Choose your slave carefully

Julia Stuart was just an ordinary girl with a boring social life. Then the invitation to the world's biggest fetish party landed on her doormat. Now she's a changed woman (left). But is the world ready for The Jade Nun?
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The Independent Culture
"The secret to getting this on is lots of talcum powder," says Robin Archer, handing me a maid's uniform made of rubber. In the House of Harlot, a London studio that specialises in fetish clothing, I try on the shiny mass of quivering black rubber. Despite the tight fit, Robin, the chief designer, purses his lips. I am about to make an appearance at the Skin Two Rubber Ball, the world's biggest fetish event, and first impressions are everything. "Too submissive," the 39-year-old announces, passing me a pile of latex called The Jade Nun, which costs a cool pounds 1,800.

This is more like it - it takes me a good 10 minutes and half a pint of sweat to get into it. I finally appear in a second skin of green, complete with low-cut, lace-up bodice. The skirt balloons out coquettishly in a hoop. The piece de resistance is a matching, full-face mask with long pointed horns, from which hangs a train of green latex. It's perfect.

"Rubber is strangely sensual," warns Robin, a conservative-looking chap in jeans and a T-shirt, who was introduced to the fetish scene 10 years ago by friends. "It's uncomfortable in some ways, but extremely exciting. People get turned on by the appearance of it, the smell of it, the feel of it. People like to have it all over from head to foot."

But how will I go to the loo? "Just lift the skirt up. Somebody will be there to help you if need be. The toilets tend to become non-sex-specific after midnight," he says.

As I leave with my outfit, Robin offers some advice: "If you get slaves following, choose carefully. There will be men asking you to whip them. See how it goes. If you get bored, send them away."

This year the annual event is being held at Fabric in Holborn, central London. Inside, leaning against one of the exposed brick walls, is a man in a white corset pulled in severely at the waist. His nipples protrude over the top. It looks painful. He is also sporting a matching white G- string, suspenders and stockings. Lee Seherz is a 43-year-old electrical engineer, and has travelled from Milwaukee, US, to attend the ball.

"This is the biggest thing happening on the scene anywhere in the world," he says through his beard. "It's catching on in the States, but there's nothing like this. The corset acts as portable bondage; I really love the way it restricts and embraces. I like tight things - rubber, leather, restraints. Bondage is very relaxing. Someone else takes control. It's kind of an inner-space thing, I guess."

Also standing on his own is Dick, a divorced engineer in his fifties who lives in London. He's come in a shiny red rubber cat-suit with matching head mask, complete with platform boots and a black codpiece with studs. He got into the scene about two years ago after playing an extra in a fetish film.

"I think it's a wonderful way for people to let their hair down. It doesn't have any sexual connotations for me. I suppose I'm a bit of an exhibitionist," he says.

In a corner, a woman with matted blonde hair down to her G-string lifts her chain-mail top and squeezes her naked breasts together for a photographer. He asks his assistant to take a picture of himself and the woman together.

A balding man in glasses strides past in a pair of shorts and a cotton T-shirt, looking as if he's off to the beach. I wonder how he managed to get past the doormen, dressed so conservatively. "You haven't made much of an effort," I venture. "They're made of leather," says the 59- year-old insurance salesman, offering me a feel of his shorts.

Chris, a grey-haired 43-year-old Belgian in black PVC trousers and rubber waistcoat, asks if he can take my photograph. "Your outfit is simply perfect," he says. "It's original and the colour is new. On top of that you have a nice smile. I've been going to fetish evenings for about 17 years. This may be the last one, for personal reasons, and I want some souvenirs of people who look great. For me these evenings are almost more aesthetic than erotic. There's an element of theatre about it, which I want to show people back home. For me the fetish scene is about looking for perfection in outfits. I admire the fact that the British people have understood and defined it."

Despite my layers of talc, my thighs have stuck together under their green rubber sheath. I can move my legs only from the knees down, and I'm reduced to tottering for the rest of the evening. I haul up to the bar for a rest. Simon Smithers, 36, from north London, is wearing a medic's tunic and trousers made of latex. "It's very tame and commercial tonight," he says, disappointed. "I thought there would be more debauchery, groping and playing. I would like to see a bit of whipping and spanking, and some blood."

My dress attracts another admirer. Karl, 31, is dressed in black rubber trousers and jacket. A newcomer at the event, he is here to explore some of his fetishes. "Cross-dressing is one of them. I also want to be tied, teased and then punished. I've already had a little whipping in the back room." He's holding a black cat-o'-nine-tails. "It's a new one; I bought it especially for the occasion. It needs to be broken in. Would you like me to try it out on you?" he asks.

I decline, and head for the mixed-sex toilets instead. My headdress pokes revellers in the eye as I pass through the crowd. After a while I stop apologising - they seem to like it. I manage to get into the toilet cubicle sideways. When I'm done, I attempt to pull my dress back down. It's stuck. The horrifying thought of having to walk around with it around my waist makes me sweat even more. I grit my teeth and after a little grunting it eventually comes back down with a loud "thwack".

Back in the club, two naked women walk past wearing only black veils over their heads. A man follows them, holding chains attached to collars around their necks. Johan Bevers, a 32-year-old Belgian in a black rubber mask and shorts, approaches, wanting to have his picture taken with me. He says he's going to frame it. He works in the City, but his colleagues know nothing of his double life.

On the stairs, a man in leather trousers offers a woman wearing a dog- collar a studded paddle. She obligingly whacks his behind. I've seen so many pierced nipples, naked buttocks and people hitting, whipping and simulating sex with each other, it's all beginning to appear normal.

The arms of my dress are starting to nip my skin, and my horns are digging into my scalp. I hear the distant call of my voluminous brushed-cotton Marks & Sparks pyjamas, and decide to leave. But it'll be a good while before I get into bed - I've still got to get out of my dress.

House of Harlot: 0171-401 2709