Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: Dressing for Pleasure

This book is a little treasure - a collection of images and letters from AtomAge magazine, created by John Sutcliffe in 1957. It recounts the origins of the magazine and his leathercraft business. It all started with Mr. Sutcliffe making leathers for female motorcycle riders. The response was very positive, and it evolved into making more specialized fetish garments.

Mr. Sutcliffe's most widely-known work was probably making costumes for Emma Peel of the 1960s television show The Avengers, as well as the leather garments for Allan Jones' famous sculptures Chair, Table and Hat Stand.

My favorite story from the book recounts the tale of a chemical company that commissioned a skin-tight head-to-toe leather suit for a model to wear to draw attention to their booth at a trade show. She made appearances in the suit in Trafalgar Square, and captured quite a bit of notice, as you can imagine! She was a vision of total leather enclosure: hooded, booted, goggled, gloved - see the image below:
Can you imagine that suit being written off as a business expense? HA! The book is filled with old drawings and photos, which I always love to see. Certain elements of fetishism are just timeless.

Mr. Sutcliffe also created a title called AtomAge Rubberist, as well as AtomAge Bondage.

The brief biographical sketch in the book mentions the legal trouble Mr. Sutcliffe encountered as a result of a story he published. The police raided, his stock was confiscated and the printing plates from every past issue were destroyed. This was back in 1982, not so long ago... He kept designing and publishing until his sudden death (at his desk) in September 1987.
The publishers note: "With the publishing of this book hopefully the Sutcliffe name, reputation and influence will spread". I hope so too!

If this book looks like something that you would enjoy, it's available here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: Savage Beauty by Alexander McQueen

This is probably my favorite book at the moment, maybe one of my favorite books of all time. It's the exhibition catalog for the Savage Beauty show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, displaying the work of Alexander (Lee) McQueen. This immensely talented designer took his own life in February 2010 after the death of his mother. This exhibit at the Met captures just a small sample of work he created over the past few years. His work always dealt with themes of death, decay and renewal, so it's appropriate that the cover features a lenticular image that transforms his face into a skull... and back again. The effect is striking. The endpapers are just stunning, and they echo a design element from McQueen's own work, the symmetrical repeat of a natural pattern. As a designer and maker I have an appreciation for the hand work that goes into couture clothing. McQueen is quoted as saying "I never aspired to mass production. Because of my training as a tailor, my work involves lots of love and care, which is why so many of my clothes are made by hand here in London. Not to wow the crowd during a show, but because I love it." The book is made with love as well, just masterful photography and understated layout. The clothes really come forward. The quotes from Lee are interspersed connect his ideas and thought process with the imagery and design of the clothing. The photographs by Sølve Sundsbø just blew me away. Initially I though they had really nice mannequins. Later, I found out that in order to show the clothing draped properly, they shot on live models. Then, in post-production they digitally painted out the models faces and sometimes heads to keep the emphasis on the clothes. They even introduced seams at the arms and wrists to mimic a mannequin - such a great idea. You can tell a lot of care went into every photograph. Lee often used feathers in his work. Or seashells, Intricate, graphic, sculptural... Transformational, animal, aquatic reptile? Clothes have the ability to make you into another species altogether. Audacious, otherworldly, bizarre and extreme. Fetishism, but in the most non-conventional way you can imagine. McQueen was known for cutting his own patterns, something virtually unique in the world of couture. His background as a tailor gave him the technical chops to pull off amazing designs. I loved the way he synthesized a variety of influences from around the world. Take something that moves you, and put your own twist on it. The quote accompanying the image below: "I especially like the accessory for its sadomasochistic aspect." The sadomasochistic element is what first drew me into his work. But the technique, creativity and skill draw me back again and again. These molded leather pieces are unlike anything I have ever seen on a runway before. Just amazing... My only complaint about this book is that I wanted more. It all ended too soon. Lee is one designer where I wish there was a book this size just for his fall 2009 or spring 2010 shows - I would buy them both in a heartbeat. This book is definitely a must-have for McQueen fans. Available on Amazon or directly from the Met for a little bit more.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Review: The Boot by Bradley Quinn

It's a great time to be a boot lover, as the current fashion trend for tall, sexy, over-the-knee high-heeled boots is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

Thigh-high styles in particular were stigmatized not long ago, relegated to hooker-boot status, and something nobody would dare wear outside the bedroom, unless maybe you were in the sex trade. I just never thought they would break through into the world of mainstream fashion the way they have, and for that I am grateful.

I have been asking myself: why now? Ironically, the economy is in rough shape, unemployment is up, but these boots are luxurious in their use of material. Instead of reflecting austerity, these styles are opulent, and indulgent. Impractical, and sort of non-functional (have you ever tried walking in those things?). Ornamental, expensive and uncomfortable. It could be the influence of the Internet, and the widespread availability of online eroticism. Many celebrities are spotted wearing the tallest and sexiest boots available. (Check out celebrities in boots here.) Is it a type of status symbol? Maybe we are becoming desensitized, and it takes more extreme measures to get a thrill. There is an undeniable sensual and sexual nature to a tight-fitting boot. Both for the wearer and those of us who see them being worn. They are edgy and make a statement every time. Even non-fetishists can appreciate the sexual nature of these boots. They just are.

As it is, the more extreme styles of thigh-high boot appear mostly in high-end fashion and couture collections. It's the hang-out place for many articles of clothing that are steeped in fetishism, extremes of expression, fine materials and workmanship).

It's here that I get to the book which covers the world of boots in an up-to-the-minute way. Actually published in 2010, this is the only book I have seen of it's type that covers the boot exclusively. There are a lot of books on shoes, but this is the only one I have seen dedicated solely to the boot.

Bradley Quinn covers a bit of boot history, which of course is fascinating. Fashion and art always reflect the culture, technology and ideals of their times.

Styles that reference historical looks, like the swashbucklers below, are discussed.
Although there are examples of fetishistic styles, the book doesn't delve too deeply into the sexual aspects of the boot. It does give a number of profiles of specific designers, like the one on Joseph Azagury below:
Many of the book's pictures are taken from runway shows, like the Chanel images below.
Another typical spread, with couture boots on the left from Vivienne Westwood, Pucci, and Givenchy, and a 1890s fetish boot on the right.
Of course, Alexander McQueen is represented (below left facing page). The flesh-colored boots on the right are from Etro, and Givenchy rear-laced boots on the far right. Drool-worthy, all of them...
Boots are like chairs for designers; there is just an endless number of ways of covering the lower leg. I'm always inspired by the materials, colors, textures, patterns and techniques the shoe designers can come up with. And just when you think you've seen it all, up comes something new.
Christian Louboutin, one of the sexiest bootmakers on the planet. I love his last shape so much - it reminds me of how I draw boots and shoes in my fetish drawings. Fantasy made reality.
Viktor and Rolf's take on the motorcycle boot:

If you are into fashion, especially high-fashion boots, this is a great book for reference and inspiration. It's available here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Laced sleepsack - step-by-step Part 6

A few more steps and we'll have this one all wrapped up. It's time to set in the internal sleeves, which in this pattern start about 4 inches below the shoulder seam.
I hold the sleeve in position with tape and sew just inside the line, working inside the restraint.
Next, I topstitch a second row of stitches from the outside using the first seam as a guide. No margin for errors on this one!
I try to center the hand pocket on the side seam. Here's a closeup of the hand pocket:
And a closeup of the top of the 2 seams:

Now that we have both sleeves sewn in, major sewing operations are complete.
Oh, one more thing; I did take the time to topstitch the seam where the neck meets the body.
Finally I marked out the spacing for the lacing holes. I wanted a real fetish-y look for this project so I spaced the lacing holes pretty close together. Didn't you know more lacing = more fetish-y? It's true.

I ended up with 90 grommets on this sleepsack.
Plus the 2 on the front of the hood.
You can't really see it in this photo, but I did hand stitch the bottom of the lacing strip to the top of the heel piece. It is one seam I can't sew with the machine, as it is pretty much a closed bag at this point in the process.
That's about it. Another one for the history books.
Thanks for following along...

Laced sleepsack - step-by-step Part 5

Now we're ready to close up our sleepsack.
We have an opening in the rear of our sleepsack with a lacing strip down the middle. Time to put in the zipper and a tongue behind the laced opening.

First I cut the zipper to length - heavyweight YKK #10 zipper chain. I'll use masking tape to hold it in place while sewing.
I start at the foot and slowly position the zipper, pressing the tape to hold it in just the right place.

The same zipper snakes up the neck, and ends at the top of the hood.
Once taped, the one side of the zip is sewn to the sack. The other side is then sewn to the lacing strip.
Once that connection is made, I use the bulldog clips to hold the tongue to the lacing strip. That seam is then sewn, glued and flattened.
Here we have the tongue, connected to the lacing strip, connected to the zipper, connected to the binder.
The last step is to sew the tongue to the other side of the laced opening. Because we are now sewing an enclosed shape, we need to access the seam through the zippered opening. I use tape on the outside to hold the tongue in place.

A word of CAUTION: I am only using tape to hold the tongue in position after testing to make sure it won't mark the leather or pull off the surface. I wouldn't recommend anyone use tape like this without testing it first! Some leathers are easily damaged by tape stuck to the surface.
I did use a lot of tape, as I didn't want the tongue to come out of position as I am feeding such a large item through the sewing machine. The closer you get to the end, the harder it is to handle.
Once the rear zipper is in, I sew a separate zipper in for the hood.

Now our zipper is set, our tongues are in...
Just a couple more steps, and our project will be complete...