Consider it an Amsterdam Red Light district upgrade, Vegas style: two lingerie-clad beauties lounging in a velvety store window at the Crystals CityCenter mall. Too bubbly to be prostitutes—or even portraying prostitutes—they chatted to each other, seemingly oblivious to onlookers, while the delicate filigrees of their French lace and satiny underthings shone beneath soft lights.
In a city synonymous with exhibitionism, these two lolling ladies had turned the tables. It was voyeurism, all the way. Not even the Hermes store, with its golden horse balloons and rigid, horse-masked sentry, could compete. Or the Assouline bookshop, with its luxurious photographic tomes, Brazilian samba dancers and Caipirinhas bar. None of the other “Fashion Night Out” attractions, which feted Vegas shoppers with music and treats, commanded as much curiosity and attention.
My eyes darted from the tableau vivant to the storefront signage. I’d never even heard of the place. Now I’ll never forget it: Kiki de Montparnasse.
Inside, a large, bald-headed man in a three-piece suit nibbled on juicy, chocolate-dipped strawberries and gazed at the highest-end cotton underpants humanity has ever produced. Slim, stylish women sipped flutes of champagne and shared confidences against a backdrop of ethereal bras. The sinuous arrangement of ripe figs recalled the Garden of Eden. Lacey peignoirs hanging artfully from silk-wrapped hangers softly reflected the accent lighting, begging to be touched.
“May I show you around?” The pretty sales associate had thick bangs angled down to an exact point between her eyebrows.
Usually store staff pick up on my I’d-rather-do-it-myself vibe and judiciously wait for me to come to them. Maybe the salesgirl was a Dominatrix with a day job. Maybe the soft lights and curved belle époque vitrines in Kiki’s had filed my edge, too.
“We are a lifestyle brand that inspires romance,” she said, leading me past a couple admiring a $10,000.00 black chess set accompanied by a “designed for chess only” disclaimer.
Kiki’s, I discovered, carries everything from cashmere sweatpants to restraining tape that won’t leave any unpleasant residue on the skin. The DVD case, like the books, offered a studiously tasteful collection of celebrated films, everything from Ovid’s The Art of Love to Bertolucci’s The Last Tango in Paris.
“And this is our jewelry bar.”
I took in a rounded display case, arrayed with signature Kiki jewels and mysterious objects I’d blush to describe here.
While erotic shops and lingerie boutiques have long titillated the Vegas Strip, they’re as distant from Kiki’s as Night Train is from Chateau Margaux. The lingerie, bridal and loungewear collections could match the best Paris and Rome offer, where tradition and craftsmanship have set a luxury standard few brands attain. Let us not forget: Gustave Eiffel, who built the famous tower, also modernized the architecture of the bra.
But the French character of the store—Kiki’s namesake is a famous Parisian courtesan—is tempered by a seductive American flair for ingenuity and innovation. Old World charm abounds in Kiki’s, but New World marketing surmounts tradition.
“And this is our boudoir room,” announced my guide, standing slimly in her cinched gray suit and gesturing toward a bed outfitted with 1,000,000,000 thread-count sheets.
The pillowcases, I discovered, had “sleep” embroidered on one side, the F-word on the other. Shiny, gold-plated handcuffs dangled from each of the four candle-topped posters. I picked up a lambskin tickler with a marabou puff at the end. The edges of the feathers melted into imagination like a cloud.
“These products are part of our playful pleasure line,” she said. “We want to help couples celebrate pleasure and love in every way.”
In Kiki’s inner sanctum, the wholesome sexuality that characterizes many of the products (chiffon bloomers) slips decidedly toward a more experimental erotic imagination (harness bras). Displays I was too shy to check out nestled seductively behind sheer curtains.
I was ordered into the intimate, elegant atmosphere of the couples fitting room where a comfortable chair and side table face a shimmery semi-transparent dressing room curtain.
It is difficult to convey my confusion in front of the light switch labeled with the overly suggestive “Before,” “During,” and “After.” Various vectors of cultural analysis seemed to collide as my academic training and conservative upbringing jostled with expertise in journalism and an unapologetic zest for liberty.
Lest I slipped too deep in reverie, my guide pulled back the curtain with a diva’s flair and suggested we head back to the hors d’oeuvres.