PVC—full name: polyvinyl chloride—is one of a handful of synthetic plastic polymers that have embedded themselves in our sartorial consciousness in recent months. Whereas fellow synthetic textiles Lucite and Acrylite have found a home in the realm of accessories, PVC is a bit more clothing-oriented—pervading the pants space and the dress space and the trench coat space.
We can’t say with certainty whether Aqua had fashion in mind when they sang “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic” back in 1997, but two decades later, designers seem to be catching on. Runways from New York (Marc Jacobs) to Paris (Chanel, Valentino) featured plenty of PVC for spring, and the street-style crowd gave the slick material a rousing endorsement outside the shows, pairing vinyl skinny pants with classic cable-knit sweaters, and glossy jackets with tattered tees.
You’re not alone if you think wearing PVC will make you feel like you’re in a raincoat — even when it’s sunny. But the translucent take on vinyl — often treated with prints and dyes to make a statement piece even more eye-catching — is here to stay. Chanel’s Spring 2018 runway was covered in plastic, most notably the shoes and bags, and there are plenty of style stars wearing clear Miu Miu and Calvin Klein coats on the street.
So fast-paced is the nature of fashion that to see something once considered the pinnacle of style relegated to irrelevance – or vice versa – is a commonplace occurrence.
The connotations of polyvinyl chloride, though – referred to most commonly as either PVC or vinyl – have changed so drastically over the course of its existence, it’s a feat even by fashion’s standards.
You’d think the man-made material had been patented long before 1913, given the journey it’s undertaken during its relatively short existence. Still, it’s one of the oldest synthetic materials; discovered by chance when vinyl chloride gas – which had been recently created – solidified upon exposure to sunlight.
It is, perhaps, PVC’s place in fetishism – alongside its naturally-produced counterpart, latex – for which it is predominantly known today: the high-shine rubbery appearance of these materials has become so synonymous with fetishism that PVC and latex act as visual shorthand for a whole subculture.
If you think throwing the material over your entire outfit feels like a little much, we recommend starting with a sleek boot or a see-through clutch. Ahead, we’re introducing you to the trend slowly, offering simplistic styling advice at first, and later, more extreme. Read on to familiarize yourself with PVC, then shop some fantastic items to add to your wardrobe.
PVC’s arrival into the world of mainstream fashion, however, came via designers such as André Courrèges and Pierre Cardin, whose use of the material became largely entwined with visions of futuristic advancement.
André Courrèges, the French designer who worked for Balenciaga for ten years before launching his own label in 1961, featured PVC frequently in his collections, a habit that, in part, earned him the mantle of the creator of ‘space age’ dressing during the decade, thanks also to the white gogo boots and boxy minidresses he pioneered.
“Women of today are archaic in their appearance,” Courrèges told Life Magazine in 1965, “I want to help them coincide with their time.” And, given the 60s was a decade that was dominated by the Space Race (in 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and in 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon), the designer came through on his intentions.
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