When Coco de Mer opens its downtown shop, it'll likely ruffle some Santa Barbara feathers. But that's kind of the point.
The luxury erotic boutique is unashamedly about sex, willing to shake things up to help curious folk tap into their sensual side. On its Web site and in its overseas stores, the company sells everything from lizard print spanking paddles to whips made of human hair, to $10,000 gold “toys.” The new South Coast shop, however, will feature only lingerie, candles, oils, and a carefully curated selection of exotic items to avoid violating city code that governs adult businesses.
If talks between company reps and city staff continue on the constructive path they're already on, Coco de Mer will open a pop-up store — by definition a temporary business with a defined expiration date — in September. It'll take over the space now occupied by nail salon Polish in Arlington Plaza to introduce people to the brand and drum up a following. The plan is to stay for six months, but the retailer may become a permanent Santa Barbara fixture if sales are good.
Popular with the rich and famous, Coco de Mer recently closed its Los Angeles location, but continues to run two stores in the U.K. where the company was created. It took its name from the world's largest nut — native to Seychelles in the Indian Ocean — which resembles a woman's nether regions.
“I chose the location because it is my favorite place to shop in Santa Barbara,” said cofounder and S.B. resident Justine Roddick. “It is also the center of the Santa Barbara film festival, my favorite time of year in the city.” Roddick, daughter of The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, continued: “I was asked a million times by friends and people I met in Santa Barbara why I couldn't open [a store] here. I'm in the business of pleasure, adding some class and humor to boudoir fun. I thought I should please my friends.”
While no managers of Arlington Plaza's other stores and restaurants wanted to comment on news of Coco de Mer's move-in, Caroline Diani, owner of DIANI designer clothing said, “I choose to celebrate and support a local entrepreneur. [Roddick] is an amazingly talented boutique retailer and without unique, little businesses like we have in Arlington Plaza, Santa Barbara retail would be like every other high street or shopping mall.”
When most people hear the words “erotic emporium,” relayed Coco de Mer spokesperson Serene Cicora (“The Mistress of the Mouth,” as she calls herself), they think of “dark, dirty depravity.” But when those same people walk into a Coco de Mer store, she went on, they more often than not become fans. “It's not about debauchery,” she said, “but about celebrating sexuality. It's about making it better. Once we speak to people, we tend to sway them to the beautiful side.” She explained employees are given extensive training, from both practical and sensitivity standpoints, and educated on every item's proper use.
Coco de Mer's client demographic runs the gamut, said Cicora, with men and women, young and old, all shopping for products online and in person. At the former L.A. store, Cicora remembered helping two 80-year-old gay women. They asked about some of the more explicit items — which Cicora admitted she was hesitant to show — but they knew what they wanted and walked out happy customers. “We don't discriminate,” said Cicora, noting, however, that patrons under 18 years old aren't allowed to shop on their own without a parent.
“The beauty of owning your own business means you can adjust the offering in each of your stores to suit your market,” said Roddick, who's been in contact with city planners about what exactly the location is allowed to sell — and what it can display in its front windows — so it won't fall in the category of an “adult entertainment” business.
City code doesn't allow such stores in Santa Barbara's El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District, which encompasses most of downtown and stretches along East Beach. “The pop-up in Santa Barbara will absolutely reflect the fact that we are in a smaller and slightly more conservative community,” said Roddick.