"I only hope that when I grow old as disgracefully as Ms. Antoinette has, there will be people who appreciate what I did with my life as much as I appreciate her."
So writes latex wear designer Polly Superstar, who is part of the campaign on GoFundMe.com to assist Jeanette Zinkan aka Mistress Antoinette, the fetish fashion pioneer, now in her 70s, whom many acknowledge as the person most responsible for bringing fetish dressing out of dark closets and into the light, sparking the public’s imagination.
The online fundraiser is happening now here.
The campaign was started by Ms. Zinkan’s daughter Tiffany and former porn stars Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Vera. Ms. Sprinkle, a Ph.D., who is now an ecosexual artist and environmental activist, and Ms. Vera, author and founder of the world’s first transgender academy, are among those who acknowledge Mistress Antoinette as a muse.
Dr. Carol Queen, founding director of San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture, stated, "There's not necessarily a retirement plan for culture-changing community leaders who have helped make our world more sexually diverse and positive. When someone like Mistress Antoinette needs help, it's only the community she helped create and people who enjoy the world she influenced who will step up to make a difference."
In the '80s, Ms. Zinkan and her husband Dr. Richard Zinkan, aka photographer Master Zorro, created Versatile Productions, ofOrange County, California, which published Reflections, subtitled "the magazine of the exotic lifestyle," and made videotapes that shed light on BDSM and fetish themes. They paid homage to people such as Bettie Page and recognized them for their contributions to modern culture, long before Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon.
"I referred to their company as a kinky conglomerate," said Ms.Vera, "but Dick, liked to call it 'a mom and pop operation'."
Ms. Zinkan began designing fashions for their readership and before long, Ms. Antoinette’s Versatile Fashion label became the focus of the company, which specialized in skintight PVC garments for women, men and transvestites. Their bullet bras and costumes influenced, and were worn by, rock stars, including Madonna. The company became famous for its line of authentic wasp-waist corsets which crossed over into the mainstream and were the first of that kind sold by Victoria’s Secret. Ms. Antoinette created an annual Dress To Thrill Ball and fashion show weekend in California and later Las Vegas. A video produced by Versatile Productions that is posted by the Leather Archives and Museum on YouTube documents that 1997 Dress To Thrill Weekend. The striptease artist Dita von Teese is featured, as are latex designer The Baroness and sex educator Ducky Doolittle. The video illustrates the high energy and uninhibited erotic style of the times. It concludes with Ms. Antoinette, at the top of her game, taking her bows before a cheering throng.
Said Ms. von Teese, "Mistress Antoinette and Versatile Fashions created my very first corsets and introduced me to the beauty of fetishism. She was among the first to inspire and encourage my career of creating retro-fetishistic pin-ups, and her events were some of my first burlesque performance stages, in the early '90s. It is a pleasure for me to help give back to her for helping pave the way with her daring style for those of us that love retro-fetishistic glamour."
In 2006, after a long illness, Richard Zinkan died, and medical expenses, plus a robbery, a flood and other business reversals decimated the Zinkans' finances. Until recently, Jeanette Zinkan lived with her daughter Tiffany and family in Mormon country near Salt Lake City, Utah.
"My daughter and her family are not Mormons," said Ms. Zinkan, "but almost everyone else in the town is, so I’ve kept a low profile."
Ms. Zinkan began to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s that necessitated she move to an assisted living residence. The purpose of the GoFundMe campaign is to assist in paying for the medications and treatments that doctors say will slow the progress of Alzheimer's, and as stated on the site, "keep Ms. Antoinette’s beautiful memories alive."
Now that word has begun to spread of their heroine’s predicament, members of the alternative lifestyle and fetish fashion communities are spreading the word and rallying support. Ms. Zinkan is receiving calls from colleagues and friends with whom she’d lost touch. Her spirits are lifted. "I feel humbled, grateful and overwhelmed, " said Ms. Zinkan.
"Jeanette had begun to doubt her choices in life," said Ms. Sprinkle. "She’d thought that because she was broke, her work had been of no use. The truth is, she brought many, many people lots of joy, sexy fun and liberation. The money will be a big help, but what is even more valuable is the rise in her own self-esteem and human worth as Jeanette hears from fans and friends."
"In her professional life, Ms. Antoinette signed all her letters with the words, 'I care'," said Ms. Vera. "Now she is learning that others do."
The campaign has also changed the dynamic between mother and daughter. Until now, daughter Tiffany had only negative feelings about her mother’s career, seeing it as a hindrance to her own desire for a more traditional life. "I felt Versatile had sucked my parents dry, and after my dad died and my mom was so alone and left to her own devices, I thought her career was a fantasy and a sham. Now, I am thankful." As contributions and heartfelt letters of gratitude arrive, Tiffany has begun to appreciate Ms. Antoinette and to see the benefits of life in the public eye, even if that life was in a catsuit and 8 inch heels.
Also supporting the fundraiser are Urban Tantra's Barbara Carrellas; the author of The Ethical Slut, Janet Hardy; sex educator and bondage artist Midori; former porn actress Veronica Hart; performance artist Shree Rose; sexologist Dr. Carol Queen; sex worker activist Scarlot Harlot; Kinky Salon producer Polly Superstar and many others.
Pictured: Mistress Antoinette in younger days, and a famous person wearing the bullet bra she designed