The joy of sex shops: porn baron cashes in as women drive out dirty macs

As more female shoppers buy 'adult' goods than ever before, a new superstore is opening to serve them. Katy Guest takes a peek
Click to follow
The Independent Online

"The little red devil outfit is quite a trick to hang", says Hustler Hollywood's manager Marianne as she fiddles with a few slippery inches of scarlet PVC and a black satin hanger. Spiky pink cushions and a battalion of shiny dildos line up nearby.

"The little red devil outfit is quite a trick to hang", says Hustler Hollywood's manager Marianne as she fiddles with a few slippery inches of scarlet PVC and a black satin hanger. Spiky pink cushions and a battalion of shiny dildos line up nearby.

Welcome to the latest contribution to Britain's sex industry - the country's largest sex department store, owned by Larry Flynt, the controversial American porn baron, which opens in Birmingham on Friday.

In the "Pamper Section" the floor is still a virginal white and the feather handcuffs are blowing delicately in the breeze of a nearby Black & Decker. But there are cream-filled willies to be stacked, and there's quite a knack to making a legion of glossy plastic sex toys look approachable.

This polishing of suede and plumping of cushions marks a new era in selling sexuality. According to new figures from the Adult Industry Trade Association, the number of licensed sex shops has risen three-fold - from just 100 at the start of the decade to 300 currently in Britain.

And it's not all targeted at the dirty mac brigade. The high street is also sexing up, fuelled by huge demand from liberated female shoppers. Even Boots is thinking of signing a deal to sell what it charmingly calls "personal massagers". Other female-focused sex shops that have opened recently in London include upmarket Harmony and Coco de Mer.

Hustler Hollywood plans to have 60 per cent women customers. Flynt, paralysed from the waist down after an assassination attempt, became an unlikely, liberal cause célèbre in the US when he fought obscenity laws citing the right to free speech - a legal case that was immortalised in the movie The People vs Larry Flynt.

The Hustler stores are being pitted against the likes of Ann Summers and the upmarket women's sex shop Coco de Mer, owned by Anita Roddick's daughter Sam.

The UK Hustler stores will be run by Mr Flynt's daughter Theresa. The Birmingham branch is a huge, two-storey department store with four specialised "zones", a basement coffee lounge and enough AA batteries to power the national grid.

"Times are changing," says Theresa Flynt. "Women today are more independent and are making more money. Our stores are a date destination; brightly lit, clean and hip. Whether it be trendy music or attractive fixtures, we just want to make it a pleasant, non-intimidating shopping experience, as if you're in a department store."

Certainly there is a market, if the number of women shopping in London's women-centric sex shops this weekend is anything to go by. "We're now at the point of possibly franchising other shops," says Angel at Sh!, a "sex emporium" in Hoxton Square where men are only allowed in if accompanied by a woman. Its customers are pleased. "We come here because it's a sex shop for women and the toys are good for lesbians," say Fiona and Charlotte, a 35-year-old couple. "They don't look like penises, you see. The people are nice, they offer you tea and coffee and they talk to youabout everything. We're looking for a dildo."

A group of women in their 30s have popped in on their way back from lunch. "I'm looking for a little remote control cordless thing for him and her that I saw on a TV programme," says one.

Downstairs in the changing room, an appreciative man is helping his girlfriend into a pair of frilly knickers. They don't have her size, unfortunately, but the couple will be back.

The sudden realisation that sex sells - and sells especially to women - is not limited to the retail sector, as two events at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts tomorrow will show. "How to Start a Sex Zine" will ask what turns the public on and whether this is reflected in erotic literature and pornography. The panel will include the founders of a new sex-based magazine, Slit.

The magazine is not unique. Gavin Griffiths, a former owner of The Erotic Review, launched Scarlet magazine last week. "There's definitely a movement when you see vibrators in Selfridges' shop window," he says. "Now it's reaching fever pitch, and nobody had done a magazine targeting it. I'd like to get the vibe of those scenes in Sex and the City where they sit around the table talking about men."

Later at the ICA, a group of writers and artists will discuss "Burlesque: The New Female Voyeurism" in front of a sell-out audience. The event will be followed by a performance by the Whoopee Club. This burlesque troupe has been filling halls since it was formed just over a year ago. They're even appearing at the V&A next month.

"We met when Lara [Clifton] was running the academy of burlesque and I went on the fan dancing course," says Tamara Tyrer, the club's co-founder. Now they perform to audiences averaging about 70 per cent women. "It's wonderful; the whole of the front row is women, staring at the stage," says Tyrer. "It liberates you, seeing women in control of their sexuality."

Dr Jacqueline Granleese, a chartered health psychologist at the University of East Anglia, agrees. "Anything that makes men and women understand that sex is a healthy part of a loving relationship is a good thing," she says.

Back in Birmingham, the last few bits of pink fluff are being vacuumed. "There's much more openness now," says Theresa Flynt. "I think British women are ready for this." They'd better be.

FIVE OF THE HUSTLER BEST SELLERS

1 Lingerie from the "Seduction" range. Bras, for example, from £20-£50

2 The fashion collection, including baseball caps, T-shirts, knickers and pyjamas. T-shirts, including one that reads "Virgin (this is a very old T-shirt"), will cost from £20-£30.

3 Playwear. The little red devil, the French maid ... Between £25 and £60.

4 Toys. Starting at £9.99 and increasing in price. The recommended Tri-gasm costs £99.99.

Massage oils and gifts from the "Pamper Section": £4.99-£20.

5 Lattes and cookies in the downstairs coffee shop. Reclining on the red suede sofas with a view of the "After Dark" pod is thrown in for free.

Comments