Designer Ruby Mariani founded R&M Leathers as an homage to fetish and heavy metal subcultures
It’s a postmodern world, and we’re all just living in it. Or at least that’s what we are told. Thanks to the Internet, the standout subcultures of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, have become diluted and are often hijacked by commercial brands, losing the real message behind the movements.
Combatting the mess that has become heavy metal-inspired fetishwear is designer Ruby Mariani, the founder of R&M Leathers. Going against the current speed of fast fashion, she chose to debut her new collection via a zine, with customers having the option of going old-school and sending off a mail order form for each handmade item. While she has been working on the project for the past six months, the outcome is the result of a lifetime of research, with Mariani collecting fetish catalogues for years.
Featuring throwback images (curated by Mariani and Nicky Rat) of leather babes on motorcycles, the collection itself is comprised of items you’d imagine: studded leather corsets and thongs, flame-print heels, and chain-covered halter tops. It’s the real deal, and everything you’d need if you were looking to join Hell's Angels – there’s even a flogger too. “I’m designing for somebody who is discerning and brave,” explained Mariani on the kind of woman she has in mind for her designs. “Preferably one who likes rock too!”
Here, we speak with Mariani about R&M Leathers and her new zine.
How did you first get into design?
Ruby Mariani: Growing up I was always surrounded by music, I first became obsessed with the stage wear and costumes of the artists. I still have this image in my head of a punk warrior woman on a record sleeve that I saw as a child, it definitely stuck with me. Later, as I got into music and the obsession developed.
How would describe your R&M Leathers’ aesthetic?
Ruby Mariani: Heavy leather wear. As if John Sutcliffe designed the outfits for Easyriders’ cover girls.
What were some of your inspirations for the collection?
Ruby Mariani: Smokey, Cycle queens, and the art of Philip Lawvere.
Why do you enjoy working with leather? Is there a wider message working with a material that is usually deemed ‘masculine’?
Ruby Mariani: There is something very tough and masculine about leather. Historically and functionally it’s been used as armour, and to protect people on the road and on the battlefield. I like the idea of using it on functionless underwear worn as outerwear, with that history attached.
Why was it important for you to present the collection via a zine?
Ruby Mariani: I love the personalised and private nature of someone ordering leather garments from a catalogue and posting away the mail order form. In an age where everything is available online, I wanted to bring things back to a more simple, personal experience. If someone is willing to wait for the item to be handmade rather than an instant purchase, they have to really love the item.
“There is something very tough and masculine about leather. I like the idea of using it on functionless underwear as outerwear with that history attached” – Ruby Mariani
How long have you been collecting fetish catalogues for? Were there any that you took inspiration from for your zine?
Ruby Mariani: I’ve collected them for years. Sadly, a lot of them are businesses that don’t exist anymore. Several inspired R&M Leather Vol. 1. I have a custom shoe catalogue from 1974, where you have a picture of a foot and you draw the straps/heel/platforms on and post it away. The results are the most extreme and torturous shoes I’ve ever seen.
Why was it important for you to reclaim fetish and heavy metal subcultures?
Ruby Mariani: When you’re an actual fan or participant in the subculture, it’s hurtful to see a pop star or high street store capitalising on an aesthetic that genuinely means something to people, only to misrepresent it or throw it away.
Ruby Mariani: I’m hoping to be able to continue making these garments and expand on the catalogue/zine format. I have a few collaborations lined up too.