanne, Martin Margiela and Azzedine Alaïa. However, the street is our biggest treasure-trove. We are constantly finding inspiring ideas from people watching in New York, L.A. and various cities in our travels.
I noticed that a choker that says “Nasty” and a harness studded with “Not my president” both indicate that proceeds from the sale go to Planned Parenthood. Care to share the backstory?
Bayne: These started as a personal project for me and my mom to wear during the Women’s March on Washington in January, since we wanted to show our resistance on the outside as much as we felt it on the inside. The response was overwhelmingly positive, to the point that we decided to offer them for sale, but only on the condition that a good portion of the proceeds would be donated to Planned Parenthood, since their services are life-saving for many women and their very existence is in danger due to our current political situation.
What is it that you think people misunderstand or fail to understand about the BDSM aesthetic in fashion?
Bayne: The versatility!
How much demand has their been for the studded leather fidget spinner?
Pendu: We sold out of our first production run in 24 hours.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Below, the designers recall designing for some of music’s biggest names, including Beyonce, Lady Gaga and more.