The world's biggest erotica company, Beate Uhse, has opened Germany's first sex shop aimed specifically at women. Called Mae B., the bright, airy boutiques are heavy on lingerie and vibrators, light on pornography.
Sexy and classy at the same time.
When Yvette Najorka, a student at Berlin's University of the Arts, was commissioned along with four other students to come up with a concept for a new sex shop for women, she started asking her female friends if they even wanted such a thing.
"Oh yes, they would tell me," she said. "They thought it was a great idea and wondered why nobody had thought of it before."
Sex shops, of course, are a dime a dozen, but they aren't places that appeal to most women, Najorka said.
"They're too dark, too dingy, with too many dark corners," she added. "We didn't want our sex shops to be anything like that."
And Mae B., Beate Uhse's new chain of sex shops, designed by Najorka, for the female market, doesn't have much in common with your basic dirty bookstore.
At the grand opening in Hamburg, there was nary a pole dancer or thong in sight. Instead, in the middle of the city's upmarket shopping district, visitors to the first Mae B. store saw a selection of sexy, but tasteful, lingerie accompanied by sultry saxophone music.
Mae B outlet in Hamburg
"We wanted to create a space where women feel comfortable, where they can walk in and have an erotic inspiration," said Najorka.
They designed the space to put women at ease who might not normally feel comfortable going into a shop focusing on sex. The Mae B. stores "develop" as the client goes in, starting off "easy" with the sexy lingerie, progressing to the candied rose petals and chocolate body paint, on to the various lotions and creams or erotic games, and then to the "harder" sections like "Girl's Best Friend," where dildoes, vibrators, and other sex toys are each laid out carefully on black satin pillows. On the back wall are leather and latex garments. A visitor can decide for herself how deep into the erotic experience she wants to go.
What Mae B. doesn't have is pornography, neither magazines nor films. There are no blow up dolls, video booths, or lurking men with shifty eyes.
"Women want their erotic experience to be more indirect, more playful than men do," said Monika Wilg, a lawyer for the Beate Uhse company who has been with the firm for 12 years. "I have to visit traditional sex shops for work, and while I'm not afraid when I walk in, they aren't places I would go to on my own."
The name, Mae B., is a play on words, that can have several interpretations, according to Najorka, who helped come up with the name. It can stand for a woman who doesn't want to disclose her full name, who wants to remain a little mysterious. There are associations with that early sex symbol, Mae West, and the name sounds like the English word "maybe."
"Maybe yes, maybe now, maybe alone, maybe together," said Najorka with a sly smile.
Sex and the City
The time may be right for Beate Uhse to focus on women's sexuality, especially in the wake of the popularity of the American television series, "Sex in the City," which is currently running in Germany. There, four women engage in various sexual and romantic escapades, and have no inhibitions talking about them in detail with their friends.
"I think the Mae B. concept could work if it offers women something different, not just a lingerie shop," said Ute Hehr, who was at the shop opening.
"If it picks up on the spirit of Sex in the City, it could be successful. I can imagine girlfriends going down to the shop to look around and laugh and have a good time and say, 'hey, give that a try' or 'look, maybe that could be fun,'" she said.
The Mae B. shops mark another stage in Beate Uhse's continuing expansion course. The world's biggest erotica company saw sales grow 7.5 percent in 2003 to €244.5 million ($301 million) and profits shoot up 12.2 percent.
The outlook for 2004 look rosy as well. Beate Uhse has expanded into the Netherlands, buying one of that country's major erotic shop chains. It is in negotiations to buy Penthouse magazine and hopes to soon break into the U.S. market.
Mae B. now has two shops in Hamburg and the company will open up two additional ones in Frankfurt am Main this spring. Four additional outlets are planned for Cologne and Munich this fall. "I think it's a good idea and a good thing for women," said 24-year-old Patricia, who was at the opening with a friend. "It's bright and airy and I think when it comes to erotica, women need a store of their own."