Kiki de Montparnass
Kiki have boutiques in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles and concessions with retailers such as Harrods and Selfridges in London as well as with retailers in places as diverse as Moscow, Hong Kong and Riyadh. This all speaks for itself and Kiki is as exclusive and acceptable as you might imagine. The boutiques are wonderful places to shop and lay down a benchmark for the sector.
The website is beautiful and scores highly on the sheer class of the layout, the typography and the imagery. There may not be a better Pleasure Goods site in this respect. We like the fact that the products are picked for the likely customer base and that they are high quality and not too many to cause confusion. Nevertheless, Kiki have managed to cover almost all the Pleasure Goods range from fashion to leather and lingerie as well as vibrators and S&M equipment, books and art and what they call ‘Amorous Home’.
The customer onboarding and customer knowledge capability looks good. The concept of a ‘Wishlist’ - which is constructed by clicking ‘add’ on any item - is brilliant from Kiki’s point of view and gives genuine insight into consumer taste as well as encouraging a mailing list sign up. From the consumer’s angle it allows a certain amount of fantasy buying and the wishlist can be forwarded to a partner or lover to invite a purchase.
Kiki is expensive and very aspirational. As a result there’s not a lot of community feel but that’s correct in this case because Kiki epitomises what high end Pleasure Goods shopping should be about. We would like to have seen a bit more substance in the books and films section. There’s scope to do more there we think.
Coco de Mer
Coco de Mer has two boutiques in London, both in high class locations with a hedonistic and relaxed feel and very good service. The website is very reminiscent of the Coco shops: beautiful, quirky and frustratingly not quite perfect. Make no mistake though; this is a lovely store right up with the very best and with a full range of goods offering some of the nicest products in the Pleasure Goods arena including brands such as Nichole de Carle, Paul Seville, La Perla and Bordelle. The sex toy range is generous and attractive and the lubricant is worth the trip in itself. Coco de Mer have also clearly understood the erotic power that can be found within luxury goods and lingerie.
In terms of design the site has a high quality sensual look with soft typography and good colour and background. The imagery is beautiful but there is a tendency to clutter on the home page, which seems to have replaced an earlier, more elegant simplicity.
The community feel of the site is good with a ‘Coco Club’ which offers some interesting attractions. The idea of contributing erotic experiences offers an opportunity to engage - as does the photo gallery of self-taken shots in the dressing rooms. The erotic short films and the erotic photo gallery are probably not to everyone’s taste but have the priceless quality of trying something different. The website has fabulous intentions but fails to fully capitalise on its engaging nature by capturing real knowledge or acknowledging registration.
Hard to find amongst the maze of small streets near Brighton’s seafront but worth the search as She Said have most things absolutely right. Actually, there are three shops in total with a bridal boutique right next to the She Said shop and another store called Tickled which concentrates a little more on healthcare and advice. The She Said boutique itself is small but perfectly formed. The street level entrance has welcoming staff and a discreet but welcoming feel. The descent down the stairs to where a cornucopia of toys are available to touch and inspect is all it should be erotically – a hint of the bordello and the forbidden. Other retailers should look and learn.
She Said is a non pareil for lingerie and both high class products and product knowledge can be found in store. The website looks very good and has some exciting, newer brands. It’s also good for art. There is no wishlist though. Online She Said is not quite the finished article but getting close. Overall, we say there should be a She Said in every town.
Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium
A long but highly appropriate name for a very long established store. Sh! has been in existence for nearly 20 years which tells you all you need to know about how the customer base must have been built and retained in sometimes adverse circumstances. Sh! Have an international following and have recently expanded their operation from a single store in Hoxton Square in London to the trendy environs of the Portobello Road which confirms the success of the best woman’s retailer in London. Both shops are generously stocked with a very wide range of goods, some of which Sh make themselves. Everything in the store is easily accessible and touchable and the Sh! Girls are very friendly and really knowledgeable. It’s all totally women oriented and gentlemen are only allowed in under certain conditions.
It seems silly to level conventional criticism at a store that is one of our favourites and which has such vast levels of customer empathy. The shops are great places to shop but have very much their own style and the website defies most design rules. Nevertheless, no site has greater depth of product and advice - and all the goods are at competitive prices.
Agent Provocateur has outlets across Europe, The Middle East, Asia and the United States. Pretty much all of these are in high value, top ranking locations. This should send out loads of messages across the retail sector that what works for very well heeled ladies in expensive places should have mid market imitators everywhere. AP has very desirable goods right across the Pleasure Goods range with the exception of sex toys. You can buy whips, paddles and handcuffs but not the main event and in fact we would regard Agent Provocateur as primarily a lingerie store, particularly as the more edgy stuff tends to be a bit inaccessible in the shops and is perhaps more for effect than intent. Despite that reservation, AP’s model is a good one and it works absolutely in the heart of mainstream (albeit a very monied mainstream) even in some locations that are not entirely benign to more overt expressions of female sexuality.
Good Vibrations started life in 1977 which makes it something of a pioneer in the women’s market. There four stores in the San Francisco Bay area and one on the East Coast and to some extent the store enjoys iconic status.
We think its heart is in the right place but these days it may be a bit too toy focussed at the expense of the wider range of Pleasure Goods.The website has depth and lots of useful engagement with women on a range of issues but we find the aesthetic of both the website and the shops to be very dated. Good Vibrations have a good brand but need to line up now with the future market.
A web only retailer but here because it shows what can be done for the mainstream market with a great deal of style but not at high end pricing. Boutique d’Amour’s site reflects a lot of thought and has the sort of imagery we really find appropriate for the sector. A great product range including books and good ideas on customer engagement even if these have not been fully realized yet. We particularly like the jewelry and the fact that the site recognises the over 50s woman. The neglect of this age group is quite unacceptable generally and Boutique d’Amour could do well if they can develop this. A website that is part of the future and not the past.
Passage du Desir (Paris)
Passage du Desir has three stores in Paris and generally we like these very much. There is a sense from both the stores and the website that this company knows the way forward and has produced something new and very aligned with the women’s market. The stores are very stylish and very French although maybe we would like a little more depth, a little more atmosphere erotique. The website is excellent. On first sight, it’s not exactly to our taste but on reflection we think it’s elegant and fun. Passage du Desir is not perfect but it’s hard not to like.
Love Rouge is a comparatively new outlet in Sydney, Australia. Owned and staffed exclusively by women. We like it because it’s a good template for stylish, accessible stores at affordable prices.
The boutique is in Darlinghurst and has lingerie on the ground floor and a ‘love parlour’ on the first floor. This is in line with our multi-room or multi-layered ‘emporium’ model.
The website is not the ultimate in style but is generally elegant and effective. It does the right things from both the customer’s point of view and the stores. We like the attention to the often overlooked issue of giving of gifts.
The Italians have been strangely slow to embrace a sector that is made for them. Angelique Devil is however a good representation of what Italian style can bring to Women’s Pleasure Goods. The boutique is situated in Via Cerva in Milan and is elegant and classy. It is not quite our preferred model in terms of shop depth but this is a good variant.
The website is dramatic and informative although we reserve judgement on the extent of ongoing customer engagement. We like the ‘suggestions’ that accompany each product and there is a good selection of premium toys and some very beautiful lingerie. A little expensive but would go very well in many other Italian cities.
About this list
Women Sex and Shopping contends that the Women’s Pleasure Goods sector needs re-invention and a move away from an unsuitable aesthetic and merchandising. Overall, we believe that there are less than 100 retail outlets across the world that offer style, design and service and a range of goods that the woman consumer is looking for.
It is a measure of the sheer scarcity of candidates that WSS dropped plans for a top 50 listing. The ten listed here are amongst the very best internationally and each, in different ways, is a guide to what retailers might look like if the sector is to deliver to the market. We have praised their virtues and if necessary pointed out where they fall short.