DeMask, one of the fetish scene’s truly classic brands, celebrated 25 years in the business earlier this year.
The Amsterdam-based company has also now entered its fifth year under new owners Anton and Louva, who took over the business from its British founder, Steve English, in August 2011.
The husband-and-wife team had previously enjoyed a close involvement with DeMask.
Anton had started doing freelance wholesaling for the label in the late 1990s before joining the firm fulltime as Steve’s Dutch second-in-command in 2000.
He played a key role in the next decade’s expansion which saw the business moving its production to Czech Republic and opening stores in New York and three German cities.
Louva had been a make-up artist who became famous as a French fetish model. She was introduced to latex by Steve, who obviously recognised in her a style that would perfectly complement his extreme rubber creations.
She met Anton when he accompanied Steve on a house-hunting (or, rather, chateau-hunting) trip to Paris in 2003. “I think a spark jumped,” says Anton. “We had a great time that evening, really cool. Two weeks later she came to Amsterdam and we’ve stayed together ever since.”
BEHIND DEMASK: Anton and Louva, DeMask’s owners since August 2011, first met in Paris in 2003 and they have been together ever since (photo: Tony Mitchell)
So when Steve finally handed the business over to the couple in 2011, one would hope that it felt more like passing it on to trusted family members than consigning it to the control of strangers, who might turn out to have little respect for its values and traditions.
DeMask had been known as one of the scene’s biggest players and the only ‘straight’ fetish label boasting shops in several countries — with branded outlets in New York, Munich, Nuremberg and Dortmund as well as Amsterdam.
But for some years before the change of ownership, it appeared to have been losing its edge as other, newer and more fashion-orientated latex brands began to emerge and establish themselves.
The loss of the New York store in late summer 2010 was a real blow, not least for Anton, who had built it. But it was a consequence of a change in the trading environment over which DeMask had no control.
“Mayor Guilliano’s clean-up killed the spirit, and the community changed,” Anton told me.
When such a thing happens, he added, turnover levels off or goes down, but rents continue to go up — and that combination sealed the fate of DeMask NYC.
Meanwhile, as web-retailing became the norm for all latex labels, the DeMask website, which had hardly changed since its original design, was a rather obvious sign to the outside world of a business falling behind the times. Something surely needed to be done.
My first chance to properly talk to the new owners of DeMask came two days after they’d hosted the very first EuroPerve Resurrection in Amsterdam on September 29, 2012.
We met in a restaurant on Zeedijk, a short walk from the DeMask shop, and I must confess that I liked the new team straightaway.
During our chat they both demonstrated the sort of passion and commitment needed to turn a business around, combined with a good dose of pragmatism about exactly what needed to be done to achieve it.
I very soon found myself thinking that they genuinely deserved to succeed in their ambition to return DeMask to its former glory.
But how had things got to the point where, in their view, a change at the top was the only way to do it?
“Steve always worked very hard,” Anton explained. “As long as I knew him, he was always busy with the business and didn’t have much time for himself.
“He lived in a very small apartment, always had a crowd around him, and in the evenings he was always involved in the nightlife here so the house was not so important.
“But after production moved to Czech Republic and all those people were gone, life changed a bit. It was also changing here in the street — a very popular bar we used to go to closed, so I think he didn’t feel at home here any more.
“Also, he started to get irritated by the noise from the street in the evening, so at some point he decided to have a proper house, and started searching.
“After we moved the production to Czech Republic, he looked in Spain, also in Czech, but mainly in France. He had really set his eye on that and slowly gave the business less attention.
“His philosophy was: OK it’s running, it doesn’t need so much attention any more.”
It took until 2008 for Steve to find the house he wanted — a chateau near Vichy. “And from that moment, things went very quickly,” Anton recalled.
“Steve’s idea was to spend part of his time there and part of it here. He wanted to keep control of the business himself from where he was.
With Steve mostly in France, production at the Czech site began to be affected.
“I tried to talk to him about it but he saw it a bit differently from me. Or his feelings and ideas were somewhere else.”
“And it was time to take a decision,” said Louva, picking up Anton’s thread. “Otherwise everything was just… gone. So I said to Anton: maybe we should take over.
“I was already starting to design. We had pictures, ideas, and just started to think of designs. One day I really felt like we had to take action, so… we did! And I felt, in the end, absolutely at the right place. For me it was the way to go.”
The upshot was that the couple persuaded Steve that the best solution would be for them to take over. This was not some back-stabbing coup but a negotiation between friends concerned with the best outcome.
In due course Anton and Louva bought the business from Steve, officially taking over all DeMask operations on August 1, 2011.
Shortly afterwards, they were approached by Rene of Vault Productions, who invited them to stage a DeMask fashion show at the next Wasteland in November 2011.
The success of this collaboration led to plans for a partnership between Vault and DeMask to jointly relaunch DeMask’s once notorious Europerve parties as EuroPerve Resurrection.
The three of them were keen to provide an alternative to today’s more fashion/dance/swinger-orientated Dutch parties, aiming instead at people nostalgic for the days of ‘real fetish’ gatherings like the 1990s Europerve events.
The first EuroPerve Resurrection on September 29, 2012 certainly pulled in the perverati. Present were the organisers of all Europe’s big fetish weekends, and some other industry folk I hadn’t seen since my Skin Two days, like Jürgen and Cathy from Secret/Minuit in Brussels, and guest of honour Maitresse Françoise from Paris.
Following the tradition of the original parties, EuroPerve Resurrection featured but one fashion show — a DeMask fashion show. It unveiled Louva’s first collection for the label she now jointly owned, and it was devoted to that often neglected latex market: men.
Two days after that first show, how did Louva think her male collection (23 styles all modelled by DeMask customers and other non-models) had gone down?
“It had a good impact,” she said. “A lot of [straight] men don’t want to wear rubber — they think it looks gay. So it was a big surprise for everybody!
“But we have seen some big changes in the Zeedijk shop,” she continued. “Now a woman comes in and dresses her man. Women are wearing latex for themselves. Lots of men are dressing as women.
“And lots of women are dressing their men as women. I’m blessed — I’m in heaven every day!”
SHOP FRONT: The window of DeMask’s famous store on Amsterdam’s Zeedijk currently features three outfits from the new latex collection launched at EuroPerve IV
Jump forward three years, to the Sunday after this year’s EuroPerve Resurrection IV and my second dinner assignation with Anton and Louva — this time in an Argentinian steakhouse, again not far from the DeMask store.
Louva has just debuted her fourth DeMask latex collection — see Peter Diablow’s studio shots heading this article and my gallery from the live show.
These latest 1960s/Courrèges-inspired styles, created to complement the ‘Outer Space’ theme of the party, have gone down well, and DeMask’s new(ish) owners are tired but happy.
My aim for our second get-together is to find out how things have been going in the three years between our chats.
In particular, I’m interested to know if any of their ideas for the company have changed now that the honeymoon period is over. And if anything didn’t work out as expected.
“When we talked before, it was just after we started running the business for ourselves,” Anton reminds me. “In the three years since then, a lot has come to us — in the sense that it was much more work than we expected.
“In that time we learnt a lot. There’s a Dutch expression that translates as: ‘You do something, you get hit in the face, and you do it again’.
“What we focused on then, we still focus on now. We enjoy what we do a lot — we do it every day with a lot of pleasure. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like working because it’s our heart, it’s our passion, and we go for it.”
At the same time, he adds, there is a lot of pressure, and with two children as well as the business to look after, it can be hard work.
But the couple are confident that they now have a great team running both the manufacturing and retailing sides of the business.
“We took a long time finding people,” Anton reveals. “We could have advertised but we decided instead just to go with the flow, and at the right time you find the right people. That’s how we found our girl in Amsterdam and our present staff in Munich.READ MORE
He also provided us with a gallery of 20 of his favourite DeMask images. You can see all this work — including the full-frame version of the Abraxas cover image and our page-header shots of Candid Lavin modelling styles from the brand new DeMask latex collection — in the first gallery, below left.
A digital photographer and visual artist for more than a decade, Peter started his website DarkmindedAngels.com in 2003. He specialises in dark, fetish, gothic and horror photography with a cinematic look — a style evolved as a consequence of his background in film.
During his time in New York City, Peter worked part-time as a house photographer for Pandora’s Box, the biggest SM dungeon in NYC, and for the NYC domina/fetish magazine The Vault.
In 2007 he moved back to the Netherlands where he became active as a photographer and video- grapher in various scenes. In 2009 he met up with Louva for a shoot and has been doing more and more shoots for the DeMask brand since then.
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