The Won­der Woman ef­fect

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - LON­DON —

Gal Gadot, DC Comics and the whole Jus­tice League gang are not the only big win­ners from “Won­der Woman,” the film fran­chise that has al­ready taken in more than $780 mil­lion glob­ally; it just seems to keep on giv­ing (and is al­ready gear­ing up for a se­quel).

The lat­est ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the movie’s halo ef­fect: Whi­taker Malem, the Lon­don leather de­sign­ers 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 loft­like ground floor of their two-story home and ate­lier in Dal­ston, East Lon­don.

Dot­ted around the walls are me­men­tos from their trav­els mixed in with sem­i­nal art­works from the 20th-cen­tury Ital­ian mae­stro Lu­cio Fon­tana and a 1970s 3D spot­ted torso by the Bri­tish pop artist Allen Jones.

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

The two men, who un­can­nily look and dress alike, had just re­turned from a five­month stint making more leather ar­mour on lo­ca­tion in Aus­tralia for Won­der Woman’s sis­ter movie, “Aqua­man,” sched­uled for re­lease in De­cem­ber 2018.

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

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

Tor­sos fit­ted with leather corsets lit­ter the room, while hidden at the back is a vin­tage 1950s Singer sewing ma­chine, bought at North Lon­don’s Chapel Mar­ket for 60 pounds 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, Mel Ot­ten­berg, asked to bor­row a moss-green shear­ling corset for the kick­off of the star’s jew­elry col­lab­o­ra­tion with Chopard at this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val.

The vet­eran cos­tume de­signer Sandy Pow­ell, known for films like “Shake­speare in Love” and the coming “Mary Pop­pins Re­turns,” asked Whi­taker Malem to de­sign ar­mour for her lat­est film, “The Favourite.” (They couldn’t do it be­cause of “Aqua­man.” “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 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 their 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 and Malem was act­ing at the Tri­cy­cle Theater in Kil­burn, north­west Lon­don, af­ter drop­ping out of a hair­dress­ing course at the Lon­don Col­lege of Fash­ion.

Af­ter two run­way col­lec­tions and af­ter dress­ing names such as 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.

“Our big­gest fash­ion mis­take was that Is­abella Blow asked our PR to be given one of our dresses and we wouldn’t let her have it,” said Whi­taker, re­fer­ring to the late famed Bri­tish stylist and point­ing to a pho­to­graph of the gold chain mail dress with a gold moulded ivy leaf leather bustier in one of their scrap­books.

“Maybe, had we given it to her, things might have been dif­fer­ent.”

Still, it was a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that helped them em­brace their new-found Won­der Woman 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 ide­al­ized her­maph­ro­ditic body.

We were al­lowed to go close to the body and do sexy ar­mour, which is un­usual, as a lot of ar­mour is mas­sive. DE­SIGNER KEIR MALEM

Gal Gadot’s ar­mour in “Won­der Woman” is made by Bri­tish brand Whi­taker Malem. ME­LANIE ABRAMS


Items from Whi­taker Malem, the fash­ion brand in Lon­don be­hind the me­tal­lic leather ar­mour worn in “Won­der Woman.” The Bri­tish fash­ion brand be­hind the su­per­hero’s leather ar­mour is hav­ing a ma­jor mo­ment.

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