Skin Two: The Long Goodbye

In addition to the many magazines we’ve already mentioned, one of the biggest influences on Coilhouse was Skin Two, the legendary UK fetish mag that’s been around since 1984. Skin Two and the print version of Coilhouse actually share quite a few contributors. David Hindley, who shot the “All Yesterday’s Parties” story in Issue 01, also shot the cover of SK2’s Issue 42 (see below, bottom left). And Nelly Recchia, who appeared in Issue 01’s “People as Pets,” is actually an artist I first discovered in SK2 Issue 51. Other SK2 alums found in Coilhouse Issue 01 include Scar, Atsuko Kudo and Mother of London. Issue 01’s inside cover, conceived by Mildred, was a direct nod to Skin Two’s influence.

And now, the undeniable truth is out: Skin Two is folding. Everyone who’s been following the mag saw this coming from a mile away. Since Skin Two hasn’t brought itself to make a formal announcement, here’s their former editor, Tony Mitchell, spilling the beans (perhaps with a bit of glee) on his blog:

Skin Two magazine is ceasing publication. Information posted on the skintwo.com website states that a new product, the Skin Two Yearbook, is taking over from the legendary fetish journal. Speculation about the impending demise of the magazine was sparked two weeks ago by an e-mail revealing that Liz Tray, its only full-time employee, was leaving the company. Something about the low-key style of this announcement suggested that a bigger story might be about to break. Then, at the end of October, it became evident that all references to advertising in Skin Two magazine had been removed from the Skin Two website. The ‘advertising’ link from the main navigation menu leads to a page that lists all the Skin Two products in which advertising can be bought — and Skin Two magazine is no longer on that list.

Will the current issue 59 be the last, or will the mag carry on to notch up a full 60 editions — or more — before closing? And when will the first Yearbook actually appear? In familiar Skin Two style, no publication date has been given, though blurb on the website refers to it as if it is already in print.

Skin Two was the first truly alt magazine I ever stumbled on, at age 13 (for the fashion, at first), and it inspired me in ways I can’t even count. I still get inspired for Coilhouse, looking at my stack of old Skin Two’s. Having eventually worked with Skin Two, I got to experience the best and worst of it. At its best, this magazine was beautiful, subversive, sexy and strange. At its worst, it was sleazy, tacky and boring. What killed Skin Two? Could anything have saved it? A completely arbitrary, incomplete, biased and NSFW history of Skin Two (with pictures of my favorite and not-so-favorite covers!), after the jump.

Issue 01. The first issue of Skin Two appeared in 1984. Published out of a cellar in Soho, Issue 01 of Skin Two was only 16 pages, black and white, and stapled together. The founders were publisher Tim Woodward and photographer Grace Lau.

Issues 05, 06. By Issue 05 (left), Skin Two had developed its signature look. The logo became large and bold, and two slashes (nail scratches? highlights on a glossy fabric?) were added over the name. This is still Skin Two’s logo today. Three inks on the cover indicate that the magazine was on a budget, but the cover photography was already very classy (er, most of the time.) The tone was very serious, with cover titles like “Sadomasochism and Society.”

Issues 11, 13. The Golden Age of Skin Two. Striking images on clean, white backgrounds, with a diverse and very interesting set of articles and contributors. During this era, under spunky editrix Michelle Olley, Skin Two interviewed fetish influences as diverse as Clive Barker, Tim Burton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Debbie Harry and The Cramps. Sex machines, virtual reality, and pop art are just some of the topics covered.

Issues 27, 16. Skin Two continues to be awesome, all through the 90s. Editor Tony Mitchell enters the mix, eventually replacing Michelle Olley. Music coverage continues to be interesting – highlights include Genitortures, Diamanda Galas and Marc Almond. Most importantly, the magazine is not afraid to feature weird-looking people who genuinely represent the London fetish scene. Covers are loud, proud and in-your-face. The magazine is one giant, pervy comic book.

Issues 49, 51. Uh-oh, what’s going on? Porno-looking girls start to rule the covers in the early aughts. Despite claims of striving towards becoming the Vogue of latex, most of the time Skin Two ends up looking more like Hustler. Emily Marilyn (blond, fake boobs), Masuimi Max (blond, fake boobs), Zdenka Podkova (blond, fake boobs), Bianca Beauchamp (red hair, fake boobs), and Susan Wayland (blond, fake boobs) have their heyday as fetish cover girls.  Did the tastes of the editors change, or was Skin Two simply trying to keep up with competition? Skin Two still featured playful, alt-y stuff like the work of TvdS and Lukas Zpira, but that was no longer the main focus. I don’t know who picked the hideous, trying-too-hard-to-be-sexy covers. Some people told me that every bad cover was publisher’s decision, others told me the opposite, that it was the editor. I’m sure there were good and bad covers under both. Issue 47 by Stephen McClure was the last great cover before the the silicone appeared, and remains one of my favorite covers of any magazine; not just Skin Two.

Issue 50. My first photo appeared in Issue 49, and I got the cover of Issue 50. When advising me on what images to submit for fashion editorials, Tony suggested that I don’t send in any models with facial piercings or strange-colored hair. I was crushed by this directive. Despite that… they decided to use this image! Tony encouraged me all the way when I did this, coaching me on what makes a strong cover (eye contact! bold colors! a total revelation to me at the time) before I did the shoot. It was all was a huge surprise to me after the discouraging talk about picking “normal” models. The model/hairpiece designer was Feisty Diva, and the outfit was HW Design. I actually hated this photo for a long time (all I saw were my mistakes, like bad composition and overexposure), but I’m finally warming up to it.

Issue 55. Very soon afterward, they did this – my least favorite Skin Two cover of all time. Seriously, why are they throwing Skittles at her? No disrespect to Gerard Musy, who’s shot many incredible images before and since, but… what’s going on here? Why?

Issues 56, 57. Year 2006. The original publisher, Tim Woodward, ousts long-time editor Tony Mitchell. The split is ugly; the two do not part on good terms. Issue 56, right, features the last writing Mitchell ever did for Skin Two. Woodward promises readers a more serious, back-to-basics fetish journal; more of an emphasis on BDSM and serious writing, less focus on pinup, fashion and “pretty girls in rubber frocks,” something he claimed was an obsession of Tony’s.  As a result of the decreased fashion coverage, several fashion advertisers leave. The cult of the fetish model is banished; the Skin Two cover girl hasn’t looked this anonymous since the magazine’s earliest days. The articles sound interesting, but the magazine still lacks the wild, spontaneous luster of the 90s. Magazines begin appearing at a less frequent, less regular rate.

To me, the new emphasis on heady articles and the attempt to reinstate abstract, artistic covers of Ye Olde Skin Two was refreshing. But I never got involved with this new Skin Two; Tony was the one who brought me into the magazine, and when he left, I didn’t feel right staying involved. I didn’t even feel right buying a copy. And then there was this…

Issue 59. And so it ends – in a grey alley. What happened, Skin Two? If you wanted to make your magazine less “pretty” and more BDSM, why did you let this girl wander off the set for GQ and end up in your frame? Was the quality of this photo meant to be an homage to your early, low-budget covers? How did you get here?

In the end, I don’t think it was Tony’s fault, or Tim’s fault. Maybe the problem was having two people with very different definitions of “fetish” constantly vying for what the magazine should stand for, swinging the title back and forth until readers got dizzy. Or maybe the Internet killed it; maybe the magazine’s most important function was fostering a sense of community among pervs, something that’s much easier facilitated online. If that’s the case, the magazine should’ve become a fetish object itself in terms of the quality of photography and design. Easier said than done, I know.

24 Responses to “Skin Two: The Long Goodbye”

  1. k paul blume Says:

    Oh well, it was always too expensive for me to read, anyway.

  2. Alicia Says:

    You mention the whole fake boobs (insert hair color) dynamic here… did they ever have non-white models at all, let alone for covers? I’m interested by what I see, but a little discouraged.

  3. David Forbes Says:

    Wow. Thank you for that look behind the curtain (and the striking images amongst it).

    What killed Skin Two? Could anything have saved it?

    Maybe. Maybe not. Keeping any creative project going over 20+ years is a pretty trying task, especially if some of the same people are involved throughout. The highly personal nature of alt publications can be a curse as well as a blessing (though I’ll take it over the other options any day). Publications I’ve seen, even very long lasting ones, usually have their golden ages and down periods.

    At its best, this magazine was beautiful, subversive, sexy and strange.

    The work continues.

  4. James Shearhart Says:

    I think Issue 11 was the first that I ever saw, working at a Tower Records in Irvine, CA. It was my first exposure to anything resembling fetish, and it was pretty heady stuff for the kids in the backroom. But I think it, like many other things, has been supplanted by teh internets, if not in content then certainly in the “free and plentiful” factor. Plus, one can be exposed in the comfort of one’s home, without the “smirking clerk” factor of retail. It sounds like the magazine just couldn’t create enough competitive content, and someone somewhere (still) refuses to cut it loose and move on….

  5. Io Says:

    Though I’m sad to see this old staple go, I will admit that after Tony left and the content changed, I also stopped reading.

    Like you, I began reading the magazine at a young age (age 15) — also for the fashion (well…mostly) at first, and I have every issue from then until Tony left — 10 years. To have been in one of the last issues of the mag under tony, even in just a featured party photo, was so awesome for me. To me, the aesthetic and articles within the magazine always appealed more to me than Marquis (with its love of highly artificial and over-inflated models) — it was my high end fetish fashion and lifestyle bible for so long.

    I hope that one day something will come along in the fetish print world to match it, but I fear that’s unlikely.

  6. Genevieve Bartel Says:

    Bravo, Nadya. Your discourse has very aptly and articulately surmised the demise of Skin Two. It’s not an issue of “whose fault was it” but moreso a sign of the tmes: internet accessibility and the pockets of pervery that define fetish allegiance here and there worldwide. I especially enjoyed reading your historical summary of the magazine. Well done!

  7. Warren Ellis » @network 5dec08 Says:

    [...] Coilhouse report that SKIN TWO magazine is shutting down, therefore ruining the lives of a generation of alt.boys who were expecting to be able to buy the [...]

  8. Nadya Says:

    Alicia: Skin Two featured a lot of Asian models. One of the covers above features Masuimi Max, who’s Korean. But she looks so white-washed in that shot, maybe it doesn’t count. But there were definitely other pictures inside the magazine that showed a more diverse scene. Another cover featured Kumi. There were also some Latina models; Mistress Persephone in the earlier days, and later Venus Prototype. I’m sure there are others that I’m forgetting. However I noticed that there was a conspicuous lack of black models at the time that I was working with Skin Two, so the one time they allowed me to write for them, that was the question I asked in my piece. I don’t have a scan of the article, but here’s one of the images I did to accompany it, of my friend Nyx:

    David: True, every magazine had that kind of life span. I guess I took it for granted that Skin Two would always be around; I wish it had stuck around longer.

    James: Yeah, that’s the thing. No one would be embarrassed to buy some of their older issues. Clerks wouldn’t smirk about it. It looked like an art magazine. It’s only when their covers went all porn-looking that it probably became an issue. The kind of people who were at the store to buy porn, they probably went straight for the porn magazines. And the kind of people who wanted an artistic, beautiful magazine were turned off, and instead went to producing that kind of stuff themselves on the web. Skin Two lost its old readership, and the new readership it was courting did not prove to be loyal enough to sustain the magazine.

    Genevieve: Thank you! I hesitate to call this a history because it’s very subjective, but I did try to provide my view of Skin Two’s basic phases. The best history of Skin Two can be found in Issue 50, where they talk about how the magazine evolved and who worked on it when in great depth. I kind of wish I had that issue on hand when I wrote this post.

    Io: Yeah… it’s weird. I stopped reading when Tony left because it really seemed like Tim really kicked him out in a bad way, and since I never even talked to Tim, I was like, “OK, it wouldn’t be right for me to be involved now.” BUT, judging just from the covers (the images, the coverlines) I’d say that right until the very last issue, I definitely saw an improvement in both the images chosen and the kind of topics covered. Again, I’m still unsure about who was responsible for what went on the cover when Tony and Tim ruled the magazine together, and their latest cover was really bad, so I want to shy away from statements about who picked the bad covers, and who picked the good ones. I don’t know. Also, if this had been a longer post I would’ve brought Marquis into it – but that’s a whole other post, maybe.

  9. christiane Says:

    Though I did stop reading for the past few issues, I’m really sad to see Skin Two go. I’m not afraid to admit it was my main ambition when I first started modelling (late 2004) to one day be on the cover (alas not to be!). I remember being so pleased when I was first published in issue 50, even though it was just a party photo.

    I did find it strange when I noticed they had airbrushed out elviravixen’s nose piercing on the issue 47 cover (also one of my all time favourite covers).

    I think the main reason I stopped reading was that it went too much in the opposite direction, with little or no fashion photos at all. But I’m the kind of person who collects magazines for browsing through cool and beautiful pictures first, and written content second.

    The internet for me really doesn’t compare to actual printed pages. Coilhouse will continue the great work :)

  10. john colby Says:

    Americans killed it …

  11. Nadya Says:

    John, dude, you live in Boston.

  12. john colby Says:

    I am cosmopolitain, a citizen of the cosmos. I know style killers when I see them. I was raised by the best stlye queen ever, my grandmother. When I was 9 she gave me this piece of advice ” When you feel good , you know it. When you look good everyone knows it.” This would prove usefull years later expalining to models at photoshoots. More later…

  13. Tequila Says:

    It was a long slow decline…at least for me. I had very little interest in it in the last 5 or so years. In the 90’s it was a fantastic little gem to sneak around with at school even if it did cost a lot & most who sold it put it near the porn. Though my favorite newstand had it hilariously ABOVE the front cash register so you could SEE it but not touch it. Very holy grail like as I had to ask for the magazine by name.

    The magazine should have honestly gone online years ago. One of my favorite short lived print-to-net experiments was Heavy Metal (American version) when it for a monthly allowed you to access EVERY friggin issue…from the glory days to the not so glory days. Didn’t last long of course since the $$$ made is in buying back issues. Was hoping magazines like this would do something similar…even if only on CD Roms one could order. At the very least it would have allowed those who wanted the older issues to still enjoy and share it…

    But oh well…such the case with many magazines and even content providers I once enjoyed. They make it too hard to support when what one liked in the first place is replaced by things others magazines and content providers do better.

    I don’t blame Americans…I blame the fucking Maxim’s, FHM’s, and general downward spiral of most print mags today. They all hit that “lets try to widen the net” point and ruin what made them interesting.

    Maybe it’s also the fact that so many began buying magazines from places like Borders and Barnes & Nobel and it became less easy to go “too crazy” for fear they would not be carried…still once you say stuff like “don’t send in any models with facial piercings or strange-colored hair”…come on. That’s the whole damn point of why I read! For people LIKE THAT…for people into THAT…

    Blah… :( Still I can’t be too sore since I was lucky to find a stash of the early stuff via a family friend at a young age. As confused as I was at the time…it would eventually make sense later in life.

    I will admit the internet kinda made it less appealing to read also…still the focus and attention a magazine can give something still beats say a fetish site with hundreds of images, community, etc. I LIKE the sharp focus a good editor can give something…many sites don’t have that in favor of just a mountain of content.

    Whatever the future brings at the very least someone can start SCANNING THE OLD STUFF AND PUTTING IT ONLINE DAMMIT :P

  14. Garik Says:

    The 50th issue cover is a favorite amongst myself and friends, an immeasureable source of inspiration, and the image on issue 21 has to be the most over-used shot of all fetish-dom!

    I’d agree that it’s decline was probably most a factor of the internet, and it’s partly a shame, because physical media is nice to peruse, and can often point you in directions you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise… But to compete with the sheer vastness & depth of the internet, most niche magazines will sadly suffer…

    Skin Two will leave a deserved legacy, and it’s fantastic to see it from such a personal perspective.

  15. Shay Says:

    Hmm. Never heard of it. Thanks for the post.

  16. Tony Mitchell Says:

    Nadya, it’s fascinating for me to see such thoughtful and intuitive analysis here of what made Skin Two great and what brought about its final downfall. And flattering, of course, to be cast in a generally good light by you and many of the others who have commented on your original piece.

    However, there are a couple of factual errors in your original piece that I would like to correct if I may.

    First, I did not break the story of Skin Two’s demize “in my blog” as you say. The story was the lead news item in my online fetish magazine, TheFetishistas.com, which is not a blog.

    Sadly I have not had time to maintain the original blog (called FetishDayz) that I started post-Skin Two, since The Fetishistas has been taking up all my time since launching in early 2007. I do like blogging, however, and hope to revive FetishDayz or something very similar at some point soon.

    Second, though Michelle Olley (who remains a good friend to this day) was a very important influence in her time at Skin Two, she was never actually the editor/editrix.

    She started as assistant editor and then became features editor. During that entire period, I was actually editing the magazine, but Tim would not relinquish the title of editor which he kept for himself along with publisher, managing director, chairman etc etc. So for many years I was de facto editor of the magazine while my title was still art director.

    Michelle was a fantastic, very creative and supportive deputy to me during that entire period. I eventually got the title that went with my job after we moved offices to Battersea, and the first issue produced under my titular editorship was No 25.

    This information is all contained in the retrospective history of Skin Two that I wrote for issue 50 – the one, coincidentally, with your fantastic Feisty Diva image on the cover :).

    As tof how covers were chosen, allow me to clarity that process for you. One of the biggest frustrations of my time as editor, both de facto and titular, was that Tim always insisted on choosing the final cover image and design, something which by rights should have been the editor’s job.

    I could propose, suggest, and attempt to persuade, but I could not decide. So all the hard work I put into producing the best possible content for the magazine was never allowed final expression in the choice of cover.

    When Michael Fearnley became our full time designer, the procedure was that Michael and I would collaborate in the creation of a set of between half a dozen and a dozen dummy covers for each issue. These had to be presented to Tim in a cover meeting, so that he could choose the one that he liked best. There was debate, but it was not a democracy — there was never any doubt who was going to have the final word.

    As Michael still works for Skin Two it would not be appropriate to say too much more about this process. But it would be fair to say that one of the consequences of my deteriorating relationship with Tim in the last few years was that Michael’s influence over the overall appearance and content of the magazine grew considerably. I’m not saying he sought it; in the magazine’s tripartite power structure, it was inevitable as Tim increasingly sidelined me.

    We also had to abide by various rules for cover images imposed on us by our US distributor, reflecting what he deemed legal and safe for getting the mag into his US retail customers’ stores.

    All this stuff created the likelihood of ending up with covers that no one was completely happy with. And indeed, for me, it felt like little short of a miracle if we ended up with a cover that had actually been my choice from the start.

    If I didn’t acknowledge this too openly at the time, it was probably because it was embarrassing to admit the limits of my influence in this important area when the people I regularly dealt with over covers — photographers, clothing designers, models etc — naturally assumed me to be the man who would make the ultimate decision.

    I trust this clears up a few mysteries for you and your readers. There’s a lot more where that came from, but I’ll leave it there for the moment.

  17. Nadya Says:

    Hey Tony! I was glad to see this comment from you. I actually wanted to write to you and get the facts straight before making this post, but the mood struck me to just write it from start to finish so I went with the flow. I wish I’d had Issue 50 around when I made this; I read the article long ago, and knew it probably would’ve helped me crystallize some of the facts and dates. And apologies for calling The Fetishistas a blog – I guess I see all online magazines as blogs, and meant no disrespect. That’s a whole other discussion/debate. :)

    I guess the big question I still have is… how could Skin Two go from printing abstract, artistic, challenging covers like Julian Murphy/Graphic Sex, that silver sex machine thing, Polly Fey, “Life’s a Drag,” etc., to the really banal, porn-like stuff? And why were facial piercings, tattoos and other weird things off-limits for covers? That, to me, seemed like such a big shift in philosophy… so much of fetish is about unusual modification and pushing the limits. Fakir Musafar, Mr. Pearl, etc. Pretty ladies are, of course, a bit part of fetish is about as well, but when I think of women who really represent fetish – cover girls, if you will – I think of people like Empress Stah. Why make the covers of fetish magazines – print or online – look like porn, when there are dozens of porn magazines/sites on the market? I’m not saying that non-artsy, porn-looking girls have no place in fetish – it’s their scene, too – but if they’re going to be used for covers, at least the photo itself has to express “fetish” by projecting attitude, strictness, mystique, etc. See this excellent Marquis cover for an example of how I see this working in practice – and see another cover of theirs for the same idea concept failing miserably, resulting in a boring, pornographic image. It’s a fine line.

    I think what really mystifies me is that it feels like the whole staff of Skin Two changed from the 90s to the aughts, if you judge only by cover choice (with certain exceptions – for which I’ll be forever grateful, Tony :) – thank you!). But the same exact people – you, and Tim, and Fearnley – were in charge. Was there some pressure from the market to change the covers? Did your readers respond more favorably to the new covers? Was there a spike in sales the first time you put a more “sexy” cover out? Did you feel that the 90’s club-kid/drag/body-mod thing was played out? I’m not asking this to be accusing in any way… I’m just curious how such a big shift could’ve happened.

    Thank you again for coming to this site to give us your insight, Tony. Really looking forward to your response.

  18. Amelia Arsenic Says:

    This is a really great article Nadya. I too wondered about why Skin Two changed so much over the years and this article and Tony’s insights have made it a lot clearer.

    It is also worth mentioning that your cover photograph was one of the most inspiring images I’ve ever come across and I remember hunting down a copy of that magazine just for that image (even though it’s quite hard and expensive to find in Australia).

  19. Peter Tupper Says:

    Thank you for this personal history of Skin Two. I’ve linked from my BDSM history blog.

  20. Legba Carrefour Says:

    I’ve always wondered what role competition played in the evolution of SKIN TWO. MARQUIS went even more into the realm of being plain old porn.

    I think what always irritated me the most about SKIN TWO (and MARQUIS and pretty much every other fetish/goth mag out there) is the glaring absence of queer men and anyone of color (other than the occasional exhibition of Asian women to satisfy the fairly racist fetishization of Asian women that white men all too often harbor) from the covers or the internals. I was drawn to the bright and shiny of the magazine, but the heterodox focus on whiteness and heteronormativity of that end of fetish culture was always infuriating and alienating.

    The only fetish mag I really really really miss is PROPAGANDA. The last issue of it I picked up (in like 2003, I think) was packed full of hot twinks that look like me and hot women of color photographed in–oh my god, could it be true?–positions of power. Some of the photography was genuinely subversive, quirky, and hot as balls without making you feel like you were indulging someone else’s fantasy.

  21. Io Says:

    Legba: Oh yes, my beloved old Propaganda! It ended shortly after I came of age in the scene, and I adored it. Perfect for gothy, blooming fetishist, queer-inclined people like me. Alas, it seems the demographic wasn’t enough to support it.

  22. Mer Says:

    Ah, Propaganda. Femmey boys, steaming hot Weimar women, gender-fuckery, multi-culti pervery… there was a lot to love about it. Fred Berger always struck me as an extremely funny, quirky, intelligent man. I wonder what he’s up to these days…

    I’m pretty sure Propaganda’s demise was complicated. Censorship and ensuing distribution problems seemed to hamper it more than anything else. Once the magazine reached a certain level of popularity, people came out of the woodwork, voicing extremely strong negative opinions about Fred’s consistent focus on Nazi/fascist fetish imagery (which could be quite radical), as well as his penchant for using of models who looked underage (even thought there weren’t).

    Anyway. I don’t know the whole story, but the impression I got from him back in the early 00s when shit was hitting the fan was that his hands were tied. (Pun intended, natch.)

    I should look him up, actually. His life and work would make a great feature for Coilhouse, too!

  23. tymcode Says:

    This saddens me. Skin Two was the first magazine that published one of my digital collages (That Marc Almond issue, in fact). And it was a cultural touchstone for a scene that I was involved in for years.

  24. Tim Woodward Says:

    Skin Two magazine has never gone out of print.

    We changed to a yearbook format in 2009, when we got a new distributor. It worked pretty well – but the distributor went bust and we returned to our magazine format in 2010.

    We are just about to publish issue 64 now and we’re going stronger than ever. We’re online as well, but still printing on paper and no plans to change that. I’m still the owner and publisher, as I have been since we started in 1984.

    There was a lot of gossip when Tony Mitchell was fired. I won’t say anything bad – but Skin Two is a much happier place now.

    Unfortunately, nobody checked with us before this was posted, so I just wanted to set the record straight.