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FEATURES|Kink Culture|Birth of fetish

On record: the night that gave birth to modern fetish

The start of the modern fetish scene can be traced to the opening of the original Skin Two club. But when was that — exactly? Tony Mitchell recently found the first night report he wrote for Sounds, and decided it was a historical account worth sharing






EARLY PERVS: Fetish fashion founder Daniel James (centre) with girlfriend Leslie and Bev Glick (aka journo Betty Page) outside Skin Two on its opening night

As a journalist who has documented fetish for three decades now, I’m sometimes asked whether the beginning of the modern scene can be traced back to any one single event. I never doubt the answer I should give.

Unquestionably, the scene we all recognise today, with its clubs, designers, photographers, artists, models, performers, clubbers and other kink creatives, began in a basement in London’s Soho when the original Skin Two club first opened its doors in the early 1980s.

Predating the Skin Two organisation people know today (which grew from the launch in 1984 of Skin Two magazine), the club was the brainchild of former Blitz Club insider and music biz svengali David Claridge.

Launched in partnership with Daniel James, a theatrical mask maker who became the scene’s first true latex fashion designer, the weekly Skin Two nights on Mondays at Stallions in Falconberg Court quickly became the focus and inspiration for a creative and social movement that would subsequently spread out from London, across Europe and into America.

Obviously then, the date of the club’s opening night is a rather significant marker in the history of fetish, and in my own mind, I had always been clear about what that date was. However, conversations last year with various other people who had been at that opening night had unexpectedly thrown doubt on the accuracy of my own recollection.

So I tracked down some of the people who’d been a part of that first night, whom I thought would know the date for sure. David Claridge himself remains somewhat elusive, but his Skin Two partner Daniel James was convinced that the club opened in the late summer or autumn of 1982.

Jacquie O’Sullivan, one of the original door-people who took over the club when it changed its name to Maitresse, after Claridge’s departure and before she joined Bananarama, had fond memories of those early days — but unfortunately they did not extend to knowing the original opening date.

Then there was Chris Buxbaum, the club’s very first DJ, now resident in Atlanta, Georgia. He has included pictures from his prime perving days in his Facebook albums but again, he could not remember the exact date of the night on which it all began.

Derek Ridgers, famed photographic chronicler of the alternative club scene for many decades, managed to find his Skin Two membership card (which didn’t help) but could not find his annotated 1982/83 photo archives that would have established the start-up date for sure.

With the exceptions of Bev Glick (aka music journalist Betty Page, my then girlfriend) and Steve Beech of Westward Bound, pretty much everyone — including Fetishistas contributor Dave Darcy Edmond, who has a keen interest in the history of the modern scene — seemed pretty sure it had all kicked off in 1982.

The conundrum was finally solved when I unearthed from storage several boxes stuffed with yellowing copies of Sounds, the weekly music paper on which I had worked throughout the 1980s. I knew that I had reported on Skin Two’s opening night for Jaws, the paper’s gossip column, but the question was: would the relevant issue be in one of those boxes?

It was, and it confirmed that my memory had been solid: Skin Two had indeed first opened its doors, as I had always thought, not sometime in 1982 but on Monday January 31 1983.

As I began to re-read my account of that occasion for the first time in almost 30 years, I was reminded of many details I hadn’t remembered about that seminal night. And I thought, as a first-hand account from someone who was actually there when and where it all began, maybe it would be of interest to other students of fetish history.

So I decided to reprint it below, in the month when, as it happens, the modern fetish movement notches up its 29th birthday. I’ve even provided some notes in the sidebar to explain references that might otherwise mean little or nothing to the modern reader.

If nothing else, it provides a historical anchor for what I’ve written about pervery in the past three decades. And perhaps in a year’s time, we can all celebrate the 30th birthday of modern fetish properly!

As an account from someone who was actually there when and where it all began, maybe it would be of interest to other students of fetish history…

 

RUB IT OUT — by TONY MITCHELL
(first published in Sounds’ issue of February 12 1983)

The first genuine fetish club since the sixties opened its doors in London at the end of January to an enthusiastic queue of leather and latex lovers who’d travelled from as far afield as Dunstable, Feltham and Colchester to be in at the start.

Skin Two, taking over Monday nights at Stallions off Charing Cross Road, was conceived by Mobile Suit mainman David Claridge [see note 1, right] and a small circle of fetishist friends whose conviction that the time was right for a club such as this seem to have been proved correct.

A small article in The Standard’s Ad Lib column a few days before the opening elicited no less than 700 enquiries and, on the night, people were falling over themselves to pay the £1 membership and £3 entrance to David’s girlfriend Leslie, whose rubber outfit and stylish black wig made her look like something straight out of Maitresse.

Although the club attracted people from the music and fashion fraternity — Jane Kahn, Tik and Tok, Barbie Wilde [note 2] and Psychic Sleazy were among the revellers — the accent was very much on being “into it”, poseurs and voyeurs being discouraged by the dress restrictions (the more restricting — the better).

Claridge was adamant that he wouldn’t allow any Fleet Street scandalmongers near the place, but he did make one concession to famed followers of the bizarre Ted Polhemus and Lynne Procter [note 3] who were doing an article for Fiesta. Well at least Lynne looked the part, in her latex dress and stockings.

They had plenty of raw material to work on too. There were at least a couple of “mistresses”, one of whom thought Claridge would probably make an excellent slave, and plenty of other people who’ve obviously been helping to keep firms like Sealwear, AtomAge and She-An-Me [note 4] in business.

Guest of honour, in fact, was John Sutcliffe, the boss of AtomAge, whose tight-fitting creations inspired artist Allen Jones [note 5] in the ’60s. John was practically creaming his black patent jeans over the photo session famed music biz lensman Peter Ashworth [note 6] had done especially for the club the previous day. John told me he’d never seen latex lit so well.

A lot of the shots featured equally famed Kissogram girl and Debbie Harry lookalike Sue Scadding, henceforth to be known for the purposes of her new recording career as Gwendoline, after the character created by celebrated bondage artist John Willie.

Sue — sorry, Gwendoline — also provided the evening’s live entertainment by was of a classy strip done to classical choral music, which involved her peeling off several layers of clothing until she was down to nothing but her Sealwear all-in-one.

The girl’s a real sport, a fact I can attest to having spend most of the previous Sunday afternoon tying her up for Ashworth’s decadent visions, not to mention my own.

And although music might be supposed to come a very poor second to gawping at pretty girls (and boys) in exotic costumes, the aural side of things was very well catered for by DJ Chris, late of Claridge’s previous Great Wall club, who had somehow managed to dig out a sizable collection of contemporary stuff with fetishistic undertones to complement Ashworth’s slide show.

Claridge pronounced himself well pleased with the first night and plans are afoot to make sure that things can only get better. The whole event had a covert air of excitement and most of the people I talked to felt they’d been in at the start of something very special, like being one of the original Blitz Kids.

There was an air of excitement and people I talked to felt they’d been in at the start of something special, like being one of the original Blitz Kids

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

 




The birth of modern fetish:
Author’s footnotes

1. DAVID CLARIDGE and MOBILE SUIT CORPORATION: Mobile Suit Corp was Skin Two founder David Claridge’s record label (hosted by Phonogram), a forerunner of what would now be called a World Music label.

Claridge was very interested in music with Eastern influences and shared with me an interest in the up-and-coming Japanese Technopop scene of the early ’80s. 1982 was his main music-releasing year.

His best-known signing was probably Anglo-Indian band Monsoon, fronted by Sheila Chandra, although he also played an important role in promoting Japanese acts such as Sandii & The Sunsetz, Salon Music/Lizard, Yukihiro Takahashi (of Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Akiko Yano (wife of YMO’s Ryuichi Sakamoto, and tagged “the Japanese Kate Bush”), many of whom appeared on Claridges’s Tokyo Mobile Music 1 compilation album.

He also released singles by duo Vicious Pink Phenomena, whose fetishistic visual style and best known track My Private Tokyo combined two of his major interests.

Claridge started Skin Two with Daniel James, known to his friends in those days as Billy. Daniel/Billy was a theatrical mask-maker who had perfected a way of stitching latex with stretch thread to give it a more structured “fashion” appearance. His groundbreaking designs really started modern fetish fashion, and his stitching technique was later adopted by several other emerging latex designers such as Ectomorph, Kim West and Murray & Vern.

Claridge exited Skin Two when he got the chance to feature his puppet creation Roland Rat (above) on the UK breakfast television channel GMTV. Roland was credited with saving the ailing channel and was still appearing on various TV shows up to a couple of years ago.

2. JANE KAHN, TIK & TOK and BARBIE WILDE were all colourful characters from the early ’80s New Romantic scene. Jane Kahn was one half of Birmingham fashion partnership Kahn & Bell, whose creations adorned many of the more flamboyant New Romantics.

Tik & Tok were the robot duo who performed with Barbie Wilde as part of the group Shock, a regular act at New Romantic club nights. Another member of Shock was Carole Caplin, better known these days as adviser to Cherie and Tony Blair. I remember her as being much quieter than the other members of Shock but looking fabulous in fishnets.

3. TED POLHEMUS and LYNNE PROCTER were a couple already well known for combining their academic and personal interests in documenting various subcultures, sexual and otherwise, when Skin Two came along and provided them with a new base for their researches.

Both went on separately to pursue related areas of interest, Ted’s including several book collaborations with early fetish scene photographic documenter Housk Randall. One of Ted’s many books, the co-authored volume Fashion & Anti-fashion: an anthropology of clothing & adornment, was revised and updated last year with a new introduction and postscript.   

4. SEALWEAR, ATOMAGE and SHE-AN-ME represented three of the relatively few places where one could obtain fetish clothing in early ’80s Britain. Of the three, Sealwear — one of the earliest rubberwear companies — is the only one still in business (see link below to FetishIstas profile) and is still based in Bournemouth.

AtomAge was John Sutcliffe’s legendary London-based fetish clothing and publishing operation which overlapped, just, with the new Skin Two era (see link below to my article on Fuel’s recent AtomAge book). Original AtomAge leather outfits change hands these days for thousands of pounds.

She-An-Me, also London-based, was a high-profile purveyor of plastic wetlook clothing, worn notably by Arlene Phillips’ erotic dance troupe Hot Gossip on TV’s Kenny Everett Show. The late Bob Carlos Clarke used She-An-Me outfits in some of his early fetish imagery and even photographed one of the firm’s catalogues. Clarke later went on to collaborate rather more satisfyingly on a series of images using the latex creations of Daniel James.

5. ALLEN JONES — famous pop artist from the 1960s on — should need no introduction. Quite a lot of his early work drew on fetishistic influences (including the cartoons of Stanton), although he has always denied any personal interest in the subject.

6.PETER ASHWORTH was, at the time of Skin Two’s launch, a photographer of prestigious album covers who didn’t need too much persuading from David Claridge to shoot publicity images for the first Skin Two night.

Ashworth’s skills brought a quality to latex photography that had not been seen before (see John Sutcliffe’s remark in the original Sounds article) and set a new standard for fetish photography when, a little later, Skin Two magazine came along.

Ashworth has continued to collaborate on fetish projects down the years; his work can be seen on Skin Two covers, in the same company’s ground-breaking Murray & Vern catalogue of the early ’90s, and in fashion images for Atsuko Kudo.


Kink Culture: Sealwear story
Kink Culture: AtomAge book
 
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