Are you being served?
Mr Humphries, eat your heart out. James Sherwood visits Britain's first gay superstore
Sunday 20 July 1997
The "Superstore" stands on the corner of Rupert Street and Wardour Street. If you think size matters, then Prowler Soho has been boasting. It would fit into the Calvin Klein section of Harvey Nichols. But the layout is light, spacious and funky. A cafe/bar stands in one corner, alongside a magazine rack with style bibles Wallpaper, US Vogue, Details and gay titles Attitude and Gay Times. For label queens there is Dexter Wong, Tommy Hilfiger exclusive underwear and a full range of the tight, white, 2(x)ist knickers tout le monde is wearing this summer. The more risque purchases are enclosed in a special circular enclave.
Neal Cavalier-Smith, the brains behind Prowler Soho, set up the Prowler company when he was a student in Sunderland, producing and distributing gay videos and magazines. But this is not just another Soho sex shop, he stresses. "Yes, you can buy Euroboy here and feel comfortable, but we call Prowler Soho a superstore because you can also buy everything a gay man wants under one roof. This is a lifestyle store and sex is an integral part of a gay man's lifestyle. We have the more, shall we say, personal items in the enclosure because I don't think you'd like to buy a see-through pouch with 32 cappuccino-drinking queens watching you."
Prowler Soho is certainly not the pioneer of pink pound shopping in Soho. As well as the countless bars, restaurants, cab firms and gay letting agents, there are openly pro-gay shopping meccas. Clone Zone on Old Compton Street has been in business for 14 years. Manager Paul Davies welcomes his trendy new rival, saying it will help bring yet more business into the area. "And we stock our own label, Flesh, which is cheaper than the designer stuff in Prowler, so I don't think they are treading on our toes."
It is an indication of how far gay commerce and awareness has come that Prowler Soho sits at street level with a straight porn cinema in the basement below - only five years ago, that position would have been reversed. "This is the biggest gay shopfloor space in Europe. You could call Harvey Nichols a gay shop but I'm sure they would disagree," says Cavalier-Smith. "Gay taste and style are difficult to pin down. We've done our best to provide something for everyone."
Now, a tendency to burst into tears over a Bette Davis film and a penchant for tight disco tops do not a gay man make. Nevertheless, Prowler Soho has cleverly supplied what every gay man wants then filled in the gaps as best it can. An impressive books section, alongside the more predictable titles, also gives a nod to a more intelligent reading such as E F Benson, E M Forster and contemporary writers Philip Hoare and Joe Keenan.
But where, I cry, is the camp? Where are Mae West's memoirs, Bette Midler's entire movie opus? What about that Clinique eye gel that will take you from Quasimodo to George Clooney in 15 minutes? "We do camp," says Cavalier- Smith. "All of Marilyn's movies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Querelle. And of course there's our doggie fashion." Doggie fashion? We're talking leather jackets and studded caps, sequinned evening wear with flapper headbands. Er, case dismissed.
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