A personal journey into the custom-made world of R&M Leathers.
By Ruby Mariani
Reading time 6 Minutes
"My earliest memory of leather is my dad wearing his Perfecto biker jacket. To this day I think it’s the greatest garment ever created. That alone spoke so much to me: it was the starting point. As a child seeing a photo of Wendy O from the Plasmatics dressed in a leather bikini in Sounds Magazine stuck with me and stirred something within. It wasn't until much later that I began owning leather of my own; to begin with, a child's biker jacket, which I still wear today. Every element of it is cropped, shrunken and second skin.
I began creating leather garments to fulfil my own need and desire for a particular cut I couldn't find anywhere. I wanted to make something that was between the Azzedine Alaïa fashion I coveted and the wardrobe of Cherie Currie from The Runaways. I had studied fashion but ended up working behind the scenes, briefly for a fetish shoemaker in North London where everything was custom made to the clients’ desires. This got me thinking and I eventually started to work on the project which would become R&M Leathers.
R&M Leathers is Heavy Leather Wear. Obviously, leather has a skin-like quality so it’s the closest thing to being naked whilst being fully clothed. Whether it’s a head-to-toe motorcycle jumpsuit or a tiny pair of laced hot pants, leather has an inherent sexiness. It’s an unforgiving material that requires a perfect fit; it’s best tight and tailored, cut close to the body. So far, most of my customers have been performers or musicians of some sort. I’m collaborating with a female performer at the moment who requires accessories to go with her outfit that will also double as fetishistic noise-making devices. I love all the detailed and specified requests I receive from leather lovers around the world.
Leather as a material holds so much weight historically and culturally. It’s hard to detach those signifiers and that is what makes it so special. From bikers to bondage punks, it has such a strong connection to subculture, rebellion and sex. To be part of the fetish world can mean a lot of different things to different people; to me, it is the enjoyment of a material, the sensuality of it – for me leather is a lifestyle.
Fetish as a style has moved from the underground into mainstream fashion. Fashion always skims the surface of subculture and so I feel it’s not always represented correctly. But I have the utmost respect for the real craftspeople who create for the fetish world and who never compromised their aesthetic, be it leather, latex or custom shoes.
My collection of vintage fetish and biker magazines – like Atomage and Iron Horse – really inspire my designs. I guess my creations are nostalgic for that period of time, circa 1979; when custom garments would have been mail-ordered after filling in an order form and then delivered to your home. I love how personal and intimate that feels. And that was the original idea behind the first volume of the R&M Leathers catalogue.
For Volume 2 of the catalogue, the inspiration came from Maidens of Fetish Street. The film reminded me of the fundamentals of fetish: it explores discipline, submission, shame and sin, at a time when this was a private and underground world, when the foundations of what we now know as fetish were still being laid. I drew most inspiration from the lonely character Nick, played by Ken McCormick, wandering through an over-lit district late at night and visiting the Movieland emporium.
'The caressing of each picture creates an illusion of fantasy,' says the narrator as Nick flicks through photo cards and magazines. Images of temptresses, enslaved lovers and dominatrixes flash across the screen. Among them, we see the work of illustrator Gene Bilbrew. His exaggerated female forms tied and bound in chains – wearing dainty high heels tied so tightly that they can’t stand up – are still so erotic today. In creating Volume 2, I wanted to reimagine the fierce and unforgiving demeanour of these women."
R&M Leathers Zine
Ruby Mariani is the creator and sole manufacturer of R&M Leathers. Now based in London, she originally studied fashion in Perth, Australia, where she was born and raised. R&M Leathers create gripping leatherwear as if The Yorkshire Ripper were designing outfits for Easyriders cover girls. Sold primarily through mail order catalogues, each R&M Leathers custom piece is handmade by Ruby.