For the first time since the Skin Two Rubber Ball evolved from a single night into a long weekend, visitors to London’s October fetish fest were confronted by not one but two big shopping events — Skin Two’s own-brand Expo at ExCel and the Xpo Barbican, hosted by erstwhile Skin Two partners Green Shed Events.
In the world of trade and retail fairs, it is not at all unusual for rival events aimed at the same audience to be staged in the same town at the same time. To potential visitors, especially those from out of town, the prospect of attending two events with different but related content in different parts of the city can make the whole trip more interesting.
Unfortunately, it seems that the logistical problems of getting from central London (where the Barbican and most visitors’ hotels were located) to the ExCel site in distant Docklands took the edge off the supposed double attraction for many people. Some were clearly confused by the existence of the two shows, and some, mainly industry people, were unhappy about being ‘forced’ to choose between one event and the other, instead of having, as in the past, just one show to worry about.
However, my advice to those hoping for a reconciliation between the rival promoters and a return to the partnership of old would be: don’t hold your breath. Of all the ways the situation might be resolved in the future, trust me, that one is the least likely.
Was there a clear winner of this year’s two-horse race? Or were there just, as one critic put it, two losers? After all, the two events together totalled only about the same number of exhibitors as the single show boasted in its best year. And overall visitor numbers looked to be down too. So it’s a fair bet that neither promoter was laughing all the way to the bank after the big weekend.
But despite the reduced footfall, many Barbican Xpo vendors reported levels of sales much higher than they’d anticipated. In other words, there were fewer visitors but they were spending more money. Marketing the Xpo as the more style-conscious event seems to have worked, and people who went to the Barbican expecting to make serious outfit purchases were not disappointed.
So, encouraged by positive feedback from their exhibitors, the complimentary tone of fetish media reports and the level of support coming through on the forums, Xpo organisers Cathy and Paul Norris have already announced that their event will be held “same time, same place” in 2008. I hear that some of this year’s Xpo exhibitors have even booked for the next one already — unheard of, apparently, in previous years
‘Encouraged by the feedback, Xpo organisers Cathy and Paul Norris have already announced their event will be held same time, same place in 2008’
We have already given substantial coverage to the Barbican’s couture contingent in the separate report on our Xpo fashion shows, which featured the participation of more than a dozen fashion firms with stands in the main exhibition area. With their mix of new and established labels — latex from Breathless, Ectomorph, Libidex, Overt, Pretty Pervy and Rubber 55; rubber, leather and/or corsets from Engineers of Desire, Lacing Lilith, The Ultimate Leather and Velda Lauder; fabric styles with kinky twists from Jed Phoenix and Libby Rose; and fascinator hats from Slightly Scarlet — these shows were a pretty good indicator of the strength of the Barbican’s fashion presence.
But they didn’t tell the whole story. There were other labels that didn’t participate in the shows but still had a strong presence on the exhibition floor — not least Bondinage, whose latest latex creations were shown off to great advantage by model Ulorin Vex. So much so, in fact, that when she was photographed in her electric blue Bondinage catsuit by Gothic Image in the Xpo photo studio, we stopped wondering what to put on the cover of our November edition.
A couple of other rubber specialists who were not in our shows also deserve a special mention. D.Vote Clothing, new London-based entrants to the men’s latex market, are definitely worth keeping an eye on. So too are Sensual Pleasures, the Kent-based importers of some of Germany’s finest ‘heavy rubber’ paraphernalia who are now bringing in DeMask clothing too.
If latex was a strong influence on the exhibition floor, so too was burlesque glamour. This year, in addition to such familiar purveyors of corsetry as Velda Lauder, FairyGothMother and Romantic Images, there was an impressive choice of showgirl-inspired finery and, especially, fancy headgear from the likes of Essentia Hats, Fabulous Fascinators, Libby Rose and Slightly Scarlet. With such a proliferation of fascinators, mini-toppers and other tempting titfers now on offer, there really is no reason for any self-respecting fetishista to go bareheaded ever again!
Talking of accessories, it would have been nice to see more shoe companies showing, but I don’t suppose Mauro Slomp is complaining. The Brazilian designer, already a firm favourite with discerning fetish footwear lovers, virtually sold the shoes off his own feet, so in-demand were his distinctive products. By the same token, a few more BDSM exhibitors wouldn’t have gone amiss, but that probably didn’t upset Quality Control or PlayPain/Spanking Tools, who were well placed to cater to those shopping for bondage and discipline items.
Among the 60 or so exhibitors at this year’s Xpo, there were many other interesting exhibitors offering a great diversity of products and services of interest to the fetish or alternative markets. From the photography of Peter Felix Kurtz and Maxime Avet to The Hourglass’s photographic makeovers, from Radical Rubber’s sheet latex to Oh Man!!(nequinn)’s bizarre lamps, from Exclusive Brazilian Lingerie to MQuiver’s custom carry-cases for kinky toys, there was something for pretty much everyone.
And of course The Fetishistas’ fashion shows weren’t the only entertainment on offer; there were also some great performances by the likes of Poppy Von Tarte (demonstrating burlesque moves), Esinem (showing off inescapable rope-bondage), and Mr Flay (showing how to escape from inescapable bondage). It all helped to confirm the Xpo Barbican as a well-organised, classy event, as well as the one quite clearly offering the best pervy shopping in town.