Charles Guyette, Godfather of American Fetish Art
Richard Pérez Seves
@: buy it online
How can you not root for passionate underdogs? Take Richard Pérez Seves, the author of this and other books about the early fetish culture epitomized by John Willie, Stanton, Bettie Page and other household names for kinksters. While undoubtedly a truly great historian, he let his passion corner himself in a professionally unglamorous niche but doing so he is evidently realizing his dreams – and those of a small cadre of readers worldwide who are just as passionate as him about corsets, high heels and the such.
His latest work is about yet another passionate fellow, the relatively unknown Charles Guyette (1902-1976), and his fetish photos. Or, more precisely, the photos featuring his outrageous custom footwear and “theatrical props”, for Guyette was the prime supplier of the articles worn in almost all of the special interest pictures produced in the United States until the 1980s.
The book collects hundreds of such photos, but the truly interesting parts are those you won’t find on countless kinky websites too. More specifically, the few articles written about Guyette during his lifetime, and a series of interesting memorabilia such as the advertisements he published for decades under several pseudonyms to promote his business. Which become the basis to reconstruct his curious life.
Without spoiling the contents, it turns out that Guyette was inspired in his youth by the relatively uninhibited culture of carnivals and sideshows, and he developed a fascination for the kind of women he couldn’t find in mainstream America. While his neighbors praised the asexual, passive blandness of Doris Day, he kept busy making ultra-high heeled leather boots for a shadier kind of ladies, and he had an actual boxing ring hidden in the back of his shop as a photoset – but mostly in the hope that a couple of ‘fighting females’, as he called them, passed by to have a match.
The result was that he became the enabler of a full subculture celebrating a fantasy world that he and his clients and friends insisted to present as normal and true… until, many decades later, it finally entered the global narrative. One can only wonder how would he react to this year’s fashion shows, where thigh-high boots are actually mainstream.
The other fascinating aspect of Guyette story, at least for me, was his apparent “pure” fetishism: a love for the materials and the items themselves that left no room for the bodies wearing them or what you could do with them. You can see it for example in this terrible photo of a book spread featuring one of his early creations:
The picture on the left comes from the archives of the French boutique Yva Richard, the first ever to cater to a fetish clientele. Guyette saw it, and immediately went to work to create an identical girdle – which he did, but as you can see in the picture on the right, he misplaced the suspenders giving them center focus… but also a position that made wearing the item next to impossible, and prevented any sexual activity. Aren’t nerds cute?
As the story goes, Guyette went on to ditch proper fetish stuff in a sense, and producing rhinestone G-strings which he sold at astronomical prices equal to one full month’s salary of the average American. He seems therefore to have been also the inventor of the so-called “kink tax” on unusual erotic items (did you ever noticed how the same clamp costs $0.10 at the DIY store and $15 in a sex shop?), but this notwithstanding he had two more persons besides himself making those G-strings to cover the requests.
The rest, you’ll have to learn directly from this unique book celebrating outsiders everywhere. And who knows whether kink writers will become mainstream too some day…