This was New York's celebration of the dominant female. But Manhattan's rubber and chains aren't a patch on London's, as Susan Irvine found out
New York. The Bad Apple. The City that never sleeps. The toughest, hardest, most extreme metropolis on the planet. Or is it?

I came to these mean streets from the more placid pavements of Westminster, nervous and meek. I wasn't ready to strut my stuff or slam my attitude in anyone's face. Hell, but I was ready to meet someone with plenty; Kitty Boots, kinky queen of New York's alternative fashion scene and progenitor of one of it's most famous clubs, Jackie 60.

Ms Boots (she wouldn't tell me her real name or age, but it ain't 29) was hosting the "Goddess Ball". My friend Polly and I received invitations showing an in-your-face cyberslut wearing just a bra and shiny gloves.

Time Out New York proclaimed: "Your presence is demanded at this international fashion celebration of the dominant female. It's the chance of the year to expand your fashion vocab: among the 40 designers featured will be Body Worship, Leather Mary and Love NYC ... A strict goddess/fetish dress code will be enforced. Leather, rubber, PVC, vinyl, glam drag, corsets, period fetish, cyberslut, Victorian, Edwardian or Gothic are appropriate. No jeans or T-shirts. Don't cross the Goddess."

Cross the Goddess, moi? Domination-wise, I may leave something to be desired since even my dog won't roll over when I tell him to, but I would no more go to a Goddess Ball in jeans and T-shirt than I would to a charity ball. Ever the polite British, Polly and I brought fetish gear to NYC the way other fashion journalists would bring black tie. Nothing outrageous, you understand. The fetish scene in London is not unknown to us; we have danced through many a party at Torture Garden, the Skin 2 Rubber Ball, Fantastic, Submission in these or similar outfits. We've got the clobber, though ours is strictly background stuff. We have never raised an English eyebrow or, for that matter, any other part of the English anatomy, in our brand of fetish-life.

All that was about to change. Shrouding ourselves in shady overcoats we headed for New York's Palladium and were ushered in by the usual glittering transvestites. "Would you like to decoat?" asked the cloakroom attendant. We thought not, yet. Kitty Boots's show was bound, we thought, to be covered by some of the international fashion journalists swarming into New York, and you don't want to bump into anyone from British Vogue while wearing little more than a cache-sexe.

As predicted, the show was attended by more fashion victims than fetish ones. It was inspired, as Kitty later told me, by a fantasy world where "Raquel Welsh meets Brigitte Bardot beyond the Valley of the Dolls". To me, it was more housecoat heaven, with trailer-park heroines dressed in neon nylon baby dolls, bell-bottoms and floral dressing gowns. Showing the clothes was a mix of regular models and "Boot Girls" with names like Glory Hole Domination, Cupcakes and Mistress Formica. They looked about as dominating as me when I'm trying to get my dog to roll over.

Show over, we prepared to meet goddesses. So far, these amounted to a lot of transvestites with a sweet simpering Scarlett O' Hara fetish in picture hats and bustles, plus a few boys in PVC trousers. After a decent interval, we decoated and I put on my mask. This is a band of black leather with a scarlet slash of zipper across the eyes. Open the zipper and you can just see out, but no one can see in. Close the zipper and you are in danger of ripping out both sets of eyelashes. My friend Polly was wearing a stuck-on bronze rubber dress she had bought on the Portobello Road and pink stilettos. I was wearing shiny black: a PVC zip-up jacket over an exposed breast corset that buckles around the neck with a dog collar and laces up the back. The corset, I admit, is a bit of an item. But it remained firmly hidden under the jacket all evening. Below this, a contraption of buckles and a bikini-sized slice of PVC modestly covered the other key parts of me. Non-key parts were covered in fishnets. Fine, except that something weird was happening. Everyone, but everyone was staring at us. A line of photographers were jostling each other trying to get shots, and flashes were going off in our faces like strobes. A crowd of New York's fetish-finest had gathered behind the media, ogling us and getting out their own cameras for happy snaps. Fellow journalists approached clutching notebooks. "Hi girls, you look fabulous, can I interview you?" The hot lights of cameramen now turned on us and we were being fought over by TV channels with names such as WYCB, Channel 17, Fashion TV. What was going on here? I had come to New York to interview someone and now everyone was interviewing me.

Trying to beat off media hacks with faux-snarls, we teetered towards the dance floor. Here a battery of film crew shone merciless lights on to an arena where a few grungy types in jeans and vinyl T-shirts gyrated and ground their hips. Instantly, we were surrounded by press cohorts: "Will you dance, girls? Jeez, you're outfit's so rad, you look so bad." Bad? In London, we're strictly kindergarten on the fetish scene. Where were all the true Sirens of Sin, the Sinister Sisters with their whips and chains?

The only whip we saw belonged to a leering yuppie in a tuxedo who said he'd found it outside the bathroom. "I wish you were my secretary," he smirked at me. "I wish you were mine," I said.

But something strange was happening. We were becoming the bitches they all wanted us to be. An Asian-American "photographer" called Kevin who had been dogging us all night and begging us to model for him finally thrust his name and number into my hand. Icily, from on high (I am 6' 2" in these shoes), I took his scrap of paper between thumb and forefinger, and, as he sidled off, tore it up ostentatiously in front of our audience and stamped on it. There were hoots of approval.

This is not me - but I've changed. Marching off as best I can in the mask, I cut through the crowd with nary a smile. By now I felt there was no point looking for Kitty Boots in this outfit. She'd probably whip out a video camera and start taking my picture. Parting a crowd that looked as if it had got lost on the way to a poetry reading, Polly and I headed for the exit, setting off a new trail of flashbulbs and notebook scribbling as we went. "It's just like Andy Warhol said," muttered Polly. "Fifteen minutes of fame. Thank God that's all." A "devil" in red leather pants and horns was running after us shouting, "Girls! Mistress! Hey you look great! Hey you look fierce, hey, hey ..." We didn't even turn our heads. We were too damned dominating. "Oh well," he called after us, "I guess you won't talk to me because I don't have a microphone, right?"

Right. Let's face it, everyone else has one in this city. We spent the rest of the week watching ourselves on TV (thank God for that mask) and calling up images of ourselves on the Internet. The Goddess Ball looked rather good on film. But the hot rubber and the evil glamour was all down to a catwalk show of fetish wear from around the world. The few real fetish punters had turned it on only for the screen. Even so, it wouldn't have frightened a mouse. I realised what they had done. They had sanitised and commercialised even this darker side of sex. New York fetish - bad, wicked, sinister, sinful? No, as wholesome as Mom's apple pie.