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Boy George Party
Richard E Grant

Bent for Leather
Text Fiona Russell Powell

When 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 Court Road.
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 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 understand.
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 to
Kim 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 hands.
" 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 rubber fantasy?
" 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.

All this is observed with a dispassionate eye by the hostess. Leslie Herbert She really looks the part, very Bulle Ogier/Allen Jones, and 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 to speak.
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.