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Dangerous Curves

Who can deny the awe-inspiring effects of a corset induced wasp waist? Or the sensuality of fine silk lingerie, the elegance of bejeweled kid-skin gloves, the erotic power of perfectly fitted hip hugging leathers and the desire that these sensual materials incite? And finally…the finishing touch of a pair of dangerously high heels, designed to imbue the wearer with a sense of superiority and fragility all at the same time?

I stumbled upon Sweet Gwendoline and the aesthetic of fetish (not to mention the joys of “different” kinds of loving) in 1982 while rummaging through what was certainly a secret stash of girlie magazines. I purchased the whole lot of worn and torn Wink and Bizarre at a yard sale for 1$. The lady who took my crinkled dollar bill seemed as relieved to free herself from her deceased husband’s coveted collection as I was to become its new owner!

The corner of every page that was graced with Sweet Gwendoline’s extreme beauty was tattered from turning. A sure sign that John Willie’s aesthetic inclinations had excited the previous owner of these magazines as much as they were now informing and exciting my own imagination. I was sweet 16 and Sweet Gwendoline became my fashion and life-style aspiration.

Not long after I had acquired this erotic treasure trove, I found a part-time job in a vintage clothing shop that carried a fine selection of clothing and accessories as well as a rare collection of bondage gear and English leathers: fuck-me pumps, thigh high lace-up boots, brothel creepers, metal-studded bullet bras and belts, buckled boots, handcuffs, masks, chaps, harnesses, whips, and other accoutrements of the closely aligned worlds of alternative fashion and BDSM.

Like every 16-year-old girl, I was eager to learn and even more eager to explore my burgeoning feminine self. Part of my job at the store was to work a look that was representative of the shop’s aesthetics. The first time the owner of the boutique offered to lace me into a breath-taking boned Victorian corset, I accepted. The shift it generated in my energy and in my attitude was immediate–I had never felt more self-confident! I also discovered a distinct power in being constricted, or was it the momentary lack thereof? Paradoxically, the resulting restriction of my movements also instilled in me an enhanced sense of freedom. Because I could no longer bend at the waist and do it myself, my boss went happily onto his knees and proceeded to lace my stocking clad feet into a beautiful pair of 6-inch kid skin boots. I felt excited, dare I say aroused, and though I could barely walk, I was empowered by the power shift that took place almost instantly. Yes, my boss had suddenly become my subordinate, and the experience would change my life forever.

Sweet Gwendoline taught me to not only to lean into this experience, but to love my curvaceous body. Thanks to the weekly thrift shopping sprees that I did for the store manager, I amassed a significant personal collection of corsets and silhouette enhancing girdles and to my dear mother’s dismay, black lace, vintage lingerie, seamed stockings, and torpedo bras became the essence of my wardrobe. Following John Willie’s queue, I assumed the sensuality therein, and outerwear became my only wear for many years to come.

Was it Fetish? Or was it Fashion? I was too naïve to ask myself this question at the time, but my sexy personalized style, or depending on your perspective, my anti-fashion aesthetics, reflected my emerging political and philosophical beliefs, not just my blossoming sexual identity. All I knew then was that I was more than happy to wear anything that confined and defined my own, dare I say, dangerous Sweet Gwendoline curves.

I remain as obsessed with Sweet Gwendoline’s silhouette and outstanding elegance today as I am with any material or garment that can hug my body tight enough for me to feel free. Being constricted and therefore slightly restricted happens to make me feel even more present, aware, and tuned into myself, and therefore to others.

Whether you share the same delectation for constriction and all things Fetish or not … If you are preparing to sip a Cocktail made with Sweet Gwendoline Gin today, we share a similar love and appreciation for the finer things in life.

Cheers to you and yours… bottoms up!

✍🏼 Artwork © David Downton @daviddownton

Betony Vernon is author of The Boudoir Bible, designer of Paradise Found fine erotic jewelry — celebrating 30 years in Sept 2022 with a picture book by Rizzoli nyc.

My Man of Style

I’m wild about John Willie.

So much so, that when I made Vanity Fair’s prestigious International Best-Dressed List, I apparently stumped readers for name-dropping John Willie’s women as my greatest fashion inspiration. On stage, JW is always there in spirit—but no greater than the ovation “Lipteese” number I do, riding, bronco-style, straddling a whopping, sparkling red lipstick.

And, of course, the little devil is at my shoulder as I creative direct my hat collection for Hood London, or my signature lingerie and glove lines. Or when I get dressed, morning or night.

Little was left to the imagination when it came to the curvaceous women that JW so meticulously penciled. Yet it was what was on the outside—a second skin of chiffon and leather, silk and satin—that drew me in. The man knew clothes. And stockings. And shoes. Especially shoes, a fetish he also expressed through another enterprise, a footwear line called Achilles. He sold the seductive soles via ads in his magazine BIZARRE. Designing was one way to ensure that the flesh-and-blood models whom he photographed, including his muse and second wife, Holly Anna Faram, were suitably laced up from tilted toe to the upper most tippy top of the thigh.

Willie had a signature style when it came to fashioning the fantasies he conjured by way of graphite or camera film. There were the oil-slick long gloves and wide patent leather belts; pencil skirts cut up to here and the snuggest of cardigans unbuttoned down to there. His illustrations also revealed a sense of haute drama, as in the case of a black gown with tiny waist and sweetheart neckline surprisingly paired with a white gossamer blouse with long puffed sleeves and a high neck. It’s only one example in a dress code so informed by Forties and Fifties femme fatales with shades of Victorian and Gibson Girl femininity. The latter also showed up in the ruffles on tightly pulled corsets and the endless leather covered buttons on boots with the most vertiginous angled heels.

It could all be the liner notes for a New York or Paris runway. Yet here it was in the pages of a “dirty” magazine. Today, it all looks as chic and exciting as ever.

JW’s eye for style forever hooked me when I discovered Bizarre and Sweet Gwendoline and the rest of his universe at around age 20. Reb Stout, also known as Rebecca H. Heels, introduced me to Willie and contemporaries such as fellow artist Bill Ward and model Bettie Page. Reb schooled me on fetish fashion and art. He was already in his 60s when we met in 1992 through a fetish wares and media house where he helmed many of the operations both logistically and creatively, and I modeled for free corsets and other fetish ware. Among other lessons, my late friend imparted that sexual exploration is best served with a streak of humor. I couldn’t agree more.

JW dished it out with a wink and nudge even in the most explicit of scenarios. Here are women—in charge or in distress—behaving badly. The fantasy role play accompanied by speech bubbles laced with JW’s deadpan Brit humor made everything more intriguing, witty. I always loved reading the letters to the editor in Bizarre, too. JW insisted they were authentic reader letters. Whatever the truth, they are a hoot. He made fetishism fun.

While Sweet Gwendoline acted the distressed damsel through endless storylines, not all of his buxom protagonists played this role. The clever Secret Agent U89 (changed from U69 to sidestep censoring) and the dastardly Countess had the upper hand on them all. To wit, even Gwendoline’s responses seem to reveal she was in on the act, too. JW might have been a man, but that didn’t necessarily mean men were his primary audience.

Case in point is the original John Willie painting that greets visitors entering my home. Acquiring an original JW is near impossible. Granting me the impossible was a bondage master, well known in that community. He agreed to sell it to me when I moved into this home in the Hollywood Hills some years back.

Now framed in gold and black, the painting depicts a redhead who has managed to keep on her intricately laced-up boots over fitted jodhpurs, a broad belt and opera-length gloves. Earrings dangle. Missing is any semblance of a top. Her pert breasts point to the left, while the squiggle of a whip she wields over her head is at the right. The target is a brunette, up against a split-trunk tree, tied up from wrist to just above her ultra-high stilettos.

The woodsy motif of this work pairs perfectly with the forestland mural covering the walls of the foyer. To those at my front door, it conveys: Welcome to my world.