ROYAL OAK -It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. You’re expecting some company and plan to be, ahem, tied up for the next few hours. Trouble is, your nipple clamps have seen better days and you can’t find your urethra probe anywhere. If only you lived in West Hollywood. Or even Amsterdam.
Thankfully, if you live in the metro Detroit area, a new probe, clamp or ball gag is only minutes away. Just head to Noir Leather, “Royal Oak’s Dirty Little Secret – for 25 Years and Counting!”
That’s right: Royal Oak. That suburban community that couldn’t even pass an ordinance to protect LGBTs from discrimination is the home to a leather and fetish shop filled with items that would make your grandmother blush – and possibly inhale her dentures.
Keith Howarth and his wife Kathleen Fegley opened Noir Leather 25 years ago this month in Royal Oak. Though it has moved locations within the city, it is one of the longest, continually operating businesses in the city.
“They kind of got Royal Oak moving and made it a household name,” Bill Harrison, a member of the city’s downtown development authority board, told the Detroit News.
Howarth opened the store at a time when he was broke. “I was coming up with a new idea to live my dream, to not work for somebody and be involved in what I loved. What I loved at that time was punk rock and going out and partying and being with bands and music – and I wanted a career that was enjoyable. Not a factory assembly-line deal. I wanted to make my career fun.”
While stores like Lover’s Lane that hawk erotic wares typically cater to heterosexual couples, Noir Leather caters to everyone. “We’ve been gay-friendly since we opened,” says Howarth, adding that the store has a lot of gay customers.
The boutique, says Howarth, is really two-in-one. “The store is in two parts,” he says. “One is clothing: shoes, jewelry, hosiery, all the accoutrements one could wear to a nightclub or bar and look really spectacular.”
The other half is the “all-adult line,” where you’ll find bondage and S&M gear like leather hoods and stainless steel beaded whips, erotic DVDs with titles like “Man Juice” and “Poppin Peters 5,” harnesses, sex dolls, cock rings and Mr. Ease anal spray.
And lucky customers can catch a glimpse of Mistress Milla, the store’s resident cat. She can usually be found napping under a rack of clothing.
Zach Zalac, 27, used to visit the store as a teenager. “I used to come down to the one on Main Street before I was even old enough to be a pervert,” he says. “I loved it then. There’s something really engaging and creative about the atmosphere.”
If porn is what you’re looking for, James Tompkins is the man to ask. “I order the porn here,” he says. “I am an expert of pornography.”
“The sommelier of smut,” Zalac chimes in.
Recently Noir Leather began Raw Talent Tuesdays, where bands perform live outside the store. The event began Sept. 2 and runs from 7:30-9 p.m. through Oct. 31.
Although some members of the city government frowned on the idea – especially city commissioner Chuck Semchena, who cited the store’s “history of risque, grotesque and morbid displays,” according to the Detroit Free Press – the idea was ultimately given the green light.
Live music, argued some, might help bring folks out on a Tuesday. “(Howarth) brings a business that isn’t for everybody, but it is for somebody and he’s been very successful,” Mayor Jim Ellison said to The Mirror. “He’s trying to bring people down there; not just to his store but to other merchants in the area. I look at this as an attempt to bring life to a dead shopping day.”
Rocking out live for leather won’t be limited to Noir Leather’s sidewalk – at least not for one very special night this month. On Sept. 20, Noir Leather takes over the Crofoot in Pontiac for Noir’s Silver Anniversary Bash: 25 Years of Sex, Punks and Mayhem.
The festivities include a Noir fashion show and a fetish show, baton twirling, birthday cake, Sultry Masseuse Chair Massages, art show, S&M furniture display, Tim TV of Fire Fabulon, over 12 bands and a burlesque revue.
Tickets are $10 when purchased in advance at Noir and free if you drop at least $100 in the store. Pick up a shiny, steel-handled beaded flogger – “For memories that last more than a day or two,” says Tompkins – and you’re in.