I am interested in several categories of vintage women’s undergarments – Daily foundations, burlesque costumes and fetish attire. I am particularly intrigued by the fetish scene during the early 20th century through to the 1950s, due to the styling but also because of the fact that the scene was either extremely taboo or outright illegal. There are many factors that go into an erotic image, the fetish attire and accompanying gear, the photographer and the model. So I did some exploring…
Yva Richard was a brand based in France from 1920s until the Nazi occupation in the early 1940s. It was founded by L. Richard and his wife Nativa. They didn’t always sell fetish paraphernalia, the couple started their business in 1914 selling high-class lingerie, amongst other vanilla items. It wasn’t until 1923 that their range of products started to include fetish outfits, later adding leather corsets, high-heeled boots, handcuffs, collars with leashes, and dominatrix ensembles made of metal. The couple also produced and sold erotic photography, often featuring Nativa as the principle model.
Yva Richard’s main competitor was another French company named Diana Slip, founded in the 1930s by Leo Vidal. Diana Slip was officially a ‘lingerie company’, but actually made and sold fetish wear, condoms and erotic photography. They also established the ‘Librarie de la Lune’ which is assumed to have been a pornographic library, full or erotic books and photography.
Across the Atlantic ocean, in 1930, Charles Guyette and his brother opened a store in New York selling theatrical costumes. They also supplied a variety of exotic clothing and burlesque supplies, and Charles Guyette became so successful that he became known as ‘The G-string king’. A few years later, the store began stocking more ‘hard-core’ items such as high-heeled boots, leather corsets, pony-play equipment and chastity belts. Guyette designed some of the items, but was also known to have procured other pieces from Yva Richard in France.
Fetish wear was very popular in the underground scene, however erotic photography and art work was a lot more accessible to men in particular, but was also easy to carry around and conceal. Fetish photographers and artists had a massive influence on both the fetish and pinup scene, and continue to do so decades later.
John Willie was heavily influenced in the 1930s by Yva Richard and Diana Slip’s erotic photos. He subsequently taught himself to draw and focused his efforts on creating illustrations depicting female to female bondage scenes. He later started the well-known New York based bondage and fetish magazine Bizarre in 1946, which features many of his illustrations, as well as work by erotic photographers.
The Ostra and Biederer studios were well known and successful photography studios located in Paris, famous for producing erotic images of women in the 1930s and early 1940s. The Biederer studio produced beautiful yet risqué images of nude women, depicting domination (male and female) and pony play. While the Biederer studio shot their images in the studio, the Ostra studio did most of their work outdoors. These images showed scenes between a man and his female lover, in suggestive poses, usually showing off stocking clad legs and naked bottoms; they were playful and humouristic. However, the studio was also known to have produced images of women in BDSM scenarios for customers such as Yva Richard.
Irving Klaw was an American fetish photographer and filmaker. He started his career as a second-hand book shop owner, who, after noticing teenagers ripping out pages from his movie magazines, decided to sell movie star photos. These stills outsold his books and so he decided to take his business in another direction; Irving Klaw moved his shop and renamed his business ‘Irving Klaw Pin Ups’, where he sold mail order photos. After a while, Klaw started receiving requests for these actresses in his photos to be bound and gagged. Klaw and his sister Paula, decided to produce these images in house, using burlesque stars such as Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr as their models. The brother and sister business partners also created bondage and burlesque films; the 1955 film ‘Teaserama’ featuring Tempest Storm and Bettie Page (who became famous through Klaw’s images) was produced by the pair.
Bettie Page is the most famous bondage model of all time. She entered the word of ‘glamour photography’, which was a cover name for ‘erotic photography’. She commenced her modelling career by working with photographer Cass Carr. The thing that made her stand out from other models at the time, was her lack of inhibition in front of the camera. She subsequently appeared in various men’s magazines such as Wink, Beauty Parade and Titter. Throughout the 1950s, Bettie went on to pose for Irving Klaw for the mail-order erotic photography catalogues. Not only did she pose for stills, but she also starred in short movies which catered to Klaw’s client requests. Although Bettie is well known for her bondage scenes, whether she is dominating or being dominated, however these activities did not extend to her personal life.
“The only bondage posing I ever did was for Irving Klaw and his sister Paula. Usually every other Saturday he had a session for four or five hours with four or five models and a couple of extra photographers, and in order to get paid you had to do an hour of bondage. And that was the only reason I did it. I never had any inkling along that line. I don’t really disapprove of it; I think you can do your own thing as long as you’re not hurting anybody else.” – Bettie Page
Although Bettie Page is known for her bondage photos, Nativa Richard, was one of the very early fetish models. Nativa was one half of the Yva Richard couple, and was the main model for the brand for over a decade. She did not interact with other models in BDSM scenes, but instead she modelled the clothing that her and her husband sold, which in my opinion was very daring considering the era.
Holly Faram was John Willie’s second wife. She shared her husbands interest in fetish wear and photography, and became his muse, often modelling for him. He often drew inspiration from her in his illustrations. She was regularly featured in his magazine, Bizarre. She is often seen in photographs wearing thigh high lace-up boots and/ or bound and gagged.