Whilst doing some research about by we like kinky sex and BDSM I stumbled across an article written in The Guardian about an individual called John Sutcliffe who in 1957 brought extreme fetish wear into the living room and introduced a leather and rubber magazine to the masses called Atomage -http://www.atomage.co.uk/AtomageRubberist (Please check it out if you have the time!) How, as a society we have changed! In the short space of 40 ish years…!!!
We now have access to every fetish/BDSM/Kink film, article, item or service associated with it-all at the click of a button. I have to admit, researching J. Sutcliffe and his Atomage world it all became very underworld and exciting, dark and kinky, a little bit like the old contact magazines that one could buy. Do you remember those? Grainy black and white images shot on polaroid, (or, if you were a real Pro dome you would have had a gla’mour photographer take your shot). Depicting an under exposed image of a very severe woman, dressed in leather and brandishing an implement of torture (normally pointed at the hand trembling reader.)-Her head would either be blurred (for anonymity), or she would be staring directly at you , -her beady squinting eyes enticing you into her sadomasochistic world of unknown pleasures…there may be a strap or a cane hanging from the bedroom wall behind her, or, the elite players at Mistressing even had a bench! Lineage ads were limited to 25 words, including telephone number and location. A few simple sentences were all that were allowed to advertise her services -Mistress awaits your call NOW! Well-equipped Chambers await you slave. Call Me if you dare!…….However, although dated ,and possibly rather ambiguous with its description ,the old fashioned adverts and magazines allowed the readers imagination to run riot! ! Anything was possible! With no mobile phones or internet you had to plan your lucid phone call to gain your allocated time in the dark world of BDSM and make an appointment with a leather clad siren of the night! No websites to check out the Mistress and her wares, no e-mail to prepare you for your session….just your vivid kinky imagination and that time slot that you had booked….Wow-really tense stuff and an amazing prelude to a session.
Mr King of kinky….
The British fetish industry has surprisingly practical beginnings. In 1957, John Sutcliffe, a former aircraft engineer from Hampstead, was taking a girlfriend out for a trip on his motorbike. Heavy rain soaked her through, no motorcycle clothing being available for women at the time. “So I went into Soho and bought a dozen skins of red leather,” Sutcliffe said, “and asked my landlady if I could borrow her sewing machine.” The result was not only a waterproof suit for Sutcliffe’s friend, but also the birth of AtomAge, a clothing label and magazine that brought a fetish for rubber and leather into the open for the first time.
Sutcliffe’s designs came out of personal obsession. When his weakness for leather was diagnosed as a symptom of mental illness, he went through a breakdown and a divorce, gave up his engineering job and moved out of the family home. But his motorcycle suit brought requests for similar outfits, and an unexpected career shift. Working out of a loft on Drury Lane in a building occupied by the shoe-makers Anello & Davide, Sutcliffe used his engineering knowhow to transform leather – notoriously hard to stitch – rubber and vinyl into “weatherproofs for lady pillion riders”. He designed a sewing machine for leather and approached Singer to manufacture it. “Singer were so horrified,” recalls his friend Robert Henley, “they called the police.” His experiments with rubber also brought a sticky encounter: Henley came into the studio one day to find Sutcliffe lying on the floor, gasping, almost killed by the toxic fumes of a rubber glue he’d invented.
Sutcliffe went on to make Marianne Faithfull’s all-in-one outfit for the 1968 film Girl On A Motorcycle and influenced Emma Peel’s leather catsuits for the cult TV series The Avengers. With the artist Allen Jones, he designed some extremely rude waitresses’ uniforms for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (they were never used), and his work was an inspiration for Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s punk-era boutique Sex. But AtomAge remains Sutcliffe’s greatest achievement. It made extreme fetish outfits look as threatening as a car boot sale in Cobham, normalizing something previously seen as shameful.
It was Henley who suggested publishing the magazine, which ran from 1972 until 1980 and captured that particularly British ability to combine kinkiness with a suburban sensibility. “It wasn’t pornographic, but it stirred up a lot of fuss,” Henley says. “It was terribly popular, but very hard to find an outlet for. When we finally convinced a bookshop in Victoria to stock it, people would queue for hours to get a copy.”
Readers were encouraged to send in photographs of themselves in their favourite outfits, resulting in a woman in head-to-toe rubber before a mantelpiece with a photograph of the kids on it, a man hosing down a caravan in leather waders and a gas mask, or a rubber-clad man on a ladder, by a shed, apparently engaged in some sort of sadomasochistic DIY. AtomAge introduced the uninitiated to such diversions as wading (walking through a river at night encased in rubber) and total enclosure. E.E.D. of Middlesex claims in a reader’s letter that after sitting around the house for an hour or so in head-to-toe rubber, he feels “wonderfully relaxed and at peace with myself”.
Jonny Trunk, who has compiled Dressing For Pleasure, a pictorial retrospective of AtomAge, says, “Leather clothing wasn’t available until Sutcliffe came along. He was out there on his own, creating a liberation in women’s fashion. Led by a desire to see women in odd yet functional outfits, he kicked off the whole thing.”
The book revives a strangely innocent secret world, one that almost gained wider exposure in 1977 when the documentary-maker John Samson shot a profile of the fetish scene, with Sutcliffe looking and sounding for all the world like a retired major, albeit one wearing a vinyl catsuit and a chain around his neck. But LWT banned the film and, despite its success, AtomAge remained an underground phenomenon. It was ultimately destroyed by the prudish nature of the times: in 1982 Sutcliffe published Jim Dickson’s erotic novel The Story Of Gerda, leading to a police raid, £1,000 fine, confiscation of stock and the pulping of the back catalogue. Sutcliffe continued working, but the dream was over. He died five years later.
The story would have ended there had not Trunk, a friend of leather designers Patrick Whitaker and Keir Malem, spotted a rare copy of AtomAge on their workbench. This “extraordinary-looking magazine” led him to “a kinky warehouse in Essex, talking to a guy who owned the rights”, determined to “investigate it all further”.
One question remains. What was Sutcliffe like? “He was an old-fashioned gentleman, very inventive and not interested in money, driven by a fascination he couldn’t explain,” Henley says. “Until John came along, the only references to leather and rubber fetishes were in psychology books, and in the most derogatory terms. John was the man who changed it all.”
Dressing For Pleasure: The Best Of AtomAge 1972-1980, by Jonny Trunk, is published by Fuel. To order a copy for £13.95 (inc free UK p&p, go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.