NEW YORK — In order to talk to Stephanie Paterek, you first have to descend into what she calls “my dungeon.”
It’s not a real dungeon with torture devices and restraints, although that wouldn’t be surprising for someone who has made a name for herself as one of America’s leading couture designers of gothic leather undergarments.
Stephanie’s dungeon is in fact a windowless former darkroom in the basement of a Chelsea photography studio, its walls painted black. A grim setting, for sure, but a fitting one for an alt-fashion label named Sex Trash.
Sex Trash is best known for dressing edgy performers like Lady Gaga and Ke$ha in leather bustiers, bullet bras and briefs ornamented with metal studs, spikes and chains. Its in-your-face designs have been described in many ways: grunge, fetish, punk, goth, alt, underground, butch, BDSM and more.
But Stephanie has a clear sense of her brand’s aesthetic, calling it “Judas Priest meets Jayne Mansfield” — an unlikely blend of vintage pinup glamor and ball-breaking rock and roll.
That potent combination thrust Sex Trash into the international spotlight two years ago as the brand responsible for many of the stage costumes of both Gaga and wild-child rocker-actress Taylor Momsen.
Sex Trash earned a blizzard of media coverage and a ferocious brand image that set it apart from everyone else. But it also pigeon-holed the company as purveyors of what one magazine called “dirty, sexy underwear [for] dirty, sexy NYC girls” and limited its options for growth.
Photos by Thorsten Roth
Now, four years after its debut, Sex Trash is cleaning up its act.
“We’re going through a rebranding, trying to evolve the brand,” Stephanie told Lingerie Talk. “I just want it to be more mature. Some people still don’t take it seriously.”
You can see the results of Sex Trash‘s brand makeover in its new collection, released late last month.
All the intricate detailing and fetishistic appeal is still there, but the pieces are polished, elegant and, dare we say it, refined. This is punk luxe, the sort of thing that (to paraphrase a well-worn lingerie industry cliché) transitions nicely from the dungeon to the boudoir.
For example, there’s a sheer chiffon dressing gown trimmed with metallic mini-studs (below), and a classic black babydoll with a satin and leather bodice that doubles as a skimpy club dress. And, from a brand known for dramatic concepts that are meant to work as outerwear, there’s a new line of lacey open-cup cage bras that are meant for purely private enjoyment (or perhaps your next Torture Garden soirée).
The name of the collection — Oh Bondage, Up Yours! — is a reference to the 1977 anthem by the seminal UK punk band X-Ray Spex. The title may sound like a repudiation of fetish culture, but it’s actually a kind of ironic war cry: the song begins with the declaration “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think / Oh bondage, up yours!”
It’s also a fitting slogan for Sex Trash which, unlike a plethora of flimsy 50 Shades knockoffs, has both the street cred and design skills to lift fetish fashion out of its underground ghetto.
Sex Trash got its start only four years ago when Stephanie, armed with a BA from the Art Institute of Philadelphia, was invited to debut her work on a Hudson River yacht party hosted by NYC design goddess Patricia Field. Before then, Stephanie had apprenticed under rock designer Stella Zotis (who dressed Debbie Harry and Judas Priest, among others) and worked at Trash & Vaudeville, New York’s iconic punk clothing emporium.
In late 2009, she displayed her obsession with 50s-era girdle stylings with the release of her first full collection, Kickstart My Heart, which looked like the sort of thing Bettie Page would adore if she were still alive.
Sex Trash began generating local buzz in New York, and attracting some powerful fans. Lady Gaga bought the entire first collection and began showing up onstage and on the street wearing Sex Trash.
By end of 2010, Stephanie and her label were included in two Paris exhibitions of Gaga’s fashions and in early 2011 a custom Sex Trash leather-and-chains panty figured prominently in the massive “Born This Way” video (paired with a leather bra from UK label Obey My Demand). That’s Stephanie in the main photo at the top of this article, posing with the studded Gaga corset “that got me to Paris twice.”
But that was just the start. Even more central to Sex Trash‘s evolution was its partnership with Taylor Momsen (above), who discovered the label shortly after Gaga and made it her go-to costumer. The lanky Gossip Girl actress was everywhere in 2010 and 2011, fronting her new band The Pretty Reckless, freaking out parents and pundits, and almost always wearing little else besides Sex Trash‘s glamorous studded corsets and girdle dresses.
Sex Trash‘s meteoric rise made it a favorite of stylists, photographers and magazine editors and attracted a growing orbit of edgy celebs, pinup models, rockers and tattoo artists. Kat Von D sold the label in her L.A. gallery, Amber Rose modeled Sex Trash, bands like Black Cards and Die Pretty wore it onstage, and NY Ink star Megan Massacre became a close friend, model and all-round brand ambassador. Even Weird Al Yankovic gave a shout-out to Sex Trash in a parody video of “Born This Way” that spoofed Gaga’s music and fashion sense.
By the end of 2011 — only two years after its debut — Stephanie was rubbing spikey shoulders with some of the fashion world’s A-list: she was invited to contribute a collection (above) to the mind-boggling New York pop-up shop staged by Nicola Formichetti, Gaga’s fashion chief and now CD for Diesel, which attracted more than 30,000 visitors in two weeks as part of the BOFFO Building Fashion series of architecture-fashion collaborations.
“Every week there are more stylists coming by,” Stephanie said. What were they looking for? Spiked gloves, flask garters, Sex Trash‘s signature inverted-cross corset and countless other original pieces that found their way into Vogue, Nylon, FHM, Marie Claire, Inked and many other fashion magazines. What seemed to set the brand apart was the intricacy of Stephanie’s detailed designs, combined with a thrift-shop DIY aesthetic: theoretically, this was the kind of fashion anyone could create … provided they spent a week prowling through Buffalo Exchange and another 100 hours cutting and sewing each piece.
And the celebrity exposure paid off, sometimes in unexpected ways. “My clients now range from doctors to strippers to teen girls who want to look like Taylor Momsen,” Stephanie said. “And a ton of girls from Japan.”
The Oh Bondage collection should satisfy Sex Trash‘s fanbase and also introduce it to a slightly more upscale demographic with slightly more polite sensibilities: you won’t find pieces with names like Government Hooker or Pleasure Slave (which Stephanie has used before) in this set.
But devotees needn’t worry that the label is quitting the dungeon and moving uptown to Fifth Avenue. There’s still one thing that keeps it grounded — that ballsy brand name, which sounds like something you’d find in an alley behind a brothel.
Stephanie admits the name Sex Trash works against the brand’s growth, by scaring off some retailers who are nervous about displaying something so provocative in their shop windows.
“It’s a shocking name, I know,” she said, “but I don’t want to change it.”
Below you can see a gallery showing Sex Trash‘s evolution since 2009, including its most recent collection Oh Bondage, Up Yours! And you can see more Sex Trash in the new Britney Spears video, “Work, Bitch!“
All items from NYC Sex Trash are custom-made and can be purchased through the brand’s webshop and in progressive retail boutiques around the world.
Oh Bondage, Up Yours!, 2014
Show No Mercy, 2013
Dark Cully, 2012
Virginal Blanc, 2012
Phantasmagoria (for Nicola Formichetti), 2011
Try A Little Tenderness, 2011
Queens of the Underground, 2010
Kickstart My Heart, 2009