The world of Soft Skin Latex is one of fantasies. Here, pastels and pinks and neon collide to form an otherworldly oasis where dreams come to life. 
Founded in 2018 by Gemma Pickerill, Soft Skin Latex is a brand that welcomes hybridity. For Pickerill, tension is what makes a design interesting, which explains why she is drawn to the materiality of latex. “Latex and fetish imagery invokes such a reaction in people,” she says. “Using colours and silhouettes that are typically seen as cute and feminine with this hardcore material is so interesting to me.”
As Soft Skin Latex continues to expand its practice, we spoke to Pickerill about costume design, BDSM culture and the place of subculture in the digital age. 
Hi Gemma, how are you? What have you been up to this week?
Hiya! I’m well, thank you! I’ve been sampling new designs this week in preparation for their release in March.
You studied costume design at the London College of Fashion. What was the first piece that you created with latex? 
The first pieces I made in latex of my own design were a jacket, bloomers, and ruff inspired by Tudor menswear. These were for my final project at [school] which was kind of the basis for Soft Skin Latex. I named the project Soft Skin and it was about the duality and [the] softness of masculinity. 
How did your interest in the material evolve from there? 
I was really inspired by working with latex and wanted to continue exploring the material (after having been introduced to it initially via an internship with a latex brand). By chance there was a job for a latex making assistant, advertised around the time I was graduating, so I applied for it and got the job. I worked there for around three years; this is where I really developed my skills and learnt so much about the craft. After a while I started revisiting my own work and building on the aesthetic I touched on during uni.
There is a wonderful otherworldly quality to your designs. They don’t necessarily feel like they belong in this world – they feel like they belong in the world of our dreams and our fantasies. I imagine that this can largely be explained by the fact that latex and fetish clothing has always occupied somewhat of a fringe position in fashion and culture. I’m curious: what are your hopes and intentions with Soft Skin Latex? Do you want latex to enter the mainstream? 
Thank you, that’s a lovely description! My intentions with Soft Skin were always to create beautiful and interesting pieces of design in the form of latex clothing and to continue doing so for the rest of my career. Making commercially appealing clothing or bringing latex into the mainstream has never been my priority but I appreciate that more and more people are taking an interest in and buying my work as it means I can keep creating. 
Latex isn’t new to fashion. Many big and commercial brands have used it quite a lot, whether in accessories or clothes. How do you view the use of this material, which is generally related to BDSM culture, in mainstream fashion culture? 
I think that BDSM culture is so rich and visually interesting that I’m not surprised it’s become a source of inspiration for many designers. For me it’s important to maintain a connection to the fetish world and have an appreciation and understanding of where the work comes from. Latex isn’t a fashion trend for me, I’ve built my whole practice around the material and the culture which surrounds it.
Latex isn’t easy to work with. What are the pros and cons of working on this material? 
Latex clothing is all glued together and I’d say the most difficult thing is getting neat and smooth seams, it can be really fiddly and frustrating to learn but once you’ve got that down, making garments is actually a lot quicker and simpler than sewing. And it’s super satisfying! 
As we were discussing earlier, latex is often related to BDSM culture. Your masks can fall into that category, however, they have a campier, fun touch to them. How do you balance the rougher image of latex with your more personal take on it? 
That’s something I intentionally play with in my work. I recently had one of my hoods featured in a film by Bart Seng Wen Long which was displayed in the Cute exhibition at Somerset House, the description next to the piece read: “Cuteness delights in hybrids and opposites (old/young, ugly/adorable, masculine/feminine, human/non-human), which means it slips easily into the realms of the uncanny and the grotesque...” 
Because latex and fetish imagery invokes such a reaction in people, whether that be attraction or repulsion, it's fun to manipulate these qualities and add unexpected elements. Using colours and silhouettes which are typically seen as cute and feminine with this hardcore material is so interesting to me.
Having studied costume design at university, do you make a distinction between costume design and fashion design? How would you categorise your designs, if at all? 
I think my work lies somewhere between fashion, costume, art and fetish wear. To me, it’s not important to fit into one of these categories, I think that would only limit my creativity!
I want to ask you about social media and Internet culture. Soft Skin Latex has amassed a significant following online. What does subculture mean and look like in the digital age? 
I appreciate all the interest and support my work has had on social media; it does feel good to be recognised by so many people and Instagram has created a lot of opportunities for me. 
Relying on social media for work has also been a source of pressure at times. There’s a risk of my account being removed because of its sexual nature, which limits what I can share. 
The more people my work is exposed to online the more I feel I’m opening myself up to criticism; for the most part people are very kind and supportive but sometimes when my work is shared and reaches let's say a mainstream audience, it’s met with a lack of understanding, shock and even disgust. Even though Soft Skin has reached a lot of people, it’s still fairly niche and shocking to some. 
In terms of subculture, I'd say that much of the fetish community exists online now and this is how many people make connections, discover events, find work and access education. It feels like the scene has grown massively in popularity over the past few years. Maybe that’s because more people can easily discover this world online and are drawn to its aesthetic, or perhaps social media just provides a space for people to openly express their sexuality, in ways that they previously wouldn’t have been able to. At the same time, much of this content is subject to harsh censorship which is ultimately damaging to the existence of this subculture online and forces it underground once again.
What is your vision for Soft Skin Latex moving forwards? Do you have anything exciting planned for 2024? 
I spent last year catching up with the expansion of the business, getting a studio space, hiring assistants and getting on top of production. This year I’d like to focus more on creativity, working on new designs (especially our screen-printed designs) and perfecting my craft.