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Of all the talks during the Museum of Sex Objects exhibition that recently finished at London’s Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, the talk by Westward Bound supremo Steve Beech was the one I knew I could not afford to miss.
Steve and I boast a shared history that goes back almost 40 years to 1983, when he launched London fetish club Der Putsch close on the stiletto heels of the original Skin Two club (with which I had more than a passing association).
Our paths crossed very regularly during my subsequent two-decades-plus on Skin Two magazine. And that continued, pleasurably if less frequently, in our subsequent careers.
I went on to launch The Fetishistas’ magazine and directory websites in London. Steve, based in Plymouth, oversaw the transformation of his Westward Bound business from the original ‘bed, breakfast and bondage’ establishment and BDSM-orientated shop into a leading international latex fashion brand.
You didn’t (and still don’t) have to spend much time in Steve’s company to become aware of the man’s singular intellect. He’s the possessor of a fast and analytical mind — an art- and design-loving kinkster who combines left-leaning politics with a sharp business brain.
All these qualities were soon revealed to the audience packing the Horse Hospital’s basement for the Steve Beech London talk on September 16.
Beech was introduced by the two women jointly responsible for the four-week exhibition and talks programme. These were museum ‘keeper’ Deborah Sim and event producer Michelle Olley (who, like me, has known Steve since her own days at Skin Two).
Steve had chosen to present his talk in the form of a running commentary on the substantial slideshow he’d assembled covering his four-decade fetish career.
Its visuals ranged from the earliest Der Putsch flyers to Westward Bound’s latest and most prestigious cultural project: contributing specially commissioned latex costumes and images to the Cottonian Collection at Plymouth’s Box Museum.
Part of my interest in attending this talk — alongside its obvious potential for sheer nostalgia — was to see how, as a friend but also a longtime documenter of fetish culture, my perspective on Steve’s history would compare with his own telling of it.
At the start of the evening I probably knew more about him than many in the audience. But by the end of this Steve Beech London talk, there was also much about his journey that I realised I either hadn’t known, or might have just forgotten.
For example, I found depths in the detail he offered about his early Der Putsch flyers and later Westward Bound promo imagery that seemed to have escaped me when I’d original encountered this material.
A lot of the images from those early London club flyers that flashed up on the screen triggered long-buried memories for me, along the lines of “I remember that one!” and “Yes, I was at that party!”.
There was, for example, the Der Putsch night in Covent Garden that was one of my very first clubbing dates with the woman I would later marry.
There was the party at the cellar wine bar near the Barbican Centre that was probably one of the most atmospheric, upmarket venues Der Putsch had ever occupied. The venue banned the club immediately after its first and only night there.
There was Der Putsch’s penultimate party ever, at a west London pub. It was there that I first met Lisa Sherman, who would go on to be both a close friend and valuable editorial ally at Skin Two.
Steve had clearly thought people would also be interested in who the flyer artists were and how the graphics had been created in the days before computer-generated everything. And he was right.
Younger members of the audience were intrigued to discover that in those days, a flyer layout (complete with hand-applied Letraset headlines) would be physically pasted-up and then duplicated on a photocopier! It was lo-fi but it was our-fi!
Many of the flyers, promo graphics and photographs Steve included had interesting anecdotes attached.
It was good to be reminded of the B&W catalogue photography by Richard
Sawdon-Smith. Richard had been responsible for a new and stylish take on WB’s fetish clothing lines, which at that time still exhibited a predominantly black ’n’ shiny sub/dom aesthetic.
This made the colourful image that flashed up on the screen later, when WB eventually decided, as Steve put it, to “go pretty”, all the more impactful.
It reminded me just how important that decision by Westward Bound had been — to embrace the fast-growing new market among women for colourful, decorative ‘fashiony’ latex — and do so at a relatively affordable price.
I remember Steve seeming pleasantly surprised when people started talking about WB styles as ‘designer latex’ — an epithet previously assumed to apply mostly to small artisan designer-maker brands working out of back bedrooms.
I suspect the firm’s ability to engage top fetish names from Europe and the States to model for its online collections might have contributed somewhat to the success of this ‘rebranding’.
I had hoped Steve might cover this in his talk but it was one of the topics he didn’t get around to — perhaps through sheer lack of time. As it was, the talk was extended well beyond its official duration due to the audience’s refusal to let him finish!
Naturally, Steve made sure to include coverage of Westward Bound’s 2022 collaboration with The Box Museum in Plymouth — an indisputable feather in the firm’s cap.
As Plymouth’s major new museum, art gallery and archive, The Box made a request to Westward Bound to donate a latex dress to its permanent collection.
In addition, however, WB designed and made two garments specifically to represent and reflect upon the historic Cottonian Collection donated to the people of Plymouth in 1853 and housed within The Box.
After the talk, Steve Beech found himself in demand for chats and questions from many of the crowd, which included some scene veterans including photographer Jeremy Chaplin (also head of Skin Two latex, ex-Honour), Anita Brulee (former Atsuko Kudo model) and Birgit Gebhardt (Deadly Glamour designer and latex-maker).
Michelle Olley’s husband Howard Gray (of Apollo 440 fame) was there with their dog Moony. Moony has little legs but a big personality. So I’ve included a picture of him below. He seemed to like having his photo taken.
The only two folk called Zak or Zac I know on the UK scene — Zak Jane Keir (fetish writer and bookseller) and Zac Zenza (latex photographer) — were also there.
These two, who had not previously met, provided me with one of the post-talk’s most entertaining moments, when they had the following exchange, as the three of us stood together at the back of the room:
Zac Zenza to Zak JK: “Who are you?”
Zak Jane Keir: “My name’s Zak. Who are you?”
Zac Zenza: “My name’s Zac too.”
What are the chances of that, eh? You should have seen the looks on their faces, before — and after — each realised the other was being completely serious!
Eventually, a group of us including Steve Beech retired to the pub across the road from the Horse Hospital. I offered to get Steve a drink and he requested a pint of Japanese beer, which he apparently assumed they would have on tap. Some hope. I got him a pint of Amstel, which the barman assured me was the next best thing.
The evening ended with me accompanying Steve on an unnecessarily complicated Tube journey that started off in pretty much the opposite direction to the one both of us actually needed to take.
But I didn’t care because we’d got onto politics now and were putting the world to rights and speculating on how soon Truss & co would be waving farewell. We also agreed that a Fetishistas interview was now on the agenda for Steve. Getting them when they’re tipsy does usually work.
All in all, this Steve Beech London talk was a brilliant night that ended brilliantly.
Steve Beech/Westward Bound
Museum of Sex Objects
The Horse Hospital
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