LARUICCI X DAZED AND CONFUSED MAGAZINE
The Berlin Strippers Collective want a radical overhaul of the sex industry
This short film takes you inside the defiant, enchanting world of the Dazed 100ers, as they read their manifesto – an urgent demand for the decriminalisation and destigmatisation of sex work
Now, the group are gearing up to launch a ‘Stripperature’ book club, set up mobile peep shows across Berlin, and – hopefully – open their own strip club. “The classic strip club aesthetic and business model is outdated and incongruent with the way we see society progressing, in terms of increasing gender diversity, growing sex positivity, and ethical consumerism,” BSC explain. “Our club would strive to reflect and cater to these broader changes in society.”
Before setting to work completely overhauling the industry, the group joined filmmaker Carys Huws – who’s currently working on a documentary about BSC – in the studio to film an enchanting introduction to the collective’s world. Premiering on Dazed, the short film sees the group show off their elegant pole dancing skills, while reading their urgent manifesto for change.
“Our events bring our world close to the audience, who can then relate to our problems, identify with us, and find points in common,” add BSC. “An activism that succeeds in giving a face to sex workers, humanising them, and creating a bond between them and non-sex workers is the first step towards destigmatisation.”
Watch the short film below, and read a Q&A with the Berlin Strippers Collective, as they discuss the stigmatisation of the sex industry, why sex work and activism go hand-in-hand, and reveal their plans for their own, utopian-sounding strip club.
What was the Berlin Strippers Collective’s main motivation for forming?
Berlin Strippers Collective: It was a mixture of frustration with the way clubs run in our city, creative energy, and an entrepreneurial urge. (We wanted) to tell our story in our own words; sex work is a hot topic, but you hardly see sex workers taking ownership of their own narrative. We want better working conditions; we don’t want to pay out half of our earnings to clubs in commission; we want to create and manage our own projects. To be autonomous, self-organised, and make collective decisions around how and who we work with is radical. It’s also a fuck you to the top-down patriarchal capitalistic systems usually found in the business world – collective collaboration is a way to challenge and overcome many of the issues found in modern capitalist societies. Together we are strong, and can demand better things for ourselves and others.
To what extent do sex work and activism go hand-in-hand?
Berlin Strippers Collective: Because sex work is still stigmatised and not taken seriously as work, activism is needed to show the public that sex workers are workers deserving of respect and labour rights, just like other workers in the system. From another angle, just doing sex work and being open about it is a form of activism in itself for sex and body positivity. Body work and sexuality are still underrated and underestimated in our society, so being open and proud of being a sex worker can proactively contribute to changing the way people think about the sexual aspects of being human, and the value of work that involves close body contact.
In the context of our collective, our events bring our world close to the audience, who can then relate to our problems, identify with us, and find points in common. An activism that succeeds in giving a face to sex workers, humanising them, and creating a bond between them and non-sex workers is the first step towards destigmatisation.
“An activism that succeeds in giving a face to sex workers and creating a bond between them and non-sex workers is the first step towards destigmatisation” – Berlin Strippers Collective
How has the pandemic impacted your work over the last year?
Berlin Strippers Collective: Well, we couldn’t work in clubs for seven months during the last lockdown, so instead we did two more online shows and had more time for photo shoots, interviews, making merch, and organising the collective. Our income took a blow, as online work took some adjusting to and more effort to make it work for many of us. We all had different ways of coping depending on other gigs each of us had going. On a personal level, the pandemic was a financial disaster, but on a collective level, we all had more time to dedicate to BSC, so it turned out to be a productive period.
How have you adapted your work for a virtual audience?
Berlin Strippers Collective: Adapting our work to virtual audiences has encouraged us to be more creative with how we perform. Our online shows so far have been designed in cabaret style, usually with some kind of theme or social or political message. We’ve tried to make our online shows as interactive as possible to make up for the lack of face-to-face audience interaction, in part by playing games or doing giveaways, and also by having a host telling jokes in between the acts. (We’ve been doing life drawing sessions too) which were inspired by those originally done by the East London Strippers Collective. (Our sessions) started off in a strip club and have taken place in a few bars, but since lockdown, they’ve largely moved online, which has allowed us to reach many more artists worldwide. Art and striptease have always been correlated, and we wanted to celebrate this with our life drawings.
That sounds amazing! You’ve also created a film, which Dazed is premiering today – can you tell me a bit about how it came about?
Berlin Strippers Collective: Carys Huws got in touch with us in the early days of the collective’s formation with the idea to shoot a documentary film about us, which is coming out later this summer. We decided to make this short three-minute campaign style film to introduce the collective to the world; it will also act as a teaser for our documentary, and the footage will feature within that. Each member of the collective moves and expresses themselves so differently, which is what we hope this video will show, because through our individuality, we are able to collectivise. That really shows in the diversity of the costumes in the video – not one costume was the same as the next.
Filming was really fun! We had such a great team taking care of us. It was also the first time in a long while that we’d all come together in-person again, so the filming day was a re-bonding experience for us as a collective as well. Since Carys has shot with us from the early days and has been shooting (the documentary) for over a year and a half, it will be really interesting to see the evolution of the collective on screen.
The video sees each of you reading out your manifesto, which declares defiance in the face of stigmatisation. Why do you think there’s still such a stigma attached to sex work and stripping?
Berlin Strippers Collective: The stigma attached to sex work and stripping is strongly grounded in mainstream society’s aversion to sexual expression in the public sphere, and also the deeply ingrained perception that sexual intimacy and money should remain separate. There’s also this persistent association of sex work with crime and dirtiness, which fuels the stigma. (Not to mention the accusation) that stripping is not ‘real’ work nor ‘real’ art, and that sex workers are just desperate, destitute people with no real skills, who are struggling to scrape by in life. Through our work in the collective, and through our collaborations and growing network in the Berlin community, we aim to break down these misconceptions.
Stigma is also a way of social control; the system doesn’t accept sex workers because dictated social norms are against us. On one hand, there are a lot of societal norms and expectations attached to sexuality, and sex work violates those. On the other hand, certain kinds of labour are expected to be for free. Sex work is the most direct way to transfer wealth from men – who are the most privileged group – to marginalised or discriminated groups – women, trans people, migrants, and more – and we believe the patriarchal and elitist structures of society can’t accept this. It disrupts the status quo.
“Stigma is a way of social control; the system doesn’t accept sex workers because dictated social norms are against us” – Berlin Strippers Collective
How have these stigmas influenced your own lives and work?
Berlin Strippers Collective: Some of our members have had difficult coming out experiences with friends and family as the collective’s visibility started to grow. Due to the stigma, we’ve also faced hardships expressing ourselves through our social media channels, on which we heavily depended during the lockdowns. We constantly had to make sure to scrub our accounts and censor our texts to avoid getting kicked off platforms that we needed to advertise our online shows and life drawings. It’s a painful contradiction to the principle of erotic openness and authenticity that we try to embody through our work.
What are the most urgent changes that are needed in strip clubs and the sex industry more widely?
Berlin Strippers Collective: The exploitative tendencies in strip clubs and the sex industry more broadly have a lot to do with the cis male-dominated management of most venues. Such managers have generally never done sex work themselves, and don’t sympathise with workers’ needs and approaches to work. One thing that’s urgently needed for change to happen is for more women and non-binary people – who have done sex work themselves – to be in leadership positions.
The sex industry is also stuck in the past, and is still following old school standards of beauty – for example, in relation to shaving and body types – and strict gender roles. In this regard, strip clubs should evolve and adapt to the current times. Most urgently, strippers need fairer contracts – what happens most of the time is that strippers are hired as freelancers, but they’re asked all the duties of a normal employee.
You want to open your own strip club – how would this be different from existing venues?
Berlin Strippers Collective: The classic strip club aesthetic and business model is outdated and incongruent with the way we see society progressing, in terms of increasing gender diversity, growing sex positivity, and ethical consumerism. Our club would strive to reflect and cater to these broader changes in society. We would start by welcoming dancers and clients from all across the gender spectrum, creating a dynamic in a strip club that breaks away from the male gaze fixated on the female body.
We’re also inspired by the atmosphere and aesthetics of Berlin techno clubs, which would play into our club design. Most of all, we’d strive to create and maintain fair working conditions for all dancers and staff, meaning no more fines, house fees, tip confiscation, nor taking massive cuts from dancers’ earnings – the way most strip clubs still operate. We’d also offer a range of modern, diverse, and dynamic entertainment possibilities, something that moves away from the outdated and overdone style found in most strip clubs.
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
Berlin Strippers Collective: We’re excited to be re-launching events that have been put on hold from last year – in-person life drawings, and our previously sold-out storytelling show Stripper Stories will be making a comeback. We’re also launching a new event called Stripperature, where we re-enact pieces of literature while on the pole, and invite people to join a reading circle to discuss it. It’s a kind of a sexy book club, and the dress code will reflect that – think seductive and sensual; lingerie, silk dressing gowns, robes; style and substance; sexy and smart. We’re really looking forward to performing live again and joining forces with other art and performance collectives, such as the amazing Peepshow that takes place in the garden of infamous Berlin club Wilde Renate. And, of course, you’ll see us at any protests and demonstrations shouting loud and proud for sex worker rights and full decriminalisation.
Director and photographer – Carys Huws
Creative producer – Eugenia Vicari
Director of photography – Svenja Trierscheid
VFX, edit, and grade – John Malcolm Moore at Cascade Berlin
Stylist – Fabiana Vardaro
Hair stylist – Kosuke Ikeuchi
Make-up artist for Chiqui, Vivi, Suki, and Edie – Gianluca Venerdini using Byredo via Karla Otto and Make Up Forever
Make-up artist for Trixie, Josie, Mia, and Fifi – Anri Omori using Chanel Beauty
Gaffer – Ulrike von Au
Music supervisor – Lucy Cook
Music and mix – Felix Godden at Cascade Berlin
Sound recordist and production assistant – Isabelle Schmitz
Production assistant and BTS videographer – Agostina Cerdan
Styling assistant – Filomena Ianniciello
Chiqui Love, Suki Sky, Mia Onacid, Trixie Delight, Edie Montana, Fifi Tinker, Josi(e) J FoxXx, Vivi Sugar
Vivi Sugar: body DSTM, chain body Namilia, earrings APHER
Fifi Tinker: legwear DSTM, tops Andrea Adamo
Suki Sky: top Lou de Betoly, string Saqua Studio, earrings Apher
Mia Onacid: corset Adriana Hot Couture, top Saqua Studio, headpiece Autrement Pr
Josi(e) J FoxXx: whole look Namilia
Edie Montana: top Namilia, panties DSTM
Chiqui Love: body Kasia Kusharska, harness and shorts Saqua Studio
Trixie Delight: body Lou de Betoly
With special thanks to:
SEE YOU RENT, no.odds, Ramboya Studio, Delight Rental Services