Boutique Bazaar: London’s unique fetish/alt-fashion fair.
Le Boutique Bazaar has notched up three years showcasing the best of London’s up-and-coming, edgy fetish and alternative fashion brands at its pop-up shopping emporium in Shoreditch. Following its busiest event so far during October’s London Fetish Weekend, Tony Mitchell talks to Charlotte TG, one half of the LBB team, about the ethos that has made it so successful. Cover/banner by Gothic Image shows Eli Li and Ayesha H in Pandora Deluxe and Torture Garden latex respectively
Although there are other more frequent fetish-related markets such as LAM in London, and internationally famous fairs at big annual events like the German Fetish Ball Weekend in Berlin, Boutique Bazaar’s offering remains unique.
This carefully curated event’s core mission is to support newer designers and smaller brands offering fetish fashion and edgy accessories. While you might find the occasional purveyor of pervy toys in the mix, LBB is pretty much exclusively about wearable style.
Launched in September 2014, Boutique Bazaar’s current four outings a year are the product of a partnership between Torture Garden, in the person of club manager Charlotte TG, and Alexandra ‘Alex’ Houston, founder of Wasted Chic, a front-runner in the capital’s pop-up fashion sales world.
By chance, Torture Garden regular Alex approached the club with a proposal for a TG-endorsed retailing pop-up at the very time Charlotte was looking for a side-project that would allow more expression for her creative talents.
For Charlotte, this was an opportunity too good to miss — as she explains when we meet in a quiet Rotherhithe pub not far from TG’s south-east London headquarters:
“I’d been frustrated a lot as manager of the club by the people who showed up not in dresscode, who just seemed troubled about how they could buy outfits.
“With the launch of LBB we kind of took that excuse away then and there, by creating a go-to place with multiple designers, supported by TG.”
Le Boutique Bazaar’s key appearances are always scheduled to occur shortly before Torture Garden’s biggest dates: its Valentine’s Balls (February), Birthday Ball (usually May), Halloween Balls (October/November) and Winter/Christmas Ball (early December).
The timing is designed to allow LBB’s traders a chance to sell to, or take orders from, people planning to attend these specific major events — not just fetish folk but also the much broader crowd the biggest TG nights appeal to.
The October LBB also attracts people shopping for Halloween outfits and general pre-Christmas partywear, and the last LBB of the year (on November 26 this year) provides a final chance to choose Christmas gifts and Christmas/New Year party attire from the Bazaar’s large range of affordable goodies.
The four regular LBBs are all held at trendy Shoreditch venue McQueen, not far from Old Street tube station.
“McQueen are great to work with,’ says Charlotte. “They’re very fetish friendly, they get what we’re about, they’re really supportive of us — and I’m sure they also like the bar spend that comes in as people shop!”
This year for the first time, following a Wasted Chic collaboration earlier in the summer, Boutique Bazaar also teamed up with Satanic Flea Markets in late August to present Taboo Bazaar at Old Spitalfields Market.
“We couldn’t have anything not family-friendly there,” Says Charlotte, “but it was absolutely buzzing all day and I think Spitalfields is a great London Sunday thing to do anyway.”
Events like the Spitalfields day will, she thinks, always be “extras” tagged on to the Boutique’s four key outings of the year — where, she reckons, the customer base has evolved considerably since LBB’s launch.
For many visitors, Boutique Bazaar has become as much a social occasion as a shopping opportunity. Unsurprising, perhaps, given its friendly atmosphere — enhanced, incidentally, by LBB’s DJs mixing sociable sounds and McQueen’s bar staff mixing quaffable cocktails.
‘Later in the day, you get the people who’ve been to whatever party the night before rolling in for hair of the dog and some emergency shopping’ – Charlotte
“There’s always a lot of fetish faces,” Charlotte says. “Later in the day, you get the people who’ve been to whatever party the night before rolling in for hair of the dog and some emergency shopping to help them feel better on hangover day.
“We also get a lot of first-timers who see it as a chance to check out the scene a little bit, since it’s not a dresscode event — though we’ve had a few assuming it is extreme dresscode!”
Charlotte and Alex maintain a high profile at the event, circulating around the three sales floors and chatting with stallholders and visitors throughout the six hour duration of each LBB.
And while they don’t impose a dresscode on their visitors, you can pretty much guarantee they’ll both be dressed for the occasion in some eye-catching latex.
“I’ve realised that I’m often wearing some of my best outfits for the first time to LBB because everyone actually sees them,” says Charlotte.
“At TG I’m running around all night in a dark space, often with my coat on, so people don’t notice the details. Whereas at Boutique Bazaar you properly get to show off what you’re wearing — your style choices — and that’s really nice.”
In case it’s not yet abundantly clear, Charlotte and Alex are self-confessed latex addicts and shopaholics. Which means they are as likely as any LBB visitor to be found trying outfits on and buying stuff at the event they host.
“There are so many occasions I need outfits for at the moment,” Charlotte admits. “I use that as an excuse to panic-shop for sale items — at the Meat Clothing stall for example.” (The dress she’s wearing in this article’s photo galleries came from Meat.)
“I think the cleverer designers do often bring some samples and some stuff that’s accessibly priced for people who perhaps come in for the first time and don’t want to commit to a hugely expensive piece,” she reckons.
“Latex — well all the best people I know love it, but it’s not for everyone. So to be able to try that out a little
With room at McQueen for at most about 45 stalls, every Boutique Bazaar has a waiting list of traders hoping to get a space. But at this year’s London Fetish Weekend event, there was even more pressure on space than usual.
“The LFW one had an enormous waiting list,” Charlotte reveals, “and it was so packed. LFW definitely brings a slightly different clientèle. We really like being part of that, actually.
“There are more overseas people — I thought it was a great crowd. We get people showing up with their suitcases after they’ve checked out of the hotel in the morning, and having a couple of drinks before starting their journey home.”
As for the vendors themselves, most are based in or around London, although a few more distant brands that fit the event’s profile have also found a welcome there.
For example, the recent LFW edition included latex fashion from Liverpool-based Amentium (subject of our October cover story) and from Berlin label Chronomatic, appearing at LBB for the first time (“I love their stuff”, Charlotte enthuses).
There were also leather harness designs from another first-timer, Haley Johnstone, who brought her Demon & Diocese creations all the way from Canada.
That LFW event also featured, for the first time, a whole roomful of latex — on the ground floor where the entrance is. Charlotte admits this was a source of great personal temptation during the day. “It was difficult not to spend more than I earned!” she laughs.
For latex fans, Boutique Bazaar regularly showcases a variety of designers who have studios and may also have showrooms you can visit (usually by appointment), but don’t have walk-in shops in the traditional sense.
‘Alex and I like extreme fashion. We like dressing up, over the top, and we didn’t want loads of just black rubber — though of course there’s a big place for that stuff’
Among such brands you are likely to see there are respected names like Bondinage, Dead Lotus Couture, EctoMorph, House of Harlot, Lacing Lilith, Pandora Deluxe and Torture Garden Latex.
Noticeably absent from the mix, however, are large-scale latex-shifters like Libidex and Honour/Skin Two.
This might seem strange, but it fits with LBB’s policy of carefully curating the brands it gives floorspace to.
“When we started, it was very much that we didn’t want to have the same stuff that was already around,” Charlotte explains.
“Alex and I like extreme fashion. We like dressing up, over the top, and we didn’t want loads of just black rubber — though of course there’s a big place for stuff like that.
“But we’ve all seen the traditional designs. And the fashion we wear every day changes, so the fashion we wear at fetish clubs has to change too.
“When we go on sale for an event, we have some core traders that have done loads of events, and a huge variety of people, some latex labels, and people like Second Coming which does vintage clothing.
“We think it’s really important to offer a variety not just of products but of price points too. Not everyone is in the same budget range and we don’t want anyone to feel they can’t shop with us.”
Since providing access to new brands is a major priority for Boutique Bazaar, part of its philosophy is to keep the cost of exhibiting there as low as possible.
To take an example at the bottom of the scale, a jewellery designer selling from a single table would pay around £40 for their space. At the other end of the price range, a latex brand taking one of the largest spaces to accommodate two or three clothing rails could expect to shell out about £120.
And when it comes to sourcing all those new brands you see at LBB, Charlotte gives full credit to her business partner Alex.
“Alex is all over fashion, the up and coming designers. It’s so what she lives for! She’s on Instagram all the time and she sees people, hounds them to become part of the event.
“Because our policy is to have a variety of prices, and we also have a variety customers, Alex might bring in a couple of brands from her Wasted Chic events that are more aimed at the fashion scene than the fetish scene.”
And when fetish people see this stuff at LBB, says Charlotte, they often realise it’s something that would also work in a fetish context.
“We really want to encourage originality, and the more choice you give people — without giving them 50 million choices to be overwhelmed with — the more inspiration it gives.
“I think it’s the only way you grow, and don’t just have the same big brands. We all know from the major expos that there are bigger brands that can afford to take a huge stand and have a bit of a dominant presence.
“But we want to give a step up to the people who just have great ideas and are not yet at the point of mass-producing.
“These are people you can speak to and get a detailed change made for you. For example I’ll see Mags at Pandora Deluxe talking to someone and saying ‘You can have this in any colour’, and people just don’t think about that.
“Until you give them that option, and then they’re like, ‘Wait, you mean I can have this style in that colour combination?
“Or take a brand like Dollies Little Folies that does the amazing headdresses. You see people come and get something unique and special.
“And that’s what we want — Alex and I want to dress like that. You don’t want to see the person next to you in the same outfit.”