Text Fiona Russell Powell
a club called Skin 2 opened its hitherto private doors to the jaded
fascination of the public, a twilight activity suddenly became part of
London's nocturnal beat. Skin 2 - an appropriately high-tech name for
a place dedicated to high-tech sex' - was a haven for the wearing of
rubber, leather and PVC, literally a second skin. The club has now closed,
driven back underground by the notoriety it so openly, if naively, courted.
In its short existence, it inspired fashion spreads in glossy magazines
and provoked shocked editorials in the daily press. Much was written
about the bizarre circus the club staged. It drew long queues of the
curious and provided a short-lived arena for the fantasies of the hardcore
of participants. THE FACE decided to examine those fantasies, to find
out how it feels to be... Bent for Leather
I AM CROUCHED ON ALL FOURS on the tiny square dance floor of Skin 2.
The opening strains of a Walter Carlos synth dirge announce the beginning
of my humiliation. My bare arse is on full view to the people who have
crowded round to watch. The first Mistress approaches, holding aloft
the instrument of exquisite torture, an ivory-handled multi-thonged whip.
She leases me at first, stroking my cheeks with the leather thongs then,
growing impatient, she begins to circle me digging her stilettoes into
my ribs occasionally. All eyes are on my naked and vulnerable backside
trembling beneath the spotlight. She stops behind me and rests one of
her black patent stiletto heels in between my cheeks. Teasing, she then
withdraws it and lightly stabs the fleshy parts with her six inch heel.
Soon she has had enough of humouring me and raises her arm high above
her head, pauses long enough to watch me quiver with fear and excitement,
then rapidly brings the whip down hard across my bottom. She sits astride
my back and repeats this many times, often altering the amount of force
to heighten the enjoyment. As the music gets louder, my cheeks get redder.
Eventually fine lines of blood appear. My Mistress relents for a while
and kneads the glowing buttocks with her leather-gloved hands but sometimes
a sharp smack reminds me that my punishment is not over yet . . .
Orlando is a slave. He is also a 26-year-old South African, a sort of
mutant transvestite (SO per cent Rocky Horror. 50 per cent Coco the Clown)
and 100 per cent masochist. What you have just read is part of his Skin
2 fantasy and one which he was lucky enough to have realised later. You
will all have heard of Skin 2 by now - principally it's a rubber/leather
fetishists evening held on Monday nights within a club dubiously named
Stallions which is situated in a suitably seedy alleyway just off Tottenham
Since it started at the beginning of the year, voyeurs, trendies and
would-be decadents have flocked to have a look at the "freaks' and
'perverts' who patronise the premises. A cover story in Time Out really
set the ball rolling and The Standard, Daily Mirror and Fiesta rapidly
followed suit but always photographing the wrong people, always talking
to the wrong people - Great Gear Market trendies who've nipped up to
She'n'Me for a little latex something - and totally ignoring the REAL
clientele which is mainly comprised of middle-class professionals.
However, by the time you read this. Skin 2 will be no more; a nine-month
legend that has had to move to a secret address and change its name.
Because, despite the fact that Skin 2 has attracted more press coverage
and media interest than any club since Blitz three years ago. Ultimately
it has failed.
Maybe there just aren't enough rubber/leather/SM enthusiasts to go round.
Or maybe it's becau.se of the attitude adopted when writing about the
club and its clientele. The general approach has been: "Great copy!
We must do a feature on this club for PERVERTS. Get some SENSATIONAL
pictures. EXPOSE these weirdos but pretend that we draw no conclusions.
Leave that to the reader!" Of course this will be hotly denied but
it's not hard to see the angle behind those articles and it's made a
lot of genuine people afraid to go.
The word 'pervert' in this context is constantly misused and invariably
it implies a harmful sexual preference that is considered abusive, equated
with violence and often thought of as something which neither party enjoys.
The word is more accurately applied in the recent case of the 6-year-old
Brighton boy who was horribly abused.
Rubber leather enthusiasts enjoy a fairly innocuous pastime. All it is
basically is dressing up for sex. Or, to quote Pat Califia's The Sexual
Fringe, it is "high-technology sex". But the crux of the matter
is that if you are not into a fetish then it's virtually impossible to
Clubs like Skin 2 are ten a dime in some parts of America although they
tend to be much heavier and gayer. Ironically, SM is said to be the English
perversion - Angela Carter recently drew an amusing parallel with our
eagerness for punishment from the Iron Lady - but no eyebrows are raised
in the USA either. In fact it's all rather a yawn, what with the The
Fetish Times being an established publication available from regular
newsagents. Certainly, a bevy of reporters haven't been sent down to
California to investigate the Tickling Society. So why has Skin 2 generated
so much interest and disapproval?
The answer is partly provided by the man who conceived Skin 2. David
Claridge, a well-known entrepreneur in the music business (he was also
responsbile for the success of the Blitz) ran the club with his girlfriend,
fashion designer Leslie Herbert, until the media discovered to their
horror that he was also the man with his hand up TV-am's Roland Rat.
We wanted to take rubber out of the bedroom and put it in an acceptable
environment." says Claridge. "There are a lot of people who
enjoy experimenting sexually but because of society being the way that
it is they're always frowned upon. The club isn't there to be outrageous;
it's there to reflect sexual tastes. Also, we wanted kids to be aware
of the possibilities of dressing up for sex and not just finding it something
to laugh at. It wasn't done to attract trendy Camden Palacers, we're
not interested in those people: quite honestly, they're outdated".
However it did attract some unexpected customers. For instance, one of
Skin 2's early pop star patrons (of which there were many) was Kim Wilde.
You may have noticed the discreet yet distinctly kinky leather number
Kim constantly wore when promoting her last hit single. "Love Blonde'.
When I spoke toKim recently I asked her about Skin 2 and that dress:
I thought Skin 2 was a great club. We had a really good time ... I bought
the dress from Joseph at Sloane Street for £500. I had it altered
though; originally it had a little cape over one shoulder but I had that
taken off and an extra strap added . . .
" I love black leather. I particularly like the texture, and I find the
rough feel very attractive and sexy. I also think that black leather
is timeless and it looks quite sleazy, which I like."
Skin 2 was the first club of its sort for over 15 years, and it was obviously
much needed as its membership has swelled to over 1200 - four of whom
I'm going to introduce to you. You won't have read about them before
so be careful because they're real, as real as this magazine in your
" First and foremost is the cool, smooth, stretchy feel and the texture;
second is the pleasure of putting on a clinging and mildly restrictive
material and third the inexplicable ecstasy of the skin being lubricated
with its own juices."
David is a 25-year-old nurse from a small town in Scotland. We're standing
at the main bar of Skin 2 on a suffocatingly hot night and he's telling
me why he loves rubber. He's wearing a black all-in-one rubber suit (feet
and helmet included) which he'd bought only that day in a Soho sex shop
for £75. It was hard to get into at first, partly because he was
so excited but also because it was one of the hottest days of the year.
Two tins of Johnson's Baby Powder later and eager to try out his new
purchase, he phoned one of the many Miss Bonds who advertise in sweetshop
windows and went to see her. Hardly the "half-an-hour-of-hell" that
he'd been anticipating, rather a fat middle-aged pro who weighed a ton,
rode around on his back and spanked him every now and then. Still, to
quote David: "It was only a tenner and you can't grumble at that".
After reading about Skin 2 in Fiesta. David hopped onto an Edinburgh-to-London
shuttle, blowing his holiday time and money on a week of sexual humiliation
and punishment. He thinks Skin 2 is a marvellous and absolutely necessary
meeting place for frustrated rubberists. He maintains that "the
Scots still have a puritanical attitude to sex; anything but the missionary
position is frowned upon." Apparently, the police in Edinburgh are
currently exercising a massive 'clean-up operation, so David's only source
of relief (from prostitutes) is fast drying up. The suit that he's wearing
tonight is his first complete rubber outfit; before he's had to make
do with either, mainly because it raises fewer eyebrows but also because
rubberwear outlets in Scotland are non-existent.
While we've been chatting, the legs of David's suit have billowed out
slightly up to the knee. I thought it was trapped air at first, but soon
found out I was wrong. '"I must be squelching around in about two
pints of sweat." he laughs, extricating some sodden
pound notes to buy another drink. He doesn't how why he's so attracted
to rubber but he certainly doesn't blame it on the nanny. What's David
It may sound a bit morbid but I'd like to be encased in rubber from head
to foot with no eyeslits or mouthslits, just a nose-hole to let me breathe.
Then I would lie down in a rubber-lined coffin, have the lid closed and
padlocked over me and be left for two or three days." He breaks
into a broad grin: "I think I'd just go crazy!"
Imagine ... all this going in one ear while Mott the Hoople is blasting
into the other. "Hello. I'm your friendly neighbourhood sadist .
. ." DJ Chris'- has made a witty choice. The dance floor is getting
pretty outrageous now - a crippled dwarf in a wheelchair is leering at
a young latex-clad girl wriggling around watching her silhouette loom
large on a screen on which chic-ified Helmut Newtonesque SM stills are
flickering. The girl then picks up the dwarf and swings him around in
her arms as she dances, while he uses the opportunity to feel her up.
is observed with a dispassionate eye by the hostess. Leslie Herbert
She really looks the part, very Bulle Ogier/Allen
very cruel. A black Cleopatra wig frames the "fixed severe expression
for the night"; Leslie wears a skin-tight latex dress, black of
course, over smooth black rubber stockings rising from wicked skyscraper
patents, and she carries the ubiquitous accessory, a riding crop. An
evil outfit which means business.
Leslie gets most of her gear from Sealwear -a long-established mail order
firm in Bournemouth. The largest and best-known rubber and latex clothes
retailers, they boast an international clientele. There are two other
large British firms that cater to the rubber enthusiast. Weathervane
and Casteleys. but they aren’t as popular mainly because they sew
the rubber together instead of using Sealwear's bonding technique which
ensures a longer life for the garment. However, all three companies are
often criticized for their old-fashioned stock and that's given an enterprising
young couple the opportunity to set up their own company and provide
cheaper well-made clothes for the fashion-conscious rubberist.
Keen rubber lovers Keith and Moira Whitely started Mois Macs simply because
they couldn't get the clothes they wanted. Now, just three years later
and with only basic dress-making skills they have built up a thriving
business earning themselves a good name amongst connoisseurs. Every item
is made to measure, they will take on any design and the outfits are
very reasonably priced. Mois Macs is split into two; one half deals with
fairly straightforward rubber or PVC mackintoshes, whereas Cocoon is
orientated towards bondage and restrictive clothing.
In their late 20s, Keith and Moira are having a quiet drink with friends
at the back of the club. Moira is wearing a pale blue latex dress with
matching cape and she offers some useful hints on how to care for your
clothes: "To get a nice sheen on your latex dress it must be polished
regularly; Mr Sheen is the best thing to use. When you take a latex garment
off, wipe it down with tap water, dry it thoroughly and then talc it."
The garb of a good number of the club's patrons, however, is She'n'Me
and Anne Summers. All very tacky, obviously, with no appreciation for
the aesthetics of leather and rubber clothing; just a mass of obligatory
black, a lot of wet look PVC plus all the rock'n'roll bondage accoutrements
that have been used since the days of SEX and punk -studded belts and
wrist-bands, rubber mini skirts etc. - but never the complete look because
then it's getting serious and it's not fashion anymore.
Leaning against one of the psychedelic fishtanks in the gloomy nether-regions
of Skin2 is a man who is one of the fathers of it all. John Sutcliffe
is a benign-looking gentleman in his late-fifties, who runs an infamous
magazine for rubber and leather enthusiasts "called Atomage. He
also makes exquisite made-to-measure fantasy garments under the same
name ("fantasy garment" is his euphemism for bondage clothes).
Atomage was founded in 1963 at the time when film stars like Sophia Loren
were popularising leatherwear to such an extent that the demand for fashionable
leather clothes became phenomenal. John Sutcliffe made and designed all
the leather outfits for The Avengers, including the famous catsuit. He
deals mainly in one-offs which tend to be rather expensive. For instance,
a leather helmet would cost approximately £60 and an all-leather
suit with buckles, straps, helmet and built-in feet with 6 inch heels
would cost between £800 and £900. His theories on leather
addiction are rather trite though. I'm not convinced by them and neither.
I think, is he;
" I strongly disagree with people who term it as a fetish. I am absolutely
certain that the close attraction felt for leatherwear is nothing more
than a basic instinct. Ever since the original caveman used an animal
skin to cover his body, a vast number of years went by with the human
race being dependent on animal skins as protective clothing until woven
cloth began to be introduced around about biblical times. So you see,
from that time to this, which is a couple of thousand years, is absolutely
nothing compared with the vast stretch of time that the whole human race
wore animal skins . . .
" Nowadays most of the instinct has been removed yet about one per cent
of the population still has this subconscious throwback instinct to leather
- with the exception of all the peoples on the equator. I'm sure this
is true because in the whole 20 years I've been running this business,
we have never had a coloured man come to order a fantasy garment. The
obvious reason for this is because the people who live in hot countries
were not dependent on animal skins to keep warm."
Atomage, the magazine, was started as a monthly catalogue and is now
distributed to 46 countries. It features a lot of rubber and vinyl-wear
these days because John Sutcliffe believes that ""people who
are interested in rubber are much more frustrated due to the fact that
it's not acceptable on the street from a social point of view." Also,
since bondage can sometimes be dangerous, he points out that Atomage
provides essential guidelines on safety and precautions when dealing
with a slave.
A few yards to the right of John Sutcliffe is a queue of middle-aged
men waiting to be whipped - and a woman in a white latex playsuit is
obliging them. This is Clare, a part-time psychotherapist in her late-30s
whom I'd already met through Mr. Sutcliffe several weeks before. Clare
deals in surrogate therapy, which means that she helps impotent men on
a disciplinary basis.
Her slave for the night is 56-year-old George. A charming man who lectures
on engineering in the Home Counties, his leather helmet hides a grey
beard and gentle eyes I have to ask Clare for permission to speak to
George - after a short period of twisting sore nipples and muffled remonstrations,
she finally consents and unzips his mouthslit; George is now allowed
He's wearing an expensive-looking black leather straitjacket and his
helmet was made for him 15 years ago by the famous Madam Medeq. With
its wealth of straps, buckles, zips and laces it is still in excellent
condition. (Mme. Medeq became established in the Sixties and is now so
well known that she doesn't need to advertise, refuses mail orders, avoids
publicity like the plague and charges exorbitant prices which her rich
and select clientele seem more than willing to pay).
George has been happily married for over 30 years and although his wife
has some idea about his fetish, she prefers to leave him to it and remain
uninvolved. He tells me that he has lived out most of his fantasies during
the last 20 years but there is one that he still dreams about.
" Do you remember the Christine Keeler/ Mandy Rice-Davies affair, my dear?
Of course it was before your time but, believe me, it was the scandal
of the Sixties. Anyway, they used to have these dinner parties where
the food would be served by a naked man wearing a black leather helmet
with a whip wound around his neck. I would have loved to have been that
man. That's my ideal . . ."
At this point Clare returns to exercise her authority and zips George
up again, cutting him off in mid-sentence. She tightens his thumbscrews
and roughly pushes him into a dark corner to wait while she confides
some case histories. She has some interesting theories about the whys
and wherefores of rubber/leather/bondage fetishism:
" A lot of rubberists have problems. There are many middle-aged, married,
professional people up and down the country who are heavily into rubber
and bondage but because of social taboos they can only indulge themselves
in secret and this causes a lot of stress and also heightens their feelings
of loneliness and fear of being thought a pervert.
" There are far more men who are into it than women and I agree with the
Freudian school of thought: when a man completely encloses himself in
rubber, latex or whatever, and restricts his vision and hearing so that
it is warm, wet and dark inside the suit - this is a conscious effort
to get back into the womb. Also, many people who are into bondage are
people in positions of authority, such as company directors, doctors
or politicians. They are expected to give the orders, make important
decisions and sometimes the responsibility weighs heavy on their shoulders
and they like to swap roles.
" I have a friend who is in his mid Forties who runs several companies
and leads a very hectic and pressurised life. But he cannot achieve sexual
arousal without pain. Whenever he feels he needs a rest he spends a weekend
under the auspices of a professional dominatrix. He particularly likes
nipple torture, such as clips and clamps, and his biggest turn-on is
having threaded needles with weights attached to them pushed through
his nipples. I know it sounds gruesome, but after a session like that,
he feels totally refreshed and looks like a new man."
While Clare takes her activities seriously, Leslie plays the role of
dominatrix but not in a professional sense - although she could earn
a fortune if she did: "I would never do it for money. I enjoy talking
to these people and if 1 do anything with them it's because I want to.
Real sadism is perverted to me but I'm into rubber mainly from the aesthetic
point of view.''
Every week on the Skin 2 dance floor, there occurs what could only be
politely described as a "performance". It's usually a standard
and spontaneous act of punishment and domination with Leslie holding
court over the proceedings.
" I don't whip people to hurt them. I always talk to them first and build
them up for a few weeks before I do anything, then 1 know what they're
into. They don't often want to be hurt it's purely psychological power
games. One American man asked me to marry him the other day. He was following
me around the club on his hands and knees, but I just ignored him. He'd
do anything for me. He believes that Fm totally inaccessible. He said
to me 'All the others will hit me and beat me but you won't therefore
you're the cruellest' So you see, it's just mind-games."
Following the demise of Roland Rat caused - though no-one has admitted
as much - by the pathetic 'exposes' of Skin 2 ("a kinky sex club
for perverts in Soho" according to the broad-minded Sun) in nearly
every national newspaper, David Claridge and his partner Leslie have
had to disassociate themselves from the club even to the point of denouncing
it, which is a great shame because this will only serve to alienate rubber
and leather enthusiasts further.
At the end of the night, after all this Monday evenings I spent at Skin
2 and after talking to and becoming involved with the totally normal
and rather lonely people -ever, to the point of participating on one
occasion -I would argue that a club like Skin 2 is a social necessity.
British society continues to hypocritically moralise over and ostracise
this small percentage of people who find harmless pleasure of wearing
certain materials for sex, while operating on a system of double standards,
we see the crime of rape reduced to a less than news-worthy two-line
newspaper report That, if anything, is the English perversion.