Who? As Michel Foucault famously attested, we often presume that contemporary society is singularly sexually liberated, that those who came before us were far more conservative, even their innermost fantasies more bourgeois than ours. That is, of course, completely untrue – a fact proven by the prevalence of fetishwear lingerie in the 1920s and 30s, an arena that was dominated by two rival companies: Yva Richard and Diana Slip. While Yva Richard was founded by a husband and wife duo who documented their ball gags and leather corsetry in a style later employed by the likes of 80s magazines like AtomAge (and now, the fashion industry at large), Diana Slip was created by Léon Vidal and commissioned renowned photographers Roger Schall and Brassaï to communicate their seductive vision. Offering chiffon ouverts, thigh-high boots and plenty of whips, theirs was a brand that celebrated S&M subversion in its most elegantly refined form.
What? In the 1930s, Léon Vidal created Les Editions Gauloise (later, Les Libraires Nouvelles): a company which comprised a diverse assortment of boutiques, bookshops and manufacturers, each devoted to fulfilling fetishists' every desire. Diana Slip formed part of this network and, as well as offering lingerie (“très suggestifs” reads their advertisement, which offers “toutes les commandes particulières”), the Parisian store, located at number 9 Rue Richepanse in the 8ème, contained everything from racy reading materials to aphrodisiacs and rare erotic photography. “Would you like to read something really daring?” asks one advertisement. “My collection contains the most audacious, the most licentious books published in English. (Illustrated)." For those who couldn't make it down to the store itself but were still in want of a suggestive lace robe or a full rubber outfit, Diana Slip offered discreet courier shipping.
Why? Because, first and foremost, today is National Sex Day: an opportunity for all of us to celebrate all forms of provocation. And secondly, because any erotica that employs the likes of Brassaï to document its offerings is worthy of remembrance. The photographers employed to catalogue the pieces on offer were strapped for cash (it was, of course, the depression) – but sex sells, and even the thriftiest of times maintain an active economy when it comes to titillation. Thus, Diana Slip offered a job in times of hardship, and plenty more besides for its active consumer base. Although it disappeared during World War II, the enduring appeal of its images prove the Foucaultian repressive hypothesis entirely accurate: it's not just in 2016 that people want whips, chains and crotchless knickers.