MEMBER ARTICLE: Through the Looking Glass - The Fetish Store Wonderland.
16 November 2021
When you have your first taste for kink, and that hunger and curiosity needs to be fed, consider taking your first step into a Fetish Store.
Any lover of porn will have seen that film where an unassuming but surprisingly quite buff and well-endowed guy goes into the store, he asks the assistant if he can try on the straitjacket, the assistant obliges him with just a hint of devilment in his eye, tightening the buckles confidently, leaving the young man trapped. He's encased in his new mobile prison but also very aroused by the situation of powerlessness he finds himself in. He is then caged, and used by the customers and staff as a bound plaything... Unfortunately, I am sad to say that this was not something that happened in my first experience going into a fetish store, but I definitely imagined up a mix of perceptions about what would happen to me when I went to these places: the excitement of seeing what lay beyond the other side of the door, the range of types of fetish gear that I could hold in my hands, but also the fear of how I might be perceived going in to a store which sells something which feels forbidden, taboo and unorthodox.
I have very vivid memories of that first moment stepping through the door to a Fetish Store - the imaginings of what might be seen or experienced, the irrational feeling of not wanting anyone to recognise me and the notion of being voyeuristic as I wait in the dark concealed doorway. You have to overcome the sense of strangeness and how counterintuitive it feels when you go into one of these places, it feels odd. Much like a lot of interests, once you step through the door or come back again, that strangeness is replaced by curiosity, and the chance to try on and buy something new and kinky. Yes, it becomes quite addictive.
I was listening to the Regulation Podcast by Recon a few weeks ago and was feeling a bit nostalgic. I have happy memories of visiting their old store in Islington: the act of having to press the buzzer to be allowed access in, and the slight moment of silent doubt as you paused to wait for the door to unlock. It was like going to a secret members' club. I'm sure I'm not the only person here who cautiously looked over their shoulder while waiting there for all of 5 seconds. Then… you hear the buzz and door releases. You open the door and are immediately greeted by this powerful attack on the senses. The fresh attack on the nostrils with the smell of rubber. Your eyes adjust to the darkness, and suddenly there's so much to take in, you don't know where to begin looking. There is a comfort to the dark blackness from within.
Any retail expert will tell you that the reason you go to a good shop is for the sense of theatre and that's why being inside a good kink store should and does feel so exciting. In the case of the old Regulation location, it was a great space, and the range of gear was opulent, and I loved it. The new store is something I'm still adjusting to and while it's not my first love, I still find myself spending money there, so they're doing something right. I suppose the biggest difference was the old store had furniture pieces too and I always found them to be fascinating because if they're in the store, someone will buy them. Sometimes I'd imagine what the people who are building their own play spaces would choose. It's quite an inspirational notion.
Of course, I'm also aware that other fetish stores are available across London and in other cities around the world. I count myself lucky that I have been able to travel, and whilst bring a tourist I got to see how these other stores might compare. I remember a visit to the Mister B store in Amsterdam - looking at some really cool leather gear (whilst having a cup of tea, which felt pleasantly urbane) and having the darkest thoughts cross my mind, the RoB store in Berlin which had an incredibly overpowering smell of leather (possibly my favourite odour) and visiting the legendary Mr S store in San Francisco. This is the fetish store, not far from Folsom Street, where they do the best demonstrations. I will never forget trying on an asylum hood, and the hot store assistant sat me in an imposing looking dentist chair and really showing the full potential of the hood - easily the most intimate demonstration I've had in any store. I still wonder to this day whether I should have tipped him...
Having quite a technical mind, I am always fascinated by how things work. For instance, the guile and sadistic imagination behind humblers and CBT devices is devilishly clever and designed to hurt in just the right way. Also, nothing beats the tactile nature of some of the gear, the feeling of trying on leather, the weight and coldness of steel restraints against your skin, or the sensual way that rubber forms against your body to become a tight second skin, the smell and touch of this is quite the sensory onslaught. These retail palaces are the props department for that kinky fantasy you've wanted to make real. They really are pure theatre.
Fetish retail staff know their kink, and are most often friendly, non-judgemental, and understanding. In commercial terms, this approach helps them to help you buy more gear! Good kink stores understand their customers, and that's why they succeed and build a loyal customer base. A lot of retail staff often have a more personal relationship with kink. I love going into a store and seeing an assistant proudly wearing their collar, wearing rubber or leather, or some other fetish accessory. It's just showing that this is not just another type of generic store because the people make the business, they give the place character, colour, and depth.
This brings me to the next point. Just what kind of customers frequent these dark places? There is no one type. There are people who might be steadily building their collections, or just buying one item, and those simply looking for ideas. I think it's safe to say that the customers are not all porn models and dressed head to toe in leather. Not that this would be a bad thing. Initially I had the strange notion that I would walk into a fetish store, and it would be the set of a porn film and everyone there would be intimidatingly hot (I don't always see things rationally, but my imagination is quite active!). I still recognise there is a sense of bravery for those who step in for the first time, because it's likely they have had to overcome one strain of neurosis or another which might enable them to step over that threshold.
I must admit, I have missed going back into these places since lockdown. It's good to be reminded of what they're like, what they offer and it's also good to meet people with expertise and a passion for kink. I remember having a chat in one store recently with a guy wearing a ring collar and it was wonderful to hear how happy he was to wear it, and how much his experience of being openly submissive had given to him.
For me, it's been a way of reuniting with why people love their gear. A good fetish store is a little world where you wander inside and get inspired, where you get the tactile feel, touch and smell of things made of rubber, leather, and metal – all incredibly horny textiles. It is a place designed to play with your head and make you feel something else, sexy, excited, incorrigible. Enjoying the wild imaginings of your ultimate fetish fantasy.
I'm aware that not everyone has such easy access to fetish retail stores, so looking online has become the easiest way to get access to gear and accessories. But, for me, nothing beats trying it on in the atmosphere of an actual brick and mortar store. I have introduced quite a few guys to different stores, depending on what they're looking for. And I know only too well that sometimes people just need that little extra push to step over the other side of that threshold. It's always worth it when you see them change in character. There's that moment you're in the changing room, you've adjusted the gear, you look in the mirror and, just for the slightest moment, you don't recognise yourself. You've transformed and really like what you see. This is what the experience of a good store will give you and it's why you'll go back there.
In the post lockdown world, it is good to know that some of these stores have survived and are still there, opening a world of devilish opportunities. Whether you're a first-timer or a regular, step across the threshold, through the looking glass and into the fetish wonderland that lies beyond.
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