The nightlife luminary and design duo join Document to discuss fantasy, fetish, and the liberatory power of the club

Provocative design duo Fecal Matter and club maven Katie Rex of Bound, a BDSM-themed event series and boutique label belong to the nocturnal. Having both honed their craft in the dimly-lit hotbed of the underground nightlife scene, Fecal Matter and Rex see their manifold subcultural tastes take shape in an ongoing exploration of fantasy: whether in the club, or via a heavily fetish-inspired outfit.

A collaboration between Canadians Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj, Fecal Matter and their niche in high fashion has proven itself indelible. Renowned for designs that merge art, couture, and nightlife—their Instagram sees the two reimagined as humanoid merpeople, urinals, and genital-less worms—the duo challenges conventional notions of beauty and the human form. Fecal Matter stands at the vanguard of a new era in design, one that “violates codes of normality,” as Steven says, in favor of a larger goal: the worldwide freedom to be yourself, whatever that looks like.

Enter Katie Rex: DJ, producer, and the creative luminary behind Bound, a sanctuary for the uninhibited where self-expression takes center stage. Baked into the symbiotic relationship between nightlife and design, the transformative power of the club allows individuals to shed societal norms—immersing themselves in a highly-curated environment of Rex’s design. Document sits down with Rex and Fecal Matter to discuss the art of provocation, the surprising modesty of fetishwear, and the liberatory power of nightlife.

Maya Kotomori: I’m thinking about provocation as an act, and provocative as an adjective, specifically in terms of fetish and clothing. I feel like there’s a bit of kink present in both of your work—tell me about that.

Katie Rex: I think being provocative is a spectator sport. There are people that anticipate a reaction from their actions, but [the experience of being] scandalized—that lies on the viewer. Fetish fashion can be an extremely conservative look, in that you can be wearing a full-body leather suit, and have your face covered—it’s [technically] modest, when you think about it. What’s so provocative about that, as far as the idea of sexuality and how it relates to [nudity]? I think that provocation is in the eyes of the viewer.

Hannah Rose Dalton: In our work, we use the mantra Provoke society, which comes from [the act of] being yourself in public, and how even just that is a provocation to society.

Steven Raj: We’re so inspired by fetishwear. As designers, we dress ourselves in what we create, and we’re very passionate about feeling something when we wear clothing. With fetishwear, you feel whether it’s too tight, whether it’s uncomfortable, whether the textiles or the fabrics are rougher than regular clothing.

In terms of the sexual nature of fetish, we’re both so different. I’m definitely drawn into [the sexual] side.

Hannah: I’m not an overtly sexual person. But at the same time, people always think I look quite sexual, and maybe the artistic imagery we create with fetishwear makes people see it that way—I guess I don’t even see it as sexual. I’m [just wearing] beautiful garments.

Steven: Realistically, when I look at a classic standard piece you can buy from a fetish shop versus one you could buy from H&M, I’m way more drawn to the design elements from a fetish shop. I think that for us, there’s definitely the concept that pain is beauty, and beauty is pain. That’s something that has played a big part both in our work, and who we are as people. We’re launching music soon, and a big part of [that project] centers around the idea of embracing the pain, and trying to transform it into something beautiful. Katie, I’m sure it’s the same for you.

Katie: We’re so aligned on the purposes of wearing fetishwear as [everyday] garments. To your point, when you wear latex, or when you wear leather, or even a chainmail—[which feels] both freezing and hot—you’re very aware that you’re in the garment. I think it looks so extreme to people because when you wear a fetish garment, the person embodies it. It’s very empowering. I was just watching all of these videos from LA Fashion Week of influencers wearing latex for a show, and they were like ‘Oh, it’s so uncomfortable!’ I was like, Oh, you’re having a kink moment. You think you’re just dressing yourself, but you’re experiencing the restriction just for the look, and I think that’s fab.

Maya: Uncomfortability is as physical as it is mental, and that’s a main tenant of bondage and kink: the idea of pain, not as a negative emotion, but pain as a vehicle. Do you think that’s necessary?

Steven: We recently were in Tokyo for the first time, and everything there is very kawaii—just super happy and positive. Being in that environment actually made me question this concept of real life: If we were all super happy and bubbly all the time, what would the world be like? Would that mean that we wouldn’t harm each other, [or] hate each other? But for us, at least in what we do with our platform, we always want to show reality. There are so many layers to what the world is, and to ignore it—to only see one happy side of the world is not actually embracing everything that life has to offer. Pain is a big part of [life].

Maya: When I visited Japan, everyone had a uniform specialized for their job. [There were] even fetish uniforms in maid cafes, or catgirl cafes. What do you think about this idea of uniform and BDSM with regards to the broader concept of scandalization?

Katie: I’m actually [researching] the role of uniforms in BDSM for an essay I’m writing. The origin of a subculture is usually location-based, idea-based, and then aesthetic-based. And while it’s an expression of individualism, [people] end up identifying with a specific style—[whether] it’s the music they like or the films they enjoy. Then [that style] trickles down into society, like it did in the fetish community.

Bound is a good example of this [because it’s] a series of parties that are fetishwear-mandatory. There’s a lot of discourse around it: the idea that you have to look a certain way to get in. I think about, like, 1 Oak, which was the same thing, but not a fetish club. Why can’t we at Bound filter people by ensuring that they’re there [for the right reasons]? That’s what a dress code is, making sure that everyone at the party is coming in with the right intention.

Bound caters to marginalized people. We really do our best to curate an energy in the room. I think that what’s interesting about BDSM is that both inflicting and experiencing pain releases endorphins and serotonin. People all come in to experience gender euphoria, [to] release endorphins, [to] dance. [Bound is] really an avenue of extreme pleasure. I think there’s such a different experience between what you both experience walking down the street, versus people dressed in similar fashions, all convening to participate in a minor utopia like nightlife.

“I think that having [dress code-based] door policies is an incredible way to curate an experience for people that previously haven’t had things created for them.”

Steven: We go to a lot of the sex parties in Paris, where we are right now. I find they’re better—just based on music alone. I think the most fascinating element is seeing some people that have regular jobs just let loose and like, wear masks, or participate in things like clinical fetish. It’s so interesting to see the release behind all of these codes of normality—that as soon as these people walk out the door, they have to change into their [normal uniform]. It’s all uniforms, because life has dress codes. And in many situations that don’t require a dress code, there are still dress codes.

What I cherish the most within those spaces, especially when it’s a well-curated environment, is that there’s no judgment whatsoever. With Fecal Matter, we’re always trying to create a space where people can celebrate themselves and not be ashamed of who they are.

Hannah: For some people, [the club is] their only place to feel freedom. One of the most important things in the human experience is to find that feeling. The type of party you’re doing, Katie, that’s where people find that.

I have a question for you: Why do people not like that you [follow] a dress code?

Katie: Believe it or not, people feel left out. I think that people want everything to be for them. And in the same way that some things aren’t for me, Bound isn’t for some people. I think Bound is the object of desire: it’s out of their reach, so now all of a sudden, they’ve gotta have it. We used to do parties that weren’t fetishwear-only, and we [allowed people to take] photos. One night, there was this really clean-cut group of guys there in deep v-neck t-shirts, and they all had the same uniform ball gag around their necks. In my head, I created this narrative that they probably saw a flyer for what was happening, and one of them went out and bought a bunch of ball gags so they could get in. My dream is that they came home that night, threw the ball gag on their bedside table and forgot about it for an indefinite amount of time, and then someone comes over and is like, ‘What is this?’ and they end up participating in something that affirms them, or brings them to new spaces.

I think that having door policies is an incredible way to curate an experience for people that previously haven’t had things created for them.

Taken at SILENCIO, March 2023.

Maya: Do you think there’s a connection between the club as a specific kind of location in nightlife, the type of music that’s played at these parties, and the idea of a more general freedom that comes along with subculture?

Hannah: Yeah, 100 percent. As Fecal Matter, we started in the clubs in New York City.

Steven: Our first DJ gig ever was at Spectrum.

Katie: Yes, very familiar.

Steven: We were actually living at Spectrum, in the closet. Gage had a drag queen roommate that was not not living there at the time, and he was so generous to let us stay in her closet for free. That was when we first started. There were all these amazing people coming in and out like Arca, Shayne Oliver; I think Björk came once. I remember that the walls would sweat because it was so hot [sometimes], like pouring from the walls.

Hannah: There’s something about freedom from those underground clubs within music, it’s just where subcultures have a space to cultivate naturally.

Steven: I think it’s so much more difficult to do that in the area that we live in right now. But also, when a venue is not as accessible in terms of distance, that’s also super special—you have to travel to get there.

Katie: I think that a well-curated club, or rave, is the ultimate fantasy. Just a night where the downtown kids can get a free bottle and be glam. When we have to go back to five roommates in Brooklyn, there’s one night where you’re on top of the world. Nightlife spaces breed life.

I went to your party at Silencio in March, and the crowd was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, because it was full of so many young people that you inspired. People that were in high school when you started posting on social media together—you’re their heroes. I’m sure there was someone younger than me in that crowd who had one of the most profound experiences of their life.

Steven: That was why we did it. It was a really eye-opening experience to see the impact that we’ve had on these amazing artists that have their own identity and their own perspective and their own reasons why they’re bald, or why they wear this, or that.

Maya: We’ve been broaching these ideas of fantasy and beauty—the beauty of the natural body, and also how constructing fantasy on the body to obscure it, reveals something else. How has that practice developed for you as Fecal Matter?

Hannah: I guess this is where the skin shoes came from. Originally it was a fantasy in Photoshop, digitally enhancing an image to create these horned high-heeled boots. And then it became an actual real shoe in the world. [Our ideas] start in the fantasy, because reality isn’t good enough. Through fantasy, you can create whatever you want. There’s no restrictions, there’s no limits. And taking that essence and bringing it to reality is a very rewarding process.

Taken at SILENCIO, March 2023.

Steven: That’s why we’re always striving to create the fantasy—to not just see it, but to live it. That is a big part of why we dress up, why we are who we are. We’re always searching for that freedom to be able to create.

Katie: I think I’ve always oscillated between like, goth angst, and raver happy hardcore bliss. Maybe that’s just called delusion? But I do have a question related to your practice: Do you see any development in your work with AI?

Hannah: We kind of tried it. And it’s like, actually really hard. We use this idea of Photoshop and augmented reality so much in our work, but then when there’s an actual application where you can type in I want a tree in this photo, it just doesn’t work.

Steven: On one hand, I think it’s amazing to see what people can create with all of the amazing tools that exist. But on the other hand, I also love doing things by hand, in real life. Maybe that’s the only element we’re a bit conservative on. We just couldn’t connect.

Maya: It’s funny, because if someone were to try and make an AI regeneration of Fecal Matter as a prompt, they would get literal shit. You guys have hacked the system in more ways than one.

Steven: I mean, the funniest thing is when you Google us, it’s like, all of our achievements, but there’s also like, tons of photos of poop. Like, it’s literally a photo of Hannah, poop. Hannah, me…poop. I mean, that’s kind of the whole vibe, when you think about it.

Talent Hannah Rose Dalton of Fecal Matter. Make-up Steven Raj Bhaskaran. Hair Emanuel Esteban. Manicure Abena Robinson. Set Design Aaron Vernon. Styling Assistants Jasmine Dunne, Nina Lazo.