Toronto
4 min

Hide & seek

'It's all about sex'

NORTHERN EXPOSURE. Designer Marty Rotman loves to make sexy models like Alvaro Lale and Edmond Joseph even sexier. Credit: Paula Wilson

“Sexy. That’s the only thing it has to be,” says Marty Rotman, describing his mandate as designer at Northbound Leather.

“It has to be sexy. It has to be fitted. It’s all about sex.”

Northbound Leather (586 Yonge St) is one of Canada’s premiere suppliers of leather and fetish wear and Rotman has been at the design helm for nearly a decade. Once a year, Rotman emerges from behind his drawing board for the annual Northbound Leather fetish fashion show. It’s a must-see event, purportedly the world’s largest of its kind, with more than 3,000 partiers expected.

This year’s show and party on Sat, Oct 20, called Ultra, marks the store’s 40th anniversary. With the theme “world fetish tour,” it promises an abundance of titillation.

The show, directed by Len Henry, opens with an homage to India. Identical twin brothers, towering at six foot eight inches, carry a scantily clad female dancer to centre stage.

Rotman has chosen oxblood coloured leather for their outfits – what little there is of them – and you can tell from his sketches that the effect is hot and fantastical. Following this are handsome Nehru collar coats, leather and long, fitted, traditional Hindu skirts made of not so tradition leather, slit to the upper thigh.

Next comes France, where the styling is Marquis de Sade, complete with Marie Antoinette wigs and leather corsets. Throw in a few leather berets and it’s all very French. Other stops on this world tour are a Punk England, a foot-fetishizing Italy and an ultra-modern Japan.

Did Rotman ever envision himself as the creator of such sex-driven outlandishness?

“I started in knitwear,” he says point blank, bursting all illusions. He’s not a kink master who’s made a career out of his fetish. “Leather’s not really my thing,” he says. “The owners hate it when I say that.” But as he describes his art and its silhouettes, Rotman’s hands begin molding shapes in the air. He clearly has a feeling for the human form and how to really show it off.

“Strong shoulders are important to me, everything brought down to a small waist, an extra-exaggerated hourglass, to see where it explodes to from there.”

Rotman’s demeanor is shoot straight from the hip, ask questions later. He has a campy sense of humour and can mug outrageously. He describes himself “as being tough on people” and “not always sensitive.”

“Compromise is a dirty word in my vocabulary.”

Rotman’s parents, still together after more than 36 years, provide him with a great deal of love and support, as does his circle of close friends. But Rotman is still waiting for the love of his life to come along. He says that if being on the cover Xtra doesn’t help, “At least I’ll get a lot of people sitting on my face on The Steps.”

How did this well brought up Jewish boy from Willowdale end up designing fetish wear? Back in his 20s Rotman had been partying, performing and go-go dancing his youth away.

Dance music is still Rotman’s passion and back then he had been performing live and on the radio. He got a call from a friend to help mount the annual Northbound fashion show.

Instead of being paid in cash for his efforts, Rotman asked for payment in trade – he would design a garment that Northbound would manufacture for him. This proved to be an excellent showcase for the Sheridan College design graduate, who then struck up a professional relationship with the owner, George Giaouris.

Later Giaouris asked him to do some designing for the store. Rotman convinced the owner to hire him full-time and has now worked for Giaouris’ family for nine years.

During that time Rotman has overseen the designing, drafting and detailing of Northbound’s fashions, which are manufactured on the floors above the store. “Basic black is always in. It’s sexy and it sells. Everyone wants black. We introduce some colours but nine times out of 10, they want black.

“The clientele is 40 percent gay men. Standards for men would be chaps, bar vests and jean cut leather pants; for women, it’s corsets.”

Over the years the designer has been slowly redesigning the company’s older patterns from before his tenure, looking to make the designs simpler and do away with unnecessary details. This is a process Marty Rotman calls “Martinizing.”

“Cuts and silhouettes are my style. Design details are not my focus,” he says.

Northbound doesn’t produce seasonal lines because fetish wear is uber-seasonal. New designs are introduced throughout the year with the peak season running up to the annual fashion show. During this period Rotman finds himself working around the clock; design-wise, he is at his most outrageous.

After the show, a few of the custom crafted garments are put on sale in the store as one-offs. Other garments from the show may go directly into manufacture and become part of the continuing line of Northbound merchandise.

Looking at this yearly routine Rotman admits to moments of extreme boredom, that sometimes he feels he’s in a rut. But the work pulls him through. “When show time comes around, it is an incredibly creative time for me. I get my work seen on the runway, in photographs and on the Internet. I am quite fortunate.

“I want to be the best at what I’m doing and I am looking to be recognized. It’s not that I am that weak, or that needy, but sometimes you need to be justified that what you’re doing is good. But until you hear someone else say it….”

When questioned if there is anything else he should have been asked, Rotman finishes with, “Yes. Do I have pets? Thank you for asking. I have an iguana.

“I started with an iguana and I also have some lizards. Reptiles have been here a long time and they must know something we don’t. It’s like having a baby dinosaur. And there’s no hair.”