"I talked to Tilda and we want to use the coat," says VPL’s Victoria Bartlett, quoting her friend and Swinton collaborator Jerry Stafford. Bartlett is sitting in the back room of her store and studio on Mercer Street in a part of town she’d like to call Soso (South Soho), talking about the allure of rubber latex looks from her Autumn/Winter 2011 collection. The natural-coloured coat Stafford requested for a shoot was the same one Poppy De Villeneuve chose for her SHOWstudio film: 'it’s almost like a jellyfish—the texture and transparency—some kind of underwater organism,' says Bartlett. She explains that the material in its raw state appears a pale shade of orange - De Villeneuve also asked for a rose-tinted sample for the film.
'I’m obsessed with the medical,' Bartlett says of adding latex to her collections. Imagine the stuff of exam room gloves turned into a figure-hugging slicker. There are examples of this odd passion all around: a Lucite-boxed brassiere is on the ledge behind her, not far from old apothecary jars and a nearby rack of bandage-stitched bras. In the past, she’s put post-operative lines and faux sutures on her clothing. A skull sits on top of the file cabinet, a vertebrae across the way. And what else would a lady collect but old anatomical drawings, especially if she were the brain behind a line all about the inside out: underwear worn as outerwear?
Bartlett brought up Stafford in regards to the coat, then mentioned she just received a text message from him that morning. It was something about The Goodies? The threesome had found their way into a conversation the night before between her and Craig McDean. They were at a karaoke joint in NoLita to celebrate the birthday of photographer Yelena Lemchuk. They’d had a question and thought to turn to Jerry. 'He’s just one of those people that’s knowledgeable in all areas,' says Bartlett of Stafford and his infinite connections through degrees of separation. Bartlett too has ties to both fellow Brits ('we kind of stick together, somehow. We go in waves coming back to each other') and an eclectic group of cool artists and other multi faceted men and women. They all come up naturally, as Bartlett traces the evolution of VPL.
The designer started her studies in Fine Art: it took a boy to lure her into fashion. She followed love to the London College of Fashion, then to New York where she created the failed line BC with Jeffery Costello. 'We were young and green,' she says of running out of money after the first two seasons. Then, nine years ago, she started VPL. 'There was a missing platform that lay somewhere between lingerie and sportswear,' she says of her label, named after the acronym for a visible panty line. 'It’s a term coined off of polyester revival of the seventies, kind of a faux pas, sexy faux pas. Guys like to see it,' says Bartlett referencing a scene in Annie Hall. For her first few collections she made a pact not to use black - instead she used nude, until it became necessary to include more basics for sales. It all happened out of Bartlett’s apartment on 38th Street while she was still styling (Italian Vogue and i-D amongst others) and consulting (for Versus and Miu Miu). For the latter, Bartlett worked alongside Corinne Day creating 'sick Pepto Bismol patent leathers and transparent nylons with underwear underneath.' She also looped in Chloe Sevigny, who was at the time working at Liquid Sky. Bartlett has a knack for creating concepts, which comes in handy when dreaming up presentations and shows. She’s done a vignette with a doctor - of course - a short film with Cara Seymour, a skateboarding ramp, which Jill Nicholls hand-painted red ('She hated me for that; I love her forever') and had a good run for CFDA Fashion Fund in 2008.
All of a sudden, one of Bartlett’s staff sweetly interrupts her with a sheet of paper stapled with rectangles of plastic and the business card of Canal Rubber Supply. They’re looking for a measurement on latex, this time for the cover of a book. It’s a not for profit project Bartlett’s curating with seventeen artists taking on a special theme. 'Artists aren’t like fashion people. Some don’t have cell phones or they email once in a while,' says Bartlett. 'You think it doesn’t exist, but it does. I’m envious.' Falling off the radar’s not an option for a super-connected London girl gone Soso.