Wonder Woman's armour also a breakout star

Items from Whitaker Malem, the fashion brand in London behind the metallic leather armour worn in 2017 hit movie Wonder Woman.
Items from Whitaker Malem, the fashion brand in London behind the metallic leather armour worn in 2017 hit movie Wonder Woman.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LONDON • Gal Gadot, DC Comics and the whole Justice League gang are not the only big winners from hit movie Wonder Woman (2017).

Another beneficiary of the movie's halo effect is Whitaker Malem, the London leather designer behind the superheroine's metallic leather armour as well as the armour for her fellow Amazons.

They are this season's breakout British brand.

"Wonder Woman is our calling card at the moment," said Keir Malem, 52, sitting with his partner Paddy Whitaker, also 52, in the loft-like ground floor of their two-storey home and atelier in Dalston, east London.

The two men, who uncannily look and dress alike, had just returned from a five-month stint making more leather armour on location in Australia for Wonder Woman's sister movie, Aquaman, scheduled for release in December next year.

Just upstairs from where they were sitting was the atelier where the Wonder Woman armour, commissioned by the film's costume designer, was born.

The two work at side-by-side desks and pictures, including a close-up of the Wonder Woman costume made before it was metallicised, adorn the main wall.

Torsos fitted with leather corsets litter the room. Hidden at the back is a vintage 1950s Singer sewing machine, bought at north London's Chapel Market for £60 in 1988.

On it, Malem said, "everything is done, even though it wasn't made for sewing leather".

Called "beyond cool" by New York magazine, Wonder Woman's armour has become a breakout star in its own right.

"We were allowed to go close to the body and do sexy armour, which is unusual, as a lot of armour is massive," Malem said.

Rihanna's stylist asked to borrow a moss-green corset for the kick-off of the star's jewellery collaboration with Chopard at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

The veteran costume designer Sandy Powell, known for films like Shakespeare In Love (1998) and the coming Mary Poppins Returns, asked Whitaker Malem to design armour for her latest film, The Favourite.

They could not do it because of Aquaman, which stars Amber Heard and Jason Momoa.

"We were gutted," Malem said.

And the arty French Double magazine featured Joan Severance, the model and actress, wearing one of their moulded black bustier collaborations with British pop artist Allen Jones in its current spring/summer issue.

"We'd never been in that magazine before," 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 its film work, which has included Luke Evans' 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.

Whitaker was studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins.

Malem was acting at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, north-west London, after dropping out of a hairdressing course at the London College of Fashion.

After two runway collections and dressing such names as singers 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.

With their newfound fame, Malem and 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 Whitaker, pointing out the superhero overtones of an idealised hermaphroditic body.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2017, with the headline 'Wonder Woman's armour also a breakout star'. Print Edition | Subscribe