'Some of our customers can be very - how can I put this - demanding,' sighs Maurice Stewart-Addison, Fetters' mild-mannered owner.
'I think that's only to be expected from the kind of service we offer. One customer likes to bungee-jump in our products and would spend hours discussing his next jump with me in painstaking detail if I'd let him. More than once I've been asked to 'test-drive' our products with customers - but that's not the kind of business we're in.'
The kind of business Fetters is in is serious bondage gear: suspension harnesses, all-leather bodybags, strait- jackets, chastity belts. All made-to-measure and made to restrain. Of course, fetish gear is all the rage with the demi- monde now; publications such as Skin 2 and Fetish Times are doing a cracking trade, while 's/m chic' is exploited by the fashion industry.
But Mr Stewart-Addison is careful to point out that Fetters does not cater for those who want to look cool. The clubs his customers frequent are more liable to resemble dungeons and those gathered to hang tight might include anyone from magistrates to policemen - pillars of the community playing at giving up power.
Mr Stewart-Addison moved into the 'restraint' business 15 years ago after making film props. He saw a gap in the market and went for it. Ads for strait-jackets and handcuffs, placed in Police Review, Shotgun News and Soldier of Fortune, produced an immediate response. 'The orders just streamed in,' he recalls.
Now based now in a deceptively suburban-looking south London terraced house, with a sister company in the United States, Fetters is number one in its field.
How do you go about getting a harness? 'We would ask you first of all what has it got to do,' says Mr Stewart-Addison says. 'People have different requirements, sometimes very elaborate. Some people want to use a harness for restraint, others wish to be suspended by them' (ie, hung from the ceiling for the sense of helplessness and intense sexual pleasure it brings). There are also different kinds of harness, everything from the full-body harness, which has a strap around every vital point, from ankle to neck, to just a chest and shoulders harness, or even a head harness - a hood made out of a cage of leather straps.
The practicalities of wearing this kind of get-up are vital. 'If you intend to wear the harness for long periods, it's important to make sure that it isn't chafing or cutting off your circulation. Then there are other considerations, such as weight, a full suspension harness needs to take the customer's full body-weight jigging up and down.' Mr Stewart-Addison does get requests that he refuses to fulfil. 'We have three responses: yes, definitely; yes, but we don't think it will work; and no, it wouldn't work.
We're very safety conscious. It's no different than rock-climbing or windsurfing; this is a body-contact sport with all the risks associated with it.'
Once the customer and Fetters are agreed, there is the finicky business of measuring. The form customers fill in is extremely thorough. Entries call for details such as the distance from Adam's apple to between the nipples.
Says Mr Stewart-Addison: 'We prefer people to come in for the fitting. But this is often not possible, as many of our customers are overseas. We ask people to sign the measurement form because sometimes they get the measurements wrong or they change shape in the time between measurement and delivery.'
Once ordered, Nick, one of the three outworkers employed by Fetters, gets to work. 'A body harness can take from four hours to three days to make, depending on the complexity,' says Nick. The price varies correspondingly - around pounds 150- pounds 200 for a basic, made-to-measure body harness, to 'whatever your imagination and bank balance will allow'.
A leather, pricker-lined chastity belt will cost you pounds 27, and if your genital security requirements are a little more heavy duty, then perhaps a Hard Jock Max (with three padlocks), at pounds 150, is for you. If all-over incarceration is your bent, then an all-leather body- bag with ankle suspensions will set you back a cool pounds 621. But whatever you choose, you can be sure of something unique.
'I spelt one customer's name in studs on the stomach-plate of her strap-on,' recalls Nick.
How do you become a harness-maker? 'I joined as a cleaner and worked my way up,' says Nick. 'One of the good things about working here is that everyone is very friendly and mucks in; this may sound corny, but our products are made with love.'
The customers appear to have noticed this extra ingredient. 'They really are superior quality,' says one satisfied Fetters harness user. 'I've had a suspension harness for three years now and it's really been thrashed, but it's better than the day I bought it. Only once did a rivet need to be replaced - but that was after a 19-stone man had been bouncing around in it all night.'
Mr Stewart-Addison claims his customers are a 'real mix'. Gays, straights, bisexuals, women and men all come to him: the hidden face of Joe Public.
'It's amazing how many people are into the fetish scene. I was at a fetish party in Kidderminster recently and they were coming out of the woodwork.
'The evidence of people's interest in fetishism is everywhere. Look at Starlight Express. It's not just a good storyline that's made it a success - all those buckles and straps must have a lot to do with it.'
Fetters, 071-622 1356.
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