The Wonder Woman Effect – The New York Times


And the arty French Double magazine featured Joan Severance, the model and actress, wearing one of their molded black bustier collaborations with Allen Jones in its current spring/summer issue. “We’d never been in that magazine before,” Mr. Malem said. Now “we’re exposed to a whole new audience.” Even Donatella Versace riffed on the Wonder Woman look in her recent couture collection, with a corseted catsuit glittering with nearly 8,000 sequins and a gold leather minidress.

Though best known today for their film work, which has included Luke Evans’s red leather jacket in this year’s “Beauty and the Beast,” as well as the 2008 “Dark Knight” bat suit, Whitaker Malem began life as a fashion house in 1988, focusing on leather. The designers had met by chance at a house party in London two years earlier; Mr. Whitaker was studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins and Mr. Malem was acting at the Tricycle Theater in Kilburn, northwest London, after dropping out of a hairdressing course at the London College of Fashion.

After two runway collections and after dressing such names as Paula Abdul and Cher in leather, however, the two were still struggling to make ends meet, and moved into collaborating with other fashion designers. They made a gold leather dress for Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 1997 Givenchy collection, and a leather eagle bustier for Tommy Hilfiger’s spring/summer 2000 Red Label.

Photo

Items from Whitaker Malem, the fashion brand in London behind the metallic leather armor worn in “Wonder Woman.”

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Whitaker Malem

“Our biggest fashion mistake was that Isabella Blow asked our P.R. to be given one of our dresses and we wouldn’t let her have it,” said Mr. Whitaker, referring to the late famed British stylist and pointing to a photograph of the gold chain mail dress with a gold molded ivy leaf leather bustier in one of their scrapbooks. “Maybe, had we given it to her, things might have been different.”

Still, it was a learning experience that helped them embrace their newfound Wonder Woman fame.

Mr. Malem and Mr. Whitaker are now focusing on personal fine art work, funded by their movie fees, which largely involves male and female bodies fashioned in leather and spliced together to create a wall sculpture.

“We hope that the people who think this Wonder Woman stuff is cool are going to want to have it on their walls when we sell it,” said Mr. Whitaker, pointing out the superhero overtones of an idealized hermaphroditic body. The pieces were first shown at a fine leatherwork exhibition curated by a British leather goods veteran, Bill Amberg, during May’s London Craft Week just as “Wonder Woman’s” publicity machine was cranking up. This fall a solo show titled “Leather Unbound,” part retrospective, part new work (part, yes, “Wonder Woman”) will open at the Gallery Liverpool. There are plans to take it to Moscow and Los Angeles later

“We’re going to show the Wonder Woman Barbie dolls because they are so accurate, but not in their boxes,” Mr. Whitaker said. Instead, he said, the plan is to show them under acrylic “in a cool, slightly ironic way to celebrate the pop art side of things.” Photographs of the leather working process will also be on display, including illustrations of how the costume was gilded with gold, silver, copper and aluminum leaf.

As to whether he was worried Wonder Woman’s appeal might be over by the late autumn, Mr. Whitaker shook his head. “The Wonder Woman Blu-ray and DVD comes out for Christmas,” he said.

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