Of Human Bondage

Dominatrix dressing

Today’s fetish scene, with its fanciful depictions of bondage and S&M on designer runways, owes much to that of the Seventies, when so-called plastic fetishes were booming and exploring them was downright dangerous. Jump-starting the phenomenon and documenting the ensuing kinkiness—in defiance of obscenity laws—was the industrious Englishman John Sutcliffe, the founder and publisher of AtomAge. The 32 issues of the underground bible of the fledgling leather, rubber, and vinyl community have been compiled in a strapping new book, Dressing for Pleasure (Fuel Publishing, $32.95).

AtomAge was originally a catalog for the company that Sutcliffe registered in 1957 as a “manufacturer of weatherproofs for lady pillion riders”—in other words, dominatrix-worthy catsuits designed allegedly to protect women riding piggyback on motorcycles from getting soaked in the rain. (Some have suggested the look inspired Diana Rigg’s iconic black getup in the Sixties TV show The Avengers.) AtomAge quickly caught the eye of amateur fetishists, who submitted photos of themselves in their own creations, often including masks, helmets, and wetsuits.

In 1982 London police raided Sutcliffe’s offices and destroyed his magazine’s printing plates. He managed to publish several more issues before his death in 1987, but by then the fetish fervor had grown much larger and broader. The images in Dressing for Pleasure are still arresting, yet they feel somehow poignant—a document from a time predating rate-my-style blogs, when committing a fashion crime really could land you in jail.

Leather: courtesy of Fuel Publishing