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Beyoncé Cowboy Carter - PRESS 05 (1)
BeyoncéPhotography Blair Caldwell, Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment

Meet the fetishwear designer behind Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter bodysuit

After securing the dream gig of a Beyoncé album cover, designer Mariano Cortez takes us behind-the-scenes of his innovative latex brand

Mariano Cortez found out Beyoncé had worn one of his designs when the rest of the world did. The outfit – a patriotic leotard with matching latex chaps – wasn’t just for any old event or appearance, though. This was the cover of Beyoncé’s eighth studio album, the Western-inspired, genre-defying Cowboy Carter. “I’d just finished going for a run. My girlfriend came over and just said ‘open your Instagram.’ It was kind of a moment of disbelief,” starts the designer. Though Beyoncé’s team had commissioned Cortez to create the piece, he had no idea it would be used for the album cover, or if it would even see the light of day. “It was very rewarding, because so many projects come about and nothing ever actually happens with the garments,” he continues, on our early-morning video call from his store in LA.

After cutting his teeth under Sharon Rahim at the legendary Hollywood costumer LA Roxx, Cortez founded his latex and lingerie label Bustedbrand in 2018. Since then, the designer has dressed stars like SZA, Megan Thee Stallion and Rosalía, while developing new techniques that allow him to discover the unending possibilities of ready-to-wear latex.

Below, we chat to Cortez about securing the Beyoncé cover, coming up in the LA latex scene, and what’s next for his BDSM-inspired fashion brand.

So how did you feel when you saw the album cover?

Mariano Cortez: It was really early in the morning, I don’t think I’d had my coffee. I was in disbelief. I talked to my team and was like, ‘let’s post this!’ And everybody was like, ‘wait, let’s figure out what media is coming out and what to do with this.’

When [Beyoncé’s] team got back to me and told me the image was for the cover, it was really exciting. They were really happy. Shiona [Turini] her stylist sent some flowers that day. It just felt really good because I’ve never had anything worn by Beyoncé, so that was a huge accomplishment. She was definitely somebody I always wanted to dress since getting into this. It was very rewarding, because so many projects come about and nothing ever actually happens with the garments.

And it’s not just any old outfit, but for an image that will endure practically forever.

Mariano Cortez: That is really cool. I’m excited. I do want to pick up a physical copy soon. Her team is great and I hope they’re thinking about me when they think about upcoming projects. The hope is that clients always come back.

So what’s the origin story of Bustedbrand in general?

Mariano Cortez: I started Busted in 2018. At that time the latex market was a little less saturated, especially in the US, and I was working for another designer, LA Roxx, who focused on costume and fetish. I saw a gap in the fashion industry – no one was really making ready-to-wear garments in latex. So I made my first collection in matte black latex, which no one was doing at that time either. I was using the ‘wrong’ side of the material as the face. I also wasn’t shining my latex. I was treating it as more of a fabric rather than a speciality fetish material.

After making my collection, I went round door to door in LA with a handful of samples asking stores if anyone was interested [Laughs]. After being turned down by 10 or so stores, I stopped at H Lorenzo where the buyers happened to be having a meeting on the sales floor. They looked at all my samples right then and there. The buyers started to put a ‘yes’ pile together and that night I created my site and went all in with Bustedbrand. I was soon let go from the company I was working for after LA Roxx, but it just made me go harder with my brand.

Why did you end up leaving?

Mariano Cortez: When I was working at LA Roxx, who specialised in leather, we would get contacted a lot about latex. Not many people are working with it, and that only sparked my interest more. So I started looking into all these companies that were working with it, and that’s how I found my next employer. I learned as much as I could from them, but it ended pretty bittersweet: they let me go because I became competition. Well, in my head, I don’t feel like we were competition. But at that point, I’d developed enough techniques and new ways of looking at the material to really call what I was doing my own.

Latex must be quite a difficult material to work with?

Mariano Cortez: It’s what balloons are made out of, so it punctures really easily, but the elasticity is great. If you try to run it through a sewing machine, it splits, so it can’t be sewn, it all has to be hand glued. And it can’t be stretched either, or it’ll pucker and look stretched out. Every person who makes latex for Busted has been trained by myself. 

The other huge barrier to entry on making latex clothes at the scale we do is cutting. Generally, you could send fabric to get cut and they could stack it. But with any little nick in latex it’ll split, so we can’t send it out to get cut – it all has to be cut single-ply. But I was pretty persistent on the whole process and found some machinery that worked for us, and we’re laser-cutting all of our pieces. Everybody was doing it old school and manually, hand-marking patterns on paper, and I took a more digital route. So we worked in CAD [Computer-aided design] programmes, and it evolved into the digital aspect of pattern making and garment manufacturing. Another huge appeal for a lot of our clients is our turnaround time.

“Trying to figure out how to imitate these very traditional tailored garments, but translating it into latex, which is so not traditional, is something that I really enjoy doing” – Mariano Cortez

Your design style is very BDSM-inspired, but have you ever gone the opposite way? Have you ever been surprised by a commission, when people want you to make something very different?

Mariano Cortez: I’m a little bit more hesitant on taking projects that don’t really align with my style. But in the beginning, my main goal was pretty much taking ready-to-wear garments and making them in latex, and how can I make it look like it’s not this glued object – does it feel and look and hang like a regular garment? So if somebody wants me to remake something very traditional like a raincoat, I have some really cool examples and I’ll show them, and if they’re on board then I’m with it. My whole thought process is ‘how do I make this look like a sewn raincoat?’ I do enjoy those projects and I think it’s a challenge. So I’d say either I want to make this to look like a sewn garment, or it has to be my style of BDSM-inspired clothing.

At the most recent Saint Laurent men’s show, there were latex-rubber peacoats similar to how you describe: an everyday garment subverted with fetish-coded fabric.

Mariano Cortez: I actually saw those and the people that made those do really, really good work. If you look at a garment and it doesn’t feel like Saint Laurent, it feels like a glued-together piece of material, that doesn’t feel expensive. So trying to figure out how to imitate these very traditional tailored garments, but translating it into latex, which is so not traditional, is something that I really enjoy doing. And I know that team did a really good job with the Saint Laurent pieces. I aspire to make beautiful dresses and tailored garments to that kind of standard.

Finally, what’s next for Bustedbrand?

Mariano Cortez: There’s just so much happening right now. I’m developing some really cool stuff. Make-up artists have been using latex in its liquid form for a long time, and we just started experimenting with that. We’ve been dipping things in latex and that’s just sparked a whole new world of ideas. We were also told early on that you can’t dye latex or print on latex. There’s been a lot of things people told us we couldn’t do, but we figured out how to do all this stuff.

We have a new collection coming out that I’m really excited about, and it uses all of these new techniques. Also what I’m sitting in right now is a new space – myself and Zana Bayne are about to open a store. So that’s another really exciting thing. I really want to just keep pushing with what I was told couldn’t be done with latex, and continue developing new ways for the material to be seen. I think it’s really interesting, the stuff that you can do.

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