Alternative Press SEX / June 2014

ATOMAGE: THE UNDERGROUND FETISH BIBLE OF THE 70’s

Photography by AtomAge
Text by Sophie Pinchetti

First published in the early Seventies in London at the birth of the fetish and punk phenomenon, Atomage magazine was to become a central reference for fetish-wear aficionados.

Founded by British clothes designer John Sutcliffe as an offshoot to his Atomage fetish clothing label, the magazine was published in an A5 format between 1972-1980. Atomage specialised in gasmask fantasies, PVC and rubber fetishism, heralding in a new form of freedom for sexual expression where amateurs and models are given equal rights across the pages of Atomage.

 

Spreads from AtomAge magazine (From left to right): Fetish cowboy style in nature - AtomAge A5 Edition 11, page 53; Phone slave - AtomAge A5 Edition 6, page 34;  New shapes in vogue - AtomAge A5 Edition 7, page 113.

Spreads from AtomAge magazine: From left to right: Fetish cowboy style in nature – AtomAge A5 Edition 11, page 53, published in 1976. Phone slave – AtomAge A5 Edition 6, page 34, published in 1974. New shapes in vogue – AtomAge A5 Edition 7, page 113, published in 1974.

 

Well ahead of his time, Sutcliffe first created the Atomage clothing line in 1957, a business founded on personal obsession rather than profit. Atomage was nothing short of revolutionary – leather clothing wasn’t readily available in women’s fashion at the time. Initially launching the Atomage magazine to showcase his latest creations, the magazine quickly developed into something more engaging: a fetish magazine created by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. The magazine eventually extended to create sister publications Atomage Bondage and Atomage Rubberist.

Available through private subscription, Atomage provided a new space for fetish lovers to rise out of anonymity and share their fantasies. Atomage actively encouraged its readers to participate by contributing pictures and stories to the magazine through the “Atomage Correspondence System”. The resulting content is an intimate and uncensored celebration of sexual deviations ordinarily perceived to be outside the “norm”.

Fetishes” are judged ‘naughty’ by the straight, sober world outside. But who, may one ask, has not got a fetish of some sort, sexual or otherwise, and why not?”, an anonymous reader enquires.

 

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From left to right: Rubber Travesty in Atomage Supplement 12, Published 1979. Dramatic gas mask and cape ensemble on the cover of Atomage Rubberist, Issue 01. A Rubber meditation in nature.

 

While fetishwear reigns in a continuing influence on our visual culture – one which has gained increasing exposure in recent times courtesy of pop icons such as Lady Gaga and the fashion industry’s enduring obsession with so called “power-dressing” – Atomage has remained a little-known gem of the underground and a precious chronicle of the fetish movement. As an exceptionally vivid documentation of the wild stretches of imagination and artifice that people infuse into their private lives, Atomage articulates a vision far beyond any superficial fashion trend. It channels fetish as a conscious lifestyle choice as well as an expression of personal taste, imagination and desire. Whether expressed through reportages about the Mackintosh Society (a group of fetishists who would regularly meet and hang out in their Macs) or in everyday sexual role-play, in Atomage fetish takes on a role that is both stylistic and performative.

 

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Leather craze in the pages of AtomAge magazine. Published in 1972.

 
Atomage was not without its share of controversy. By the mid-Eighties, Sutcliffe’s expanding publishing activities caught the attention of the police, who then proceeded to prosecute him on obscenity charges, raid his studio and confiscate his entire back catalogue and magazine plates.

Sutcliffe’s legacy is nevertheless international. British designer and queen of punk Vivienne Westwood’s cult London-based SEX shop in the early Seventies, created with Malcolm MacLaren, followed on in the footsteps of Sutcliffe and popularised fetishwear for new generations. With the help of the Internet, the fetish clothing industry is flourishing across the world. Britain continues to assert its position in the fetish scene, playing host to hundreds of events per year, catering to both underground and mainstream audiences. Regular fixtures include Skin Two’s Rubber Balls and Torture Garden in London.

“Sex sells”. Sure, we’ve all heard that before. But unlike the rampant commercialism that defined much of the Seventies and Eighties, Atomage’s pursuit was always one evolving beyond commercial interests. From the red latex-clad creature sitting in a park, to the chained and willing slave encased in an inflatable rubber suit, Atomage opened new vistas from what mainstream society perceived as “normal” or “acceptable” sexual behavior and representation. As an anonymous reader from Africa states: “Apart from its interest to ‘addicts’ like myself, I feel it does much good by showing all of us the universality of our ‘thing’”.

Surely the word ‘normal’ doesn’t even belong to the world of sex – these seem to be the words we hear uttered by the surreal creatures of Atomage. Fetish took on a new meaning, transcending its previously derogative and threatening connotations. You don’t necessarily need to be a gasmask lover to be a sexual eccentric – it’s just about experimentation, curiosity and imagination.

 

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Rubber soul mates. As published in Atomage Rubberist 2, Published 1983

Bondage wear: AtomAge Supplement 02, published in 1976.

Bondage wear: AtomAge Supplement 02, published in 1976.

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Role play and power games in Atomage magazine – Supplement No.4. Published 1977

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From left to right: Fetish takes its first steps out in public. A reader from Northern Germany shares some photos, as published in Atomage Supplement 11, Published 1979. A peaceful rubber moment at home.

Rubber Sunday, by Jay from London, Atomage A5 Edition 9

It’s nine o’clock on a heatwave Sunday morning, and I am dressed in rubber, sitting in the sunshine that streams in through the landing window.

… This weekend I am enjoying my new hood, which I sewed together during the heatwave. Making your own hood and mask is full of the joys of anticipation. The pleasure mounts until the moment arrives when you first tighten the straps round your head and pull the mackintosh material against your cheeks. I have completed by enclosing encasing rubber outfit with long latex gloves worn under the macs, sou.wester and goggles…

… After being encased for hours the pleasure of black mackintosh deepens. There’s only one thing better than an hour in rubber, and that is five hours in rubber!

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