El Pais Spain
By: Tatiana Escobar Casares | August 17, 2012
Petra dos Santos is a German designer of fetish style who works exclusively with leather. Recent winner of the prestigious German Fetish Design Award, her workshop is in Berlin and this summer she visited Madrid. Her creations are found in the finest erotic boutiques in Europe and for a few years have triumphed in Tokyo: corsets, vests, skirts and garter belts that combine with a complete catalogue of accessories – from necklaces and masks to leggings and harnesses – and instruments for SM pleasure, such as whips, handcuffs, paddles and gags. Her motto: “Quality. Individuality. Aesthetics. Ethics.”
We met ten years ago, when I was travelling through Berlin with my partners in search of exclusive pieces for La Juguetería. Upon discovering an advertisement for the workshop dos santos in a gay SM magazine, I called her to set up an appointment, presenting ourselves as newcomers to the area with a dream to open the first erotic boutique in Spain. Petra was about to hang up the phone, saying that she didn’t belong to any industry and certainly not that of sex. Since then, we laugh every time anyone says the words “sex industry.” An industry which, for sure, has had a generational change and a transformation from within to give more weight to quality and design.
Do you still insist in not belonging to the sex industry? I agree with you that now we see more design, more quality and it’s possible to feel a sense of aesthetics. But for me it is a delicate subject, because as soon as I hear the word “industry,” what comes to my mind is the opposite of how I define my work. I think about mass production, bad working conditions and a lot of ugly things… So, of course, in this sense, I will always say: “No, I don’t belong to any industry because I believe in the philosophy of sustainability and awareness and that is not represented in most industry dynamics.” It’s also true that you can actually find really extraordinary things in this market, but they continue to be the exception. I think: “Wow! How marvelous! There are people out there that think like me, that have this genuine interest in doing things well or improving on them, in being conscious of what they do and how they do it.” I think I could identify with designers that share this vision, but even so, thinking about the large umbrella of the sex industry, I’ll keep saying: “No. That is not me.”
Leather is the material and fetish is the code, but I would like to go over the principles under which those who work in the workshop dos santos, the circumstances which surround the production of your pieces and, in particular, about this motto that sums up your work: “Quality. Individuality. Aesthetic. Ethics.” Unfortunatelythere´s more cheap bad leather available then good one. To accelerate the proceeding of the leather production a bunch of toxic substances is used, including some potential carcinogenic. Of course it´s all about “making money”. After reading and learning a lot about that, it was clear to me that I will not support that and work exclusively with the highest quality leather, produced and certified in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, along with certain pieces specially made in Italy and France. The most important thing is that the leather is of exceptional quality without the tanners having to expose themselves to dangerous substances like for example cancer causing substances like PCP.
Can you guarantee that in your supply chain there are also people who share your vision for these ethics applied on working with leather? Without a doubt. I know that choosing this material contributes to the environment and the health of the people who work in this leather business, and they assure me that they work in the optimal conditions and with good salaries…
We’re talking about a kind of fair trade? Yes, because it is possible to follow step by step to the very origin of the piece and you will never discover anywhere in the process that there has been any child labor, exploited for 20 hours a day, using toxic substances in exchange for a miserable salary. The very selection of the materials forms a part of a bigger purpose: it’s not just the toxins, but also the working conditions, of the tanners and the impact this process has on the environment. And of course, if you touch the material – including someone who doesn’t have this information and isn’t an expert in the subject – you can feel it immediately, the touch tells. When you touch it or smell it, you know: all the care, the good work and the passion for the work is imbued in the material - and of course in the final product. I´m certain about this, because everyone who touch my leather pieces for the first time always react with a: “Wow! I’ve never touched leather so nice, so soft and so beautiful.”
It’s surprising that a conversation about fetish design places such importance on these values. Who would imagine that leather fetishists had a “green” conscience? Well, yes.. it is possible to find aware people in the leather scene, like in any other scene, connected or not to a sexual practice. The issue of lovers of BDSM always was "safe, sane and consent". A motto of my taste! And fortunately people excist that not only have good taste, a sense of aesthetics and appreciate well-made things, quality and the pure beauty of a piece, but also the process and the origin of the materials. Sometimes I hear things in my workshop such as “I’ve been looking for a corset for a long time, I’ve tried on hundreds, I’ve bought this and that…” But none is really the piece they’ve been looking for. Naturally you have to spend a little more money, but in exchange you get exactly what you want, what you want to wear; it’s a very different sensation… you know that it’s made to your measurements, and you know that every step in its creation it’s been in the hands of someone who has worked in the best conditions, giving the best of themselves. You know exactly where it comes from, where it’s been made and who made it.
And all of this forms part of the beauty of each piece… Of course! There is a history behind each one. And I like to think that every time you put it on you also have that great sensation. I want the people who wear my pieces to have good feelings.
MADE BY HAND IN BERLIN
Berlin has played a primordial role for decades in the search of sexual expression and the evolution of sexual identities. And one of the best kept secrets of the world capital of fetish is the workshop dos santos, located in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, at number 119 on Mehringdamm Street. Climbing the scares that take you to Belle Étage, you arrive at a hallway: to the right, the wooden floor is blood red and leads to the show room where the creations are shown, in a large salón with high ceilings where there are always fresh flowers, a tea pot full of herbal teas, a vintage record player playing music by Bertolt Brecht or David Bowie and a cat with three-colored coat who acts as the perfect hostess in the shadows while the visitor delights in the feel of the most exquisite leather in whips or suspenders or corsets.
To the left, a distinct smell of tanned leather with touches of glue and macciato latte announces the hectic labor that marks the days in the shop, between beautiful sewing machines left from other decades, the tacking station, rings, buttons and an endless number of rivets, and an enormous work table with tools of the trade and a collection of patterns.
What kind of music do you listen to in your workshop while you’re making corsets, harnesses, handcuffs or whips? Ha ha ha… My musical tastes are, let’s say, extremely diverse, from punk-rock to French chanson and classical music… I really like extraordinary music.
Very wide, yes! I like to work with music and David Bowie and Patty Smith never fail. Now, for example, there are two songs I listen to every day: Patty Smith’s version of Nirvana’s Smell Like a Teen Spirit, which has to be the best cover in history, and The Cigarette Duet, by Princess Chelsea, an indie singer from New Zealand.
What is the most unexpected or surprising request you’ve ever received?
I guess for some people a big part of my work would be unexpected or surprising… For me, after 16 years dedicated to this, I think you could come to me with any idea or wish and for me everything is simply normal. Nothing is unexpected or impossible. We’re individuals and we have individual ideas, unique, and my work is to help everyone get what they want. Nothing is strange. Nothing.
If one of our readers is in Berlin and wants to visit your workshop, what should they do? You can visit my studio Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Opening hours can change from summer to winter time.. On my webside you´ll find always the actual opening hours. In general I prefer appointments. It’s always best to call first.
How does the leather scene live in the German capital? Berlin and Hamburg are the principal cities for the leather scene in Germany. Berlin is a very cosmopolitan city where people are constantly arriving from all over the world, many with artistic or sexual concerns, or both. Everyone knows that there is a very extraordinary fetish scene in Berlin, which works all over: there is an ample number of initiatives for gay men, lesbians, heterosexuals and since a few years we have more initiatives from the queer community: parties and events where you can meet a lot of people that identify as queer… There are many organized communities, and as it has always been in Berlin, everything is possible. Basically, there are a lot of places: let’s say you have a special desire, like wearing a corset. In Berlin there are dozens of places and parties where you can go wearing a corset… Every concern that one has finds an echo, a refuge. And no matter how savage your desires, you will end up finding someone that shares your fantasies, people disposed to share the same desires.
And all these places specialize in a specific fetish?
Not always, there are also parties where everything goes. You can see people around you dressed in latex, with corsets, burlesque style, drag kings, rockabilly… all together. There isn’t a strict sense of separation of fetishes. Of course, if you are a purist, there are also events in the corset ghetto, leather or latex... But there are always more open spaces where you can enjoy any passion you’re feeling in particular without ever feeling out of place. That is what I like the most about Berlin.
Some advice for novices – What should you never do to a piece of leather in order to conserve it in good condition?
Leather is a very grateful material. There is no need to carry out continuous and tedious treatments, like in the case of latex, for example. Leather simply needs to be cleaned with a damp cloth and then apply a little leather oil or leather lotion (similar to body lotion) and that’s it. And never, never, NEVER apply grease, like that which is used on shoes. Following these simple steps your clothing and accessories will always be beautiful and fresh. It’s a material that can last many years… as many as the passion for the material!
What is your favorite brand of dildos to use with your harnesses?
Oh! For that question I have some fabulous advice. It’s a small business founded and run by women in the USA. The name is Vixen Creations and they work with the same philosophy as my workshop. They’ve been making dildos from silicone of the highest quality for a decade and I highly recommend them. Regarding vibrators, I would recommend the brand Lelo which is simply the best.
Finally, what do you think of Madrid six years after your last visit? Of course, in the last few years I heard from all my friends how the crisis has affected Spain in a way ever more brutal, and you can see this or feel it in some way. I feel it in the insecurity, the uncertainty, in the fact that people are scared because they don’t know what will happen economical… But still, the Spanish will always be Spanish: people that simply love life and you can see them in the streets and on the sidewalks enjoying themselves, laughing, drinking, telling a thousand and one stories, so you never feel a sensation of “oh my God, these people are sad and worried!” The worry and the uncertainty is in the air, but fortunately you keep enjoying the fact of being alive.