Fashion week it ain’t: Fetish fashions spice up the NAC

T he phrase “fashion show” brings to mind either the glitz and glamour of a haute couture fashion week in Paris or Milan, or else those humble charity events sponsored by Rotary clubs and student unions across the land. Meanwhile, the Whore fashion show, which took place at the Niagara Artists Company on March 30, combined elements of both fashion show breeds; the result was a spectacle anything but humble and probably would have made Karl Lagerfeld drop his fan.Sponsored by Release the Bats, the gothic and fetish gear emporium on St. Paul St. in downtown St. Catharines, Whore was a fashion show unlike any other. Even before the models began strutting their stuff, it was very obvious that this was not going to be your standard issue fashion show. The stage was decorated with candelabras and amputated mannequins in gasmasks, while anim demon pornography was projected on to the wall. A DJ was spinning a mix of ’80s goth rock and dark trance, and before the show even started, several people were already biting their fists in sexual frustration.

“I wanted to do something to help promote the gothic community,” said Release the Bats proprietor Amber Birkbeck. “There are a lot of people really disillusioned with the lack of activity in the scene … and I just wanted to do something fun.”

Although Release the Bats caters to both gothic and fetish scenes, Birkbeck explains that the two cultures are in fact separate entities.

“They’re two totally different things, but they cross over in a lot of different places,” says Birkbeck. “Gothic comes from the more artistic, intellectual side of our culture. It’s been around before it was even called ‘goth.’ It’s been around for centuries. It’s about being interested in a darker aesthetic. Fetish is a sexual thing … but it does appeal to the gothic community because fetish wear involves a lot of leather, PVC, lace and feathers … goths will take the fetish wear and use it as every day wear. That’s the crossover.”

None of the models in Whore were professionals. Instead, Birkbeck picked the models from her friends and acquaintances within the Niagara region’s goth and fetish communities. Two of the models were actually Birkbeck’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend.

“I chose the models based on their style and their courage,” says Birkbeck. “I wanted people that could go out there and interact with the other models and not be too concerned about how they looked … it’s no fun if everyone’s all uptight.”

The actual clothes aside, Whore also differed from other fashion shows in its structure. Rather than having the models simply strut up and down the catwalk, the clothes were presented in a series of improvised skits that ranged from ultra-hot bondage and discipline scenes to silly bits of absurdist comedy and even incongruous images of goths playfully frolicking.

“[Amber] basically said ‘do something like this and like that,’ and it was left up to us,” says model Jay Smith, explaining how the sketches were created. “I used to do stand-up comedy, so that helped us.”

“We’re all into the hitting and the smacking the ass and the whole bit,” says fellow model Joanna Galineas. “That worked with the horse crops … it was just whatever came into our heads.”

Smith also made some of the clothes featured in the show, and was able to shed light onto his creative process.

“Every woman has a good feature, one that really stands out. When I look at her, I notice her legs,” he says, pointing at his girlfriend. “Then I think of something that would accent her legs more than anything you could find in a store … it’s all about thinking about what you would like to wear and then making it, or getting it made, instead of looking for it.”

Although Birkbeck had the idea for a fashion show some time ago, she says that Whore was really put together in just one week.

“I’ve had the idea to have a fashion show for quite some time … I was talking to my friend Dragon [local drum n’ bass DJ Richard “Dragon” Ducharme, one of Birkbeck’s co-organisors] and he said ‘do it, do it now,’ so we only really had a week to put it together … things were a little rushed, but I think it all turned out nicely … the models were fantastic. They helped me so much, maybe more than they even know.”

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