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Sexual fetishism is the new rock and roll. Fetish fashions get their charge from an association with taboo and perversion. However, now that the imagery of sexual deviation has been absorbed by the mainstream entertainment industry, fetish fashions have reached a cross-roads. After punks and goths appropriated the leather and rubber wear of the sexual fringe for their youth subcultures, what used to shock quickly became passé. Once there was a timeless quality about fetish gear but that has changed. Fetish has become fashionable and as a result, those who sport its finery are not necessarily serious practitioners of sado-masochistic sex.

Fetish gear is about what it conceals as much as what it reveals. Nevertheless, genuine perverts don’t like discovering they’ve gone home with a leather queen who only does straight sex . That said, the sudden and unexpected fashionability of fetish clothing has increased the pleasures of master and slave role-playing on the sex club scene. Masochists are increasingly dressing down in the tawdry gear of goth fashion to emphasis their status as mere objects in the eyes of those who play the role of master. In striking contrast, sadists who wish to enhance their status as subjects and simultaneously differentiate themselves from "the common herd", are having to change their approach to the question of apparel.

To grasp this bifurcation in fetish fashion is to understand the nature of contemporary society. Those sadists who set themselves above what they view as a dehumanised mass, simultaneously base their entire identity on a fictional separation from this "herd". Checking out a couple of London fetish clubs, I found the leather and chains scene rather comic. While the assembled perverts might be dressed in studs and stilettos, straight haircuts and unfashionable glasses often gave away the fact that they worked as accountants and hotel receptionists. It is really quite hilarious to hear a woman say to a man she has on the end of a dog chain: "You’re from Hornchurch! I don’t believe it, my mother lives in Hornchurch!"

Despite this home counties vibe, the London fetish scene is considered the best in the world and people flock to it from all over the place. Fetish enthusiast Ernst Junger from Hanover is a stereotypical sadist: "I try to avoid the fetish clubs that appeal to the bulk of my fellow countrymen. Uniforms are a big part of the fetish scene but it is illegal to wear Nazi regalia in Germany. Nazi uniforms are really popular among fetishists and so a lot of Germans come to London to get off on cheap fascist fantasies. While I am a proud to be a sadist, I’ve no desire to dress up in SS uniforms. Swastika armbands and jackboots are for plebs, I prefer the more aristocratic attitudes found in the folk cultures that originated in the mountainous regions of Europe. I usually dress in lederhossen when I go to a sex club."

Belgian fetishist Jean-François Thiriart provided a different perspective: "Sadism is all about power and mastery. Hitler treated the masses like a woman he was conquering, so obviously Nazi uniforms are attractive. Detail is necessary if a fantasy is going to have a semblance of credibility and reality. There are a plethora of Nazi uniforms and those who go for Waffen SS regalia are merely betraying a lack of imagination. Sophisticated sadists prefer the camouflage gear worn in combat by the many different German military units which, under Hitler’s benevolent dictatorship, were allowed to maintain a sense of pride in their unique regimental traditions. I particularly like the camouflage dress designed to hide Nazi soldiers in the snows of Norway and Russia."

Italian sadist Julius Evola offers yet another outlook: "Real sadism is a spiritual pursuit. I whip women to demonstrate not just my physical, but also my intellectual superiority to the second sex. I am not looking for the cheap titillation that many people seek from sado-masochistic sex. When I whip a woman I’m attempting to release occult energies and uniforms can help me do that. However, I prefer the outfits of the Rumanian Iron Guard to Nazi apparel. I am also very fond of the robes worn by the High Priests of various European pagan cults. That said, I’m happy to wear anything that signifies authority and power."

Not everyone I met on the fetish scene was as unpleasant as Junger, Thiriart and Evola. Since I don’t have any leather gear, I went out dressed down in a Ben Sherman, Harrington, Levi’s and Doctor Marten’s. Several girls seemed to take this as indicating I was rough trade and stood by me awaiting my orders. As these would-be "slaves" didn’t say much, I’d tell them about my interpretation of the relationship between fetish and fashion: "Both fetish and fashion are systems that create meaning by differentiating garments, endowing details with significance, and establishing links between certain aspects of clothing and worldly activities. Where fashion and fetish part company is in the use they make of uniforms, which for sado-masochistis function as costumes. While fashion choice signifies personal aspiration, the theatrical deployment of military uniforms on the fetish scene stems from atavistic urges." Needless to say, this spiel resulted in my going home alone.

Fetish used to be opposed to fashion, whereas today sado-masochists are forced to embrace fashion in order to differentiate themselves from subcultures such as goth. Death is the ultimate masochistic fantasy and as long as those involved with the fetish scene tolerate a taste for military uniforms, they may well end up succumbing to this desire. Dressing up in Nazi uniforms is not just unnecessarily provocative, it is also sad and stupid. While the majority of those involved in the fetish scene don’t go clubbing in fascist regalia, I consider the widespread acceptance of those who do a problem. If fetish has a future it appears to be as a fashion, since fashion might well purge the sado-masochistic club scene of its more unsavoury elements by exposing them as a reactionary blight.

Letter to Head

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