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There was never any need for a formal research study. Instead, Kevin Larson hung around the store -- near the dressing room, where he could tell a woman to try the camisole in white, rather than off-white, in order to bring out her natural attributes. Or in his office beneath the Cabaret poster with its tattooed, smudge-eyed, tangle-haired, fishnet-wearing, not Liza Minelli version of Sally Bowles. Or behind the cash register at Pandora's Toy Box, filling a discreet order for one of the many motorized devices he calls toys.
"I also say 'play,'" he explains. "Over the years, I've discovered there's a lot of discerning people who have not played with toys because they don't want to go to those horrible porn stores. Or I meet women who've never played with vibrators because, 'Why? I've got the real thing.' Yes, but get them to actually try one. Get them to use it with a partner. Why not? It doesn't have to be a replacement. It's a spice, a zing."
Listening to women chatting in the toy showroom -- halfway between the lingerie/formal gowns/luxurious sheets area up front and the triple-X films and books in the back -- Larson realized that he was missing one important toy. He called around, only to discover that it hadn't yet been invented. So more than a year ago, he took on the task himself, going into partnership with a company he'll describe only as "one of the players in the sex industry." The new product will debut in six months, and it promises to be nothing less than...don't ask! The walls have ears, every one of them attached to a competitor in the cutthroat world of vibrator R&D. If he told you, he'd have to kill you.
And that would be totally out of character. As the proprietor of Pandora's, Larson sees himself as more of a PC Hef than a James Bond, a purveyor of romance with a sideline in sexual evangelism. Now in his early thirties, he's constantly surprised at the hordes of people who still think sex is dirty, sleazy or somehow demeaning to women.
"Please. Sex is elemental," Larson protests. "No sex, no life, in that the human race would cease. But also, without sex, what kind of life would you have? If more people were having quality sex, the world would improve, no question. This is not the age of sleaze, and this is not the age of free love, either. Because of public awareness of heinous diseases, you can't jump into bed with everyone you meet. Because taking advantage of people is horrible, you can't jump into bed with everyone you meet. And since you can't jump into bed with everyone you meet," he concludes, "you'd betterhave good sex."
And yet, the women in the toy room recognize that the sex industry has always been about men -- and still is. "For instance, the packaging on a vibrator has a naked woman on it," Larson says. "What should be on it is nothing. My new vibrator will appear in an elegant box, decorated with an Egyptian-looking symbol. No words! Out of the box, you'll be able to put it on your dresser or your desk. It does not look in any way anatomical. You tell people it's a back-scratcher or whatever. It'll look like a beautiful piece of modern sculpture."
So this vibrator looks good, non-sleazy. But that's only half of what the toy room women want, and Larson fully intends to give them the rest.
"The bigger, better orgasm," he claims. "The straight, non-candy-coated version that injects your body with endorphins and opiates. That's what I'm going after."
His background is ideally suited to the job, he says. Once a pre-med student who tutored other students in gross anatomy and enjoyed dissecting cadavers, he drew heavily on his knowledge of human anatomy while working on the vibrator's design. Not all of that knowledge came from class; Larson also relied on "personal experience with my ex."
After suffering academic burnout, Larson left school and went to work as a physical therapist and pharmaceutical sales rep. Three years ago he opened Pandora's, with its velvety interior and foreign-accented saleswomen, which quickly became a favorite among the sort of society people whose vanity plates are rarely spotted in front of the nearby Kitty's. He also hosts free monthly lectures at the store, where the curious can learn about "Light Bondage for Couples" while sipping wine. In fact, it will be an ideal setting for displaying his invention.
"Non-adult stores is where I want my vibrators," he says. "I don't want a woman to have to make a special journey to a porn store to find my toy. I want her to discover it at a place she likes to shop. I want to see two or three boxes just sitting on a shelf in an elegant boutique."
"People have completely screwed up the marketing of sex to women," he adds. "I think I know how to do it. Pandora's should be a national market. Victoria's Secret was so taboo when it first came to malls, but look at it now. On the other hand, I'm a big frowner on Victoria's Secret. Their goods are crap for what they cost, and there's no one knowledgeable to help you."