Story behind the brand
How did you find your way into punk BDSM design? Why did this subculture draw your interest?
I was born in 1970 so my teenage years were spent listening to 80s post punk and goth bands like Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Mission, Depeche Mode and The Cure. I knew as a teenager that I was “different” and there were so many things about mainstream culture that just didn’t sit right with me. In my early 20s, I got involved with an anarcho-feminist/queer magazine called Shocking Pink which was based in an Anarchist bookshop at 121 Railton Road in Brixton. It was when the independent printers went bust and the magazine ceased production that I met the women who ran Quim magazine. This caused quite a lot of tension between myself and my flat mate at the time. In the early 1990s, there was a split in the gay female scene between lesbian feminist separatists and SM dykes. My flat mate was on one side, I was on the other. The ideological split happened in women-only nightclubs too. My friend Tutu started a club within a club at The Fridge in Brixton and all the SM dykes used to hang out in the cafe area. I definitely resonated more with the aesthetic of these women and, having made friends with Velda Lauder, I soon found myself shifting into the more mixed fetish club environment, frequenting Torture Garden and Club Fantastic, as well being a Club Kid at Tutu’s avant garden club Monster.
These clubs were my playground - Torture Garden and Club Fantastic were places where I’d model other designers’ creations (in particular those of Velda, and her partner Sam Sylvan), and Monster was the Club where I’d get to dress in my own experimental creations. I was Velda’s part time production assistant for 3 years in the mid to late 1990s. That’s where I learnt that I liked working with my hands. It was also through Velda that I met Elaine, Velda’s part time machinist. After I’d received funding from The Prince’s Trust to start my own T-shirt printing business and I slowly expanded my range to include detachable sleeves and then bondage-style trousers, I asked Elaine if she’d also like to work for me part time. It had been around 8 years since I’d quit my Social Sciences degree and I felt like I finally had a proper focus. And, in true DIY punk style, I’ve been teaching myself, bootstrapping and being as authentic as possible ever since.
I like how your work mixes the details of punk, such as leather and studs, with more historic forms like Victorian corsetry. Shapes such as this are thought to be quite sexual, and of course, punk music makes many explicit references – even down to band names like the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks. Why do you think punk came to be so interlinked with sex?
I think a lot of the explicit elements of punk were originally included to create shock value. It’s the antithesis of the Prim and Proper and Stiff Upper Lip, the opposite of being sexually repressed, one where restraint takes on a different meaning. Punk likes to expose taboos and poke fun at the establishment. The 1970s were littered with Mary Whitehouse and the backlash to the civil rights liberation movement of the late 1960s, the Oil Crisis, and the Winter of Discontent so punk probably provided a release from the pressure cooker of all of that.
What else do you think the punk era symbolised?
To a certain extent, punk was a response to the long-winded and over-produced prog rock guitar solos, and the assumption that you needed both a formal musical training and a major record label to make music. There was a definite DIY, grassroots element to punk and that’s very empowering.
How has punk fashion changed over the years? Is the culture fading away, or evolving?
I guess it depends on one’s definition of punk to say whether it’s dead or evolving. The fragmentation of the original late 1970s genre into spheres that include more political and wider lifestyle issues - Crusties, anarcho-syndicalism, the Straight-Edge movement etc - means that punk is, to me, ever evolving, at least on some level. Outward identifiers of punk seem to be less obvious nowadays though. That could be because of the rise of the internet and the decrease in the need for visual signals of “tribe”. The past 20 years have also been relatively Conservative and, as the murder of Sophie Lancaster highlighted in 2007, standing out can be deadly. Equally, the taboos and myths around BDSM mean that being open about “subversion” can lead to people losing their job.
Why did you decide to mix both BDSM and punk? What makes the two go so well together?
I’m very inspired by the functional aspects of what a human form can wear. I like the problem solving that’s involved in creating something that has more than one purpose. I also like to make things that can tell a story, and that will last. Aspects of punk that also come into play are more philosophical - slow fashion, grassroots, saying no to designs that people might ask for but that I’m not passionate about (I usually pass the customer onto someone else I know), and using resources wisely from both an environmental and a business point of view.
Who are some punk artists or designers that have inspired you?
Some of the key influencers in my work have already been mentioned - Tutu, Sam, and Velda.
It was through my being one of Tutu’s Club Kids at Monster in the mid 1990s that I started experimenting with my own expression, coming up with characters and building my on-stage/performance confidence. Tutu used every opportunity to be creative, collaborating with photographer Ashley Savage to document her Cancer Sucks/Punk Cancer journey in a very raw, non pink ribbon way between 2009 and 2012.
It was at the end of 2016 that I decided to start making things out of leather. This was partly in response to Torture Garden tightening its dress code and some of my customers not being allowed in because they were wearing pinstripe bondage trousers rather than leather ones. It wasn’t long before I started to generate a fair amount of leather off-cuts. It seemed appropriate to start making patchwork leather items, as this was a nod to some of Sam Sylvan’s Mad Max style work from the 1990s. Sam died in 2012 and circumstances meant that, after she and Velda split, Sam didn’t continue to design and make clothes.
I remember when I was working with Velda in the 1990s and being struck by how she lived, ate and breathed her work. She had a shop in Soho and was regularly featured in the fetish magazines. There were a few occasions where a whole troupe of us - mainly pierced, tattooed, mohicaned or otherwise unconventional - travelled to do a fashion show in Europe in the 1990s. Over the years, Velda became known as a corsetiere, with the motto of “The gift of the corset is its ability to free the inner strength and beauty of a woman in an instant”. A week before Velda unexpectedly died in 2013, she came to one of my pop up shops and we started talking about designs and lead times for an outfit for her girlfriend. I felt like a pupil being praised by her favourite teacher. I wore one of Velda’s leather Warrior corsets to her interment of ashes ceremony and a few people asked if I was going to start making corsets. I had always sent people to Velda for corsets but now that I couldn’t, it seemed appropriate to carry on Velda’s legacy. Elaine had over 20 years experience of sewing corsets with Velda so I tapped into some of her knowledge and we started to create the Jed Phoenix of London range of corsetry.
Thinking about the history of punk, what are some defining moments you remember? Perhaps in terms of music, dress or activism
I remember that the 40th anniversary of punk provoked rather strong feelings in me. Seeing big fashion brands trying to cash in on the punk aesthetic (or at least their rather watered down take on it); flicking through magazines to see “how to create a punk look”, usually a studded wristband, a bit of tartan or leopard print, and maybe a couple of safety pins; and knowing that it was just about being “on trend”. For me, it’s my lifestyle so I didn’t feel like jumping on the 40th anniversary of punk bandwagon. I felt angry when Joe Corre burnt £5m of punk memorabilia because, in my eyes, it would have been more punk to have quietly auctioned the collection to the highest bidders and then give the money to a charity or foundation that would help disadvantaged people. The early 21st century has been more about the Cult of Celebrity and the commodification of pretty much everything. Joe Corre’s actions just reminded me of his ego and privilege and neither of those things seem particularly punk or anti-establishment right now.