They have dressed British artist Allen Jones' hypersexualised, hyper-realistic sculptures for over 25 years now and have collaborated with fashion visionaries such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Giles Deacon, Christian Louboutin and Tommy Hilfiger. Apart from creating a Batsuit or two, they have done a Galaxy Ripple campaign shot by Bob Carlos Clarke. Their work has been featured in some of the most iconic fashion editorials - including that woven gilded leather bustier in Herb Ritts and Sarah Jane Hoare's 1989 British Vogue spreads that seemingly, had virtually every fashion student drooling in the 90s. Whitaker and Malem, partners in crime and in life, have spent more than three decades obsessing over the human form, crafting what they describe as body-based sculptures that occupy the fantastic realm between art, fashion and costume.
The duo met at a London house party circa 1985, when "you had fuck all chance of meeting anyone your age." After having an acid-induced revelation, Malem decided to help Whitaker, who was studying fashion design at St Martin's School of Art at the time. Whitaker's 1987 graduate collection set up a template of sorts for their work: masterfully manipulated, finished-to-perfection leather garment-slash-sculptures that Whitaker refers to as "shoes for the body" - he took a course in footwear design before St Martin's.
Traditionally, leather clothing — Whitaker Malem's signature material — is considered to be liminal, between the zones of culture and nature, or what Claude Lévi-Strauss has called, "the raw and the cooked". The more leather is thought to embody this liminal factor, the more it can be fetishised. However, Whitaker and Malem's work is more exploratory than fetishistic, embodying their relentless pursuit of perfection, or at least what perfection could look like.
The duo's 2019 Labia Bustier has recently made an appearance in Doja Cat's artwork for the new Planet Her album, shot by David LaChapelle and styled by Brett Alan Nelson. To mark the occasion, Whitaker and Malem chart their storied career, reminisce on exactly how cunty people were in the 80s, discuss the creative power of today's youth and predict the digital future of fashion.