Fashion and Feminism: Mateo Guadalupe of Leather Coven

Brown-skinned woman with long black hair wearing leather harness/bustier and covering her breasts

In an effort to further the dialogue on fashion, adornment, and feminism, we’re doing a series of interviews with feminist designers and artists who create beautiful things to wear. Check out our previous installment here!

Mateo Guadalupe is an activist, artist, and all-around magical person. Most importantly for today’s purposes, though, Mateo is an excellent leatherworker, making gorgeous, high-quality leather harnesses, bustiers, and other assorted leather creations that manage to both be unexpected (in the best way) and pay tribute to queer leather histories. A browse through his etsy shop, Leather Coven, will have you lusting after occasions to wear Beyonce-inspired leatherwear and regal leather crowns — and you won’t be short on ideas of how to do so if you peep Leather Coven’s fabulous femme-filled Instagram.

The best part? Mateo is a fierce and fabulous feminist. 

How did you get started doing leatherwork?

I’ve been designing my own clothes and accessories since I was a broke fat teen femme because often, if it was in my size, I couldn’t afford it. When I started looking for leathergear for myself, I found items either totally outside my price range, or within a mass-produced aesthetic not designed for my body. I started Leather Coven as a platform to create luxurious, powerful amulets for myself, my loved ones, and all the glamorous perverts of the world.

Working with leather is a way for me to honor the sweat, love, and struggle of queer leathersex histories. I taught myself to work with leather while teaching a leathercraft and leather theory course through the experimental peer education program at Hampshire College. The way I began to learn about leathercraft is similar to the way my grandma used to teach guitar lessons. She was a self-taught jeweler and textile artist, and would teach herself one guitar lesson at a time, then teach her students what she had just learned. This creative practice connects me with ancestral traditions on both sides of my family; my tío Ricardo has been a self-taught leatherworker in Mexico City for over 30 years.

Last week we talked with Ana Marcela Villa about fashion design as art – and how often it’s not taken seriously as an art form because of its proximity to the feminine. Do you feel like this is something that comes up for you? Do you think people see your work as art, and how do you think gender plays out in that?

I feel aware that my perceived gender and the gendered histories of the medium I work in grant me privilege and visibility, particularly in queer communities. But being taken seriously, especially as an artist, is complicated as a femme trans man of color designing witchy fetishwear in a small town. I’m not interested in trading my proximity to the feminine for wider appeal in a gay white male homonormative leatherwear market. I design for all genders while prioritizing visual celebrations of queer femininity. The folks I’m designing for understand my perspective as an artist, and I am honored that they entrust me to adorn their ferocious bodies.

Light-skinned woman with sunglasses and red lips, wearing a white tank top and the medusa harness

I’m interested in the ways that cultures of resistance can be integral to any form of art, including design. How do you see elements of feminism, queerness, etc. in your art? How do you incorporate those things?

Leather harnesses as a fetish fashion have a long history connected to desire, struggle, and sexual liberation. Queers have been making, treasuring, and earning leatherwear for generations in countercultural spaces. Then you see this recent surge in interest and cultural capital surrounding fetishwear as both couture and mass-marketed fashion commodity. This whole aesthetic owes deep credit to the queer and fetish leather artists of past and present. I think that’s another conversation worth having.

Gay male leather culture has been a dominant voice in the history of leather and fetish aesthetics, and is deeply embedded with legacies of racism, misogyny, and ableism. I’ve certainly never been welcomed in those spaces as a fat femme TPOC, so centering Leather Coven’s aesthetic around trans/fat/brown/femme/queer bodies is an act of resistance, reclamation, and healing. At this time, every piece is handmade to the measurements of the client. All bodies deserve fabulous accessories, and basing everything on custom sizing means that no one that’s interested in my designs needs to have that “oh wait, they don’t have my size, never mind” moment.

Though I make all of the harnesses myself, my babely partners, co-partners, and friends have modeled my harnesses, cut leather strips, weighed in on new designs, and driven me to the post office. In that way, Leather Coven also celebrates that connectedness and kinship experience as a form of resistance.

Brown-skinned woman with long hair and purple lips wearing a leather collar with an o-ring

You’re in a desert island and you get to take one food, one beverage, and one feminist. Your picks?

Ay, here we go. I’d bring a bowl of pozole rojo, a very dirty martini, and Her Royal Highness, Beyoncé.

Make sure to check out Mateo’s etsy shop, Leather Coven!

1bfea3e7449eff65a94e2e55a8b7acda-bpfullVerónica is excited to bring you more interviews with feminist designers!

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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