Inner Sanctum: Combining fetish and mainstream fashion in Hamburg’s red light district

It’s shiny, it’s stretchy and it’s skintight. Latex is a material unlike any other, and it developed a following of devoted fetishists over the past several decades.

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A model shows off a latex designed by Inner Sanctum, a latex fashion designer based in Hamburg.

But what was once restricted to fetish clubs and dominatrix studios is now entering the mainstream. Nowadays, wearing latex is becoming less taboo. Dozens of celebrities have been sighted in the past few years wearing latex clothing and accessories, at special events as well as on the streets. Even brave mainstream fashion designers are experimenting with the seductive material.

Owner of Inner Sanctum Max Kuhl poses next to a mannequin at the store in St. Pauli. Photo: Alison Haywood
Owner of Inner Sanctum Max Kuhl poses next to a mannequin at the store in St. Pauli. Photo: Alison Haywood

Introducing Inner Sanctum. Inner Sanctum is a latex fashion label in Hamburg that’s been around long enough to see this evolution from perverted to provocative. Founded in 1994 in London, Max Kuhl bought the label in 2012 and moved the main store to Hamburg. While the label still produces “typical” fetish clothing like full-body catsuits, zippered masks and hoods, its specialty is actually classic lingerie and dress clothes made of latex – in a word, normal fashion. And, like a mainstream fashion label, Inner Sanctum releases a new collection every year, which gets showcased at fashion shows, fetish parties and magazines.

We visited Inner Sanctum at its Erichstraße location a few streets over from Hamburg’s sinful mile, the Reeperbahn. We took a tour of the workshop and interviewed Max about the evolution of Inner Sanctum and his personal interest in latex. Here are some highlights of our interview.

Fetish and fashion accessories co-mingle at Inner Sanctum, a latex fashion manufacturer located in the red light district of Hamburg. Photo: Nico Scagliarini
Fetish and fashion accessories co-mingle at Inner Sanctum, a latex fashion manufacturer located in the red light district of Hamburg. Photo: Nico Scagliarini

Inner Sanctum doesn’t just sell fetish clothes – black catsuits, rubber masks and so – but also normal clothing, dresses and such out of latex. Why?

Of course we also have the normal, standard black catsuits that you think of when you talk about latex clothing. Dominatrix studios in particular are some of our best customers. Personally, I don’t think everything has to be black or black with a little red. You can also take the fashion aspect into account. And then the question is, what is it for.

When you always just make the standard fetish things, you can make 500 black catsuits and never change your patterns. After a while, that gets boring.

But that would be easier.

Yeah, but there are already so many latex designers who do exactly that. And you want to stand out a little. And because we do so many shows and things, you want to have something that’s unique. We had a show at the Berlin Fashion Week, we make lots of things for the Bayreuth Festival, private festivals, for the Moscow State Opera, everything is pretty diverse. And of course we want to be able to offer what people want.

The clothing here is more in the high-end price range because everything is handmade. When one item is ordered, one is made, and not twenty copies all at once in a row. And we produce everything in Germany and England, which are also not cheap regions. With us, there is no “made in China.”

Where does your personal interest in latex come from?

About fifteen years ago I was at my first fetish party. At one point I saw this absolutely gorgeous woman in an orange dress, a high collar, and this was one of the pictures that was just burned into my brain, and ten years later, the label that had created this dress belonged to me.

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So you were already involved in the fetish scene?

Yeah. I go to lots of fetish parties.

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Colorful dresses and black hoods hang on the racks at Inner Sanctum. Photo: Nico Scagliarini

What’s changed for you since you bought the label?

Since I’ve been the owner of Inner Sanctum – everything has its pros and cons at parties. Of course it’s nice when you’re at a huge party with a thousand people, and half of the people come and say hello, and there are beautiful women there who want to model for you. On the other hand, you can’t really do anything privately as a couple at parties anymore. As soon as you start something, somebody comes up to you and says “I wanted to ask about that skirt I ordered?” Or at four in the morning – “my zipper comes open sometimes, can you do something about it?” And you’re like, “yeah, but not right now, I don’t have my tools with me.”

How is latex fashion different than normal fashion?

The difference between latex fashion and mainstream fashion is getting smaller and smaller, partly because you can do more with latex nowadays and because it’s becoming more acceptable by society. Partly because of this societal change, that everything is becoming a little more open and kinky – also because of things like Fifty Shades of Gray and that lots of stars have been seen on the red carpet or elsewhere wearing latex. People are starting to come into contact with it more.

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Who are your customers?

With us you can’t really talk about a specific type of customer, because they range from unemployed people who save up for a year for a latex top, to men who buy five dresses at once for their lover. Actually everything is there. It’s very interesting to get to meet people from every level of society.

Our customers are getting younger. Earlier it was mostly older people, “true fetishists” you could say. Now there are fewer of them, and meanwhile there are more young people who like to go out partying in sexy outfits, and maybe something sexual happens, but it doesn’t have to.

An intern at Inner Sanctum demonstrates how to glue two pieces of latex together. Latex clothing is glued, not sewn. Photo: Nico Scagliarini
An intern at Inner Sanctum demonstrates how to glue two pieces of latex together. Latex is glued, not sewn. Photo: Nico Scagliarini

Can you talk more about this societal change?

I spoke with an 80-year-old woman who also owns a label, and in her opinion, the definition of “fetish” in the purest sense is that you can only experience sexual arousal through this material, or whatever it is. When you think it’s hot but you don’t need it every time, it’s not a true fetish. And in her opinion, and I agree, is that a true fetish only develops when it’s forbidden. Because then it’s something special and has this kick. When you can find it on every corner, you can still find it sexy, but it becomes more everyday. And of course the fact that a bunch of celebrities are wearing latex on the runway. People are more aware of it and it’s not this, ooh, I’m wearing something from latex, that’s so taboo.

Do you have an opinion about this cultural shift?

I think it’s awesome that everything is becoming more open and relaxed. The sexual sphere is one of the few areas of your personal life where you can really do what you want.

How is it for you now that you’ve made your hobby, or fetish, into a career?

I always say that when you make your hobby into your career, you haven’t got a hobby anymore. That’s not entirely true, but of course when you’re surrounded by it every day at work, you do it less often at home.

But it’s not boring for you.

No, I won’t get bored of latex because we’re always doing something new. The customer can also come to us with their own ideas and then we make them come true. This is what is the most fun for me, getting to know such interesting and unique people.

Inner Sanctum
Erichstr. 15-17
20359 Hamburg

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