“We supplied over a hundred outfits for The Crow II. I got an all-expenses-paid trip to Hollywood and was on the set — well, on three or four sets — as they were shooting the movie.
“We were the only people who could supply that amount of outfits at short notice. I met Iggy Pop and Ian Dury. I remember standing with Ian and poncing a fag off him as we watched a scene being shot in downtown LA.”
About a year after the original New York store opened, the owner of Highlights in Munich (a good DeMask wholesale customer) decided he wanted to sell up and move back to the Ruhr Valley. (“I don’t know why,” ponders Steve, “because Munich is the richest city in Germany.”)
So Steve English took over the Highlights store, redecorated it in his company colours and changed its name to DeMask. It turned out to be another great financial success.
During his time at the helm, Steve opened a fourth DeMask-owned store in Nuremberg, while four other stores — Dortmund, Barcelona, Zagreb and London — were set up as franchises.
Eight branded stores may not seem much of a retail empire compared with a mainstream label like, say, Gap. But it’s eight more than most fetish clothing labels have ever been able to boast!
In 1999, the year after Munich opened, Steve English began casting his gaze for his next venture beyond both Europe and the USA — to the Far East.
Spurred on by increasing production costs, he decided to investigate China as a potential new manufacturing base.
“As things became more and more uneconomical, the first place I looked at was China, ’cos my friendly bank manager was well in with all the Chinese on the street here.
“He suggested it, spoke to his mates from the Chinese Tong here, and got me an all-expenses-paid trip to China!
“That was quite a trip, that was,” he recalls, “going up the highway the wrong way in a chauffeur-driven car with police motorcycle outriders.
“The guy I met, Mr Lee, was pretty high up in the Chinese Communist Party. On his desk there was a photograph of him and Chairman Mao, all in their Revolutionary Guard uniforms.”
Steve was thinking in terms of setting up a DeMask-owned manufacturing operation along similar lines to the one he finally set up in the Czech Republic. So why didn’t China work out?
“What stopped me doing it was the fact that the Chinese Government — the Communist Party — wanted 30 percent of the company. And you couldn’t take your own share out of the country.
“Well, you could take it out in bicycle parts, but actual cash you couldn’t get out of there. Also, I didn’t get many volunteers to go out there to teach!”
This obliges me to ask him: Do you think you might have inadvertently put the idea in Chinese heads to…
“Yes, oh yes, without a doubt!” he says before I even manage to finish my question.
Which, of course, was about whether he thought his visit had convinced the Chinese there was a global market for rubber clothing ripe for exploitation.
It was about five years after his trip that Steve noticed DeMask knock-offs beginning to appear en masse on Chinese websites.
“I was finding all these plagiarised designs. They’d appropriated all the original photographs and re-used them as brazenly as you could.”
STREETWISE: Steve relaxes as Tatjana wrestles with a mannequin outside the Zeedijk store
Today, the controversy over Chinese copycats still rages on websites like FetLife, where the Latex Lovers group even has specific threads reserved for discussing copycats in general and one big Chinese brand in particular.
Such forums often feature posts by people who evidently believe they have an entitlement to latex clothing at minimal cost, and who therefore have no qualms about buying cheap knock-offs from the Far East — or closer to home.
These folk tend to maintain that copyright in clothing design does not exist, and believe legitimate designers who have had their intellectual property stolen by copycats should just stop complaining and get on with their lives, since their creations have no protection under the law.
But Steve English proved this belief fallacious (in Europe, at least) when, in the early noughties he successfully sued Amsterdam fetish store Absolute Danny for selling counterfeit versions of several DeMask rubber designs.
Danny had owned a kinky toys business and had begun selling DeMask clothing at her store after she and Steve starting going out together.
“When we split up, I continued supplying her,” says English. “This was during the period when we were moving manufacturing to Ostrava in the Czech Republic.
“We were laying people off in Amsterdam at the same time as training up a new workforce in Ostrava. Production suffered during that 12-month period and there was a lot of bad blood flying around because of people getting laid off.”
He says it appeared that some ex-employees, working from home, had carried on independently supplying Danny from copied patterns.
DeMask sued for infringement, and won its case because, says Steve, he was able to produce in court examples of copies bought from Danny’s store.
However, to date, it has proved to be something of an empty victory. “We were awarded damages but she never paid up,” says Steve. “And now she’s gone.”
There was one other, earlier and rather more gruelling legal tussle that Steve thinks should be part of any account of his DeMask years.
In the early days, he had a business partner who was both a financial investor and, under the terms of their partnership, supposedly also a working partner.
“But he disappeared for years,” says Steve. “I thought he was dead — didn’t hear a dickybird, until one day he just turns up. By this time we’d already moved to Amsterdam North, so there were three factories in which he hadn’t been involved at all.
“So I said sorry mate, here’s your money, bye-bye. It was 30,000 guilders plus a bit of interest — but he wouldn’t accept it. So I said OK, see you in court.”
However, not long before the court hearing, the Zeedijk store was forcibly emptied of its stock by raiders who then went on to hit the Amsterdam North premises too.
RIP: Veteran staffer Darren Barrett sadly died shortly before the 30th anniversary celebrations
“We called the police,” says Steve, “but they said it was a civil matter, and they couldn’t do anything unless there were injuries.”
So Steve decided to have a chat with some friends in the local Hell’s Angels. The short version is that the Angels located the booty and two days later, DeMask got all its stock back.
At the court hearing, a settlement of 90,000 guilders was agreed and duly paid by Steve, but the ex-partner claimed the agreement had been made under duress and was therefore null and void.
It took a further year and a second court hearing to finally reach a settlement.
“In the end he cost me another 30,000 guilders, making 120,000 altogether before he eventually gave up. It gave me a few sleepless nights, I can tell you.”
An experience like this might have inclined others of less robust disposition to call it a day. But Steve English continued to run DeMask for another 15 years.
And in the end it was the problems surrounding the move of DeMask production to Ostrava that were a major influence on Steve’s eventual decision to sell the business and retire to his chateau near Vichy.
When he’d bought that house in 2008, the idea had been that he would run the business from there, travelling to Amsterdam only when it was necessary. And at first, he says, it worked.
“I did that for three years until 2011. But the house was taking more and more of my attention away from the business, and the business became a chore rather than enjoyment any more.
“It was a struggle towards the end because I’d taken my eye off the ball. Basically towards the end I was working just to pay other people’s wages.”
The move to Ostrava had been necessitated by the increasing difficulty of manufacturing economically in Holland. DeMask’s big factory in Amsterdam North had around 60 people on the payroll and wage levels “were just spiralling out of control”.
But while relocating production to the Czech Republic offered an economic solution, the move itself was reportedly quite traumatic.
“It took a good 12 months for the standard to be good and for them all to get up to speed. And we were still chugging along in Amsterdam with the employees I couldn’t lay off, or who had ‘gone on the sick’ — permanently sick for two years and you have to pay all their wages.”
So by the sound of it there came a point when he had simply had enough.
“Yeah,” he agrees. “Just juggling all the balls became too much of a strain.”
In August 2011 Steve sold DeMask to his right-hand man Anton and his wife Louva. They have vowed to return the brand to its former glory, which includes reviving DeMask’s annual parties under the new name EuroPerve Resurrection.
(You can read about the couple’s first years at the helm in the Fetishistas interview with them that made our December 2015 cover story — see link below).
Now retired, Steve mostly keeps himself occupied with the upkeep of the chateau and caring for the small menagerie that shares it with him.
He keeps some contact with the old days by hosting occasional house parties for a few of his oldest friends from the scene.
I hadn’t expected him to want to leave the comfort of home for a party in Amsterdam, so it was a nice surprise to learn that he’d be attending EuroPerve Resurrection as a guest of honour.
For me, it confirmed that, although Anton and Louva had felt it necessary to persuade Steve that transferring the business to them would be best for DeMask, there was evidently no bad blood between old and new owners. Quite the reverse, in fact.
And so it was that, at the end of the party’s traditional DeMask fashion show, Steve appeared centre-stage to join with models, performers and various old friends in celebrating the official 30th anniversary of the famous company he had founded.
And I have to say, he seemed very happy to be there.
Click previews below to open galleries from early Europerve parties 1991-97 (Europerves I-VII).
Click on any individual thumbnail in each gallery to begin a slideshow of all full-size images