words William WilesFetishism has much in common with consumerism: repetitive rituals, ecstatic materialism and insatiability, for instance. But the taboos around fetishism mean that it hasn’t been able to express itself as consumerism does. A Louis Vuitton bag and a House of Harlot corset might speak to much the same part of the brain, but (generally speaking) only one can be shown off in public. Before the internet let nation speak PVC unto nation and latex enjoyed its recent normalisation, the only real outlet for fetishist ostentation was little mail-order magazines. FUEL Publishing has now released Dressing for Pleasure, a retrospective of one of these magazines: AtomAge, which came out from 1972 into the 1980s.
Dressing for pleasure is mostly pictures – amateur pictures of men and women (mostly women) wearing home- and custom-made leather, rubber and PVC clothing. There are also a handful of letters reprinted from the magazine and an introduction by cult music promoter Jonny Trunk, the editor of the volume. It will have some obvious appeal for today’s fetishists, but – although it’s not the kind of book you’d want to read on the bus – it’s comfortably unsexy, more like a sweater catalogue than pornography. There’s not much flesh on display – of course, this is about the clothes. The ingenuity of some of the costumes is fascinating: fetishism unfolds like a fractal, showing the same level of detail however closely you zoom. Within rubber fetishism there are fans of waders, fans of gasmasks, fans of raincoats. In the reprinted letters, readers describe their interests in detail, and (futilely, I imagine) try to pin down the basis of a particular material obsession.
As is often the case with old amateur photographs and magazines, the incidental details often end up drawing the eye. Dressing For Pleasure contains a fine selection of affluent, probably suburban, front rooms. The fondness of the 1970s for orange and brown curtains continues to impress; tastes in latex have changed far less over the years. Many of the women recline against well-polished automobiles. Much discreet showing-off is happening – of the clothes, of the bodies, of the cars, of the houses and the lifestyles. PVC and leather fetishism is, after all, an expensive habit, and here inhabits a suburban bourgeois landscape. There is, from the cars and consumer goods to the space-age styling of some of the clothes, a sort of optimism and faith in progress here. Right down to the name of the magazine, AtomAge, there’s a sense that the modern era will socially redeem fetishism and install it in its rightful place in the consumer landscape. Then the Austin Allegro and the wife’s catsuit can be shown off together, as they shoud be.
Not quite. When the thaw did arrive, later in the 1980s, it was via the club scene and magazines like Skin Two. In the suburbs, the curtains stayed drawn.
Dressing for Pleasure, edited by Jonny Trunk, FUEL Publishing, £16.95
image © FUEL Publishing