FASHION / Safe Word

Steven Harwick shot by Isaac Emmons in Brooklyn, NY

Personal style is often deeply informed by where we're from. Would you say this is true for you?

I would say absolutely. My personal style now is a bit all over the place. But all of those threads can be traced to my upbringing. Some days I dress like my middle school self - a bit mall goth, emo boy, MySpace vibes. Some days I dress more like the boys that would bully me - camo, workwear, Dickies, rural NJ Walmart vibes. And then other days it's pure nostalgia/fantasy. Which is also very much traced to my childhood. I would spend hours and hours in my room going through old magazines, or (once it was a possibility) the Internet -- finding inspiration in photos from CBGBs and the 70s/80s NYC punk/no wave scene. And of course, old Physique Pictorials and Bob Mizer photos that highlighted leather men of the 60s. I think clothing is innately transformative and escapist. You can be whoever you want to be and mix influences from all over the map to come up with your own personal style. And that power is present in all clothes, but may only mean something to the wearer and no one else.

When did you decide you were headed to NYC?

I think the first time I came here. I grew up an hour away in suburban New Jersey, but I had family in Manhattan I would visit from an early age. There was just an energy or feeling in the city that felt magnetic. And that was just confirmed over and over again by watching films and reading about NYC history that I felt drawn to -- Warhol, Mapplethorpe, Lydia Lunch, etc. It seemed like the place for a misfit artist to find their kin. And when the opportunity came to pick schools for college, I only looked in New York City. I've been in Brooklyn now for just about 8 years. 

When were you first introduced to the world of BDSM?

Also through movies and art. I remember being visually attracted to leather from a very early age. And then everything kind of catalyzed when I was a teenager and found Mapplethorpe and Tom of Finland books at the library. Then, thankfully, we were in the age of the Internet and things kind of evolved from there. But it's such a common feeling with people I've spoken to -- having these feelings and attractions, thinking you're alone and crazy, and then finding out that it's (somewhat) common and there are others out there! Whether that takes a long time or a short time -- the Internet kind of speeds along the process of connecting with like-minded individuals -- it's a refreshing realization seeing you're not alone.

Would you consider your work more fashion or fetish?

I have the convenience of working in both fields. I started out in fashion photography and still work in it as my day job. And have been interested in high fashion from an early age as well. And then my personal, sexual preferences lean towards fetish, and have been exploring "fetish photography" in my own work. I would say that fetish photography is inherently rooted in fashion as it's mainly about the clothing. I think a lot of the imagery I see that is "fetish" photography can be borderline pornographic, which, don't get me wrong, is appealing to look at! But for me, I am drawn to clothing -- and the people that wear it -- and how it transforms people. So in my own work, it's more about highlighting the clothing and the people that wear them. It's a blessing to have a traditional fashion photography mental library to draw from as well as the iconic fetish photographers. A mix of both is what I find the most interesting for myself to explore.

How does it change you on the inside to be in an all leather outfit?

For me, it's natural. It feels comfortable and secure and a total trip that clothing has that psychological power. In terms of strict regulations with gear, etc. -- it's expensive! So I started out thrifting and buying second-hand and cobbling together leather looks I was proud of that I could also afford. Sometimes these pieces are mixed into my 'everyday' looks - and it's a bit more punk-y or whatever with leather mixed in. And sometimes my 'everyday' look is head to toe leather. Depends! I am a big proponent on leather leaving the closet and bedroom and getting some air-time on the streets!

What feedback are you getting from publishing Bound Leather Zine?

It's been extremely amazing and positive! I started the zine as a means to showcase people that may not have seen themselves in 'traditional' leather imagery. For me, confidence and comfortability are sexy -- most likely because those are attributes in myself I struggle with constantly. So, regardless of race, size, gender identity, age, etc., if someone is into leather and feels more like themselves when wearing it, I think it's hot and want to photograph it! The outpouring of support has been humbling and I am so excited to continue the project.

Some people in the BDSM scene take it very seriously. Is there room for a sense of humor?

I think it's important to know your history and I myself have more to learn in that regard. I also think there was something very elite/closed-off about the leather community in the past. And I for one am all for inclusiveness. Since the Internet I feel like more people have been able to join in and feel a part of the community. And as for a sense of humor -- I sure as hell hope there's room! In this day and age, things are so grim and serious and scary -- especially for marginalized communities. And if this is something that turns you on, it deserves to be treated with a light heart and with fun in mind! At the same time, I think consent within the BDSM community is a huge talking point right now and incredibly important. So, at the end of the day -- fun and humor are great and necessary, so long as everyone involved is happy and safe!

hoodie from Dave's Army Navy, vintage leather overalls & bandana / beret & sunglasses from Dave's Army Navy, shirt & pants by Dickies, long sleeve t-shirt by Hot Topic, socks by Dr. Martens, sneakers by Converse / gloves by Damascus, leather pants & muir cap by The Leather Man NYC, chain by KTZ, boots by Dan Post, vintage shirt & jacket / hat by Cabela's, vintage vest & bandana / t-shirt by Lockwood51 x Sally, shorts by OAK, vintage vest self-embellished by model, vintage flannel & boots