All photos: Miss Gold
Inanna Studio doesn’t look like what you’d expect of London’s premier BDSM dungeon. The walls are a soft turtle dove grey, the furnishings are blush pink, and the accents are rose gold and black. There are no dripping crucifixes on the wall, and the red latex is hidden in the wardrobe.
And so when a stream of women and non-binary people start to arrive through the door, greeted with a glass of champagne and a platter of grapes, I wonder whether I’ve accidentally found myself at a tasteful women’s networking event rather than a fetish party. Then the attendees all start de-robing into enviable, expensive lingerie sets made of lace and leather and chainmail, and I realise I’ve very much come to the right place. One Night was launched in 2019 as a combined effort between fetish photographer Miss Gold (one half of the photography and zine-producing couple The London Vagabond), and Mistress Adreena, a professional dominatrix and model, and the owner of Inanna Studio. With coronavirus putting a stop to the events after they’d only held two, the return of One Night this autumn was met with excitement from the kink-friendly femmes of London and beyond (attendees have come from Ireland, Scotland, Spain and Holland, too).
The idea was to provide a space away from the male gaze for women and non-binary people to celebrate their bodies, make new connections and, yes, have a play if they feel like it. The events are photographed by Miss Gold, while her partner – typically the only man at the party – provides a human toilet service for those who wish to participate. There’s also a real toilet, if you prefer to flush.
Each party has a mandatory lingerie theme, and there are performances and demonstrations from strippers and shibari rope artists.When I attend the November event, the lingerie theme is animal print and precious metals. It’s a chocolate box of leopard stilettos, snakeskin print belts, gold embellished lace and outfits that jangle with the same allure of your 7th grade crush’s jewellery.Unlike many larger fetish events, there is no pounding techno; only a reception room with a bar for mingling, a playroom with hoists and spanking benches for chatting and playing, and muted R&B in the background.
Getting a golden ticket, of course, is half the fun. Tickets are only available to verified mailing list members, of which there are 2,000. The capacity of Inanna, however, is limited to 40, and the last event sold out in 30 seconds.A few days after the party, Adreena invites me and Miss Gold to her home, which is decked out in the same chic pinks and greys as her studio, to talk about One Night over lunch.“I don’t think we would ever make it bigger,” says Miss Gold. “We would love to have bigger parties, but I just can’t imagine having it anywhere other than Inanna.”
Adreena agrees: “I feel like where a lot of nights go wrong is when they expand. You can get great clubs, but that’s different to a play party. I think the key to a play party is it being intimate. As soon as it’s big, it’s not intimate. We’ve talked about doing something bigger maybe once a year as a special event, but not regularly.”
That ethos, Miss Gold adds, is why the number of attendees is also capped. “It also currently feels really special for people when they do get a ticket. I think our ethos of it being as it is, is more important than it being huge.”
With post-lockdown intimacy cravings at an all time high, some fetish events like Klub Verboten and Crossbreed have expanded from fringe underground raves to large, well-established sell-out club nights. Both are fans of the parties (Miss Gold is also an official photographer for KV), but have mixed feelings about expansion.“In some ways it’s brilliant,” says Adreena. “It’s great that there’s this massive community, and that there are so many people embracing themselves so they can be big events. But sometimes when they’ve expanded, they’ve lost the elements that I’ve previously enjoyed.”
And, as Miss Gold points out, there’s a lot more that can go wrong. “A bit of me is wary of the kink tourist feeling of a larger event. It’s a lot of stress. You need every single staff member, every single dungeon monitor, all the security, to understand – you just need one person to be a loose cog in your ship, and it sinks. So my concerns are lack of intimacy, and not being able to safeguard in the same way. And losing the specialness of it being a close party.”
We finish off our squash and grain salad and move to desert, a selection of oozing luxury brownies brought over by Miss Gold. As she slices them into pieces, Adreena explains how the smaller space allows for a deeper communication between strangers, which is especially important when sex or BDSM play is involved.“It’s so nice – at One Night everyone can talk to each other, and they recognise each other and know the other faces in the room,” she says. “At a big party, you go with your mates.”
Tickets can only be sold in batches of one or two, so new flirty bonds are easy to build. Before the playroom opens, attendees stay in the reception room, sipping drinks and building a pleasingly high-pitched wall of feminine noise. The sound reminds me of the girls’ changing rooms at school, albeit with less anxiety.As anticipation for the next room builds, guests have a chance to ask their new connections what brought them there, what they might enjoy, and who they might enjoy it with. Many women and non-binary people who attend say they leave with genuine new friendships and romantic connections. The demand and appeal is clear, so why has there never been a big women and non-binary-only play party of this kind before?“I mean there are events – like Skirt Club, but they have a very different vibe and audience,” says Adreena over lunch. “They’re almost like female swingers events, and they can be a much more sexually aggressive. I’ve never felt I really fit into the swinging scene. I’ve got nothing against it, but the atmosphere is very different.”
Skirt Club founder Genevieve LeJeune told VICE later that the event is a safe space for women and is not for swingers. “Our members are mostly shy and bi-curious,” she explained. “The team spend most of the evening playing ice-breaker games to get them feeling comfortable enough to make a move.”
Though sometimes women are involved in these other events, Miss Gold says, many of these parties are founded and run primarily by men. “Who are they to say how we want to play? We’re still on a journey to remove the heteronormativity of sex parties – [of] women being there for the gaze of men.”Adreena adds that the difference between the male and female gaze is “born out of our general life experience of being a woman, and what we’ve endured”.“We spend our entire lives being in some way objectified, or viewed, and so I find comfort in other women, and the energy created from having just women and non-binary people in a space,” she says. “In the context of our parties, I think the female gaze is just celebratory and loving. The amount of time people spend complimenting each other’s underwear, or names – it’s just this love for each other. It’s a celebration of sex...”
“— Rather than ‘I’m going around with my big fat erection wondering who I can put it in’,” Miss Gold laughs. “I mean, there are women that walk around with strap-ons, but women just don’t objectify other women in the same way.”
At the event, I find myself, Adreena and a few other women leaning against a submissive’s cage, watching the scenes unfolding before us. There’s a lot going on – spanking, group sex, swing sex, bondage – but somehow, nothing feels threatening. No one’s being creepy or staring and jerking off in a corner. If anyone requested more privacy, I don’t doubt it would be readily given.“At One Night, you can be a voyeur if you choose to, but everyone’s quite respectfully voyeuristic. Like you always get solo wankers [voyeurs who watch a scene and start masturbating without consent], at bigger events, but not ours. I hate solo wankers at sex clubs. I really fucking hate them.”Adreena chimes in: “Biologically, it’s just a lot harder to have a solo wank at a party where most people have a vulva.”You can follow One Night on Instagram.@iamhelenthomasCORRECTION: The article has been updated to use Miss Gold’s domme name.