By Gerry Visco
If you like to wear your hair in a cobalt Mohawk or to brave the cold in a pink leopard coat, chances are you already know New York is the place for you. After all, this is a city of strong personality and stylistic acceptance, where one man's rags are another woman's high fashion.
Despite New Yorkers' penchant for eccentricity, modesty still rules when it comes to revealing what lies beneath the layers piled on to keep out the cold. However, on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, a store called Religious Sex requests that your taboos and secrets be left at the door
The privacy of sexuality evaporates quickly upon entering the provocative boutique owned by husband and wife Sean Tarr and Eva Geb.
Tarr says the store is Geb's brainchild, generated by her own sense of style.
the time, she was into the Goth aesthetic," he said, referring to
the fashion of extreme black clothing, unusual hair styles, light-colored
make-up style and body piercings. "It was even before the Goth thing
really took off. Clean lines, nice fabrics and well-made garments, stylish
but edgy at the same time." The couple, both in their thirties, opened
the store in 1993.
"Religious Sex" was originally intended to be the name of a band. The name conjures up lurid images of randy nuns or Madonna cavorting in one of those videos that the Vatican banned. Tarr reports that in the beginning, the store received a few complaints about the name. "People thought it was a movie or a burlesque show," he said. "We got a lot of calls from guys looking to get laid."
the name ended up on the storefront rather than a marquee, the shop is
definitely musician-friendly. Tarr is a guitarist-vocalist for Johnny
Black, a local band. Music industry personalities who have made purchases
from the store include Prince, Lisa Marie Presley, Steve Tyler and Joe
Perry from Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Slash and Duff from Guns and Roses
and Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe.
Tarr notes that all types of people shop at Religious Sex, ranging from adventurous teenagers to specialty costume seekers to older couples who still like to party. The customers are primarily New Yorkers and tri-state residents, but the store is a mecca for many American and European tourists, Tarr said.
Geb does most of the buying for the store's clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessory offerings. They don't sell sex toys, although they do offer riding crops for those special needs. Tarr estimates the average price of any given item is $70 or so, but ranges from a $5 pair of fishnet stockings to a $1,000 pair of hand-molded leather wings that strap to the shoulder.
"We had a performance artist from Japan who had bought a couple pair of feather wings from us," said Tarr. "He would pretty much walk all over the city in those things, just to see what kind of reaction he would get."
Sex is renowned for latex-wear. "You've got to have a good figure.
Latex really accentuates what you have. You don't want to wear it if you
don't have a good body," Tarr said. The store's salespeople double
their duties by styling hair and makeup to match the outfits and often
need to fit the customers, which can make for some intimacy in the dressing
The customers are often used to "that sort of thing - it's part of the process." Of course, in an emporium catering to the wilder needs, it makes sense that many of the clients are a touch eccentric.
"Sometimes you get some literally insane people," says Tarr. "They don't like to be helped or maybe they want more help than you're prepared to give. Some people need a lot of reassurance -- they need to tell you every aspect of their life."
Religious Sex is not a confessional, though. "It's a store, that's all it is," says Tarr. Despite the outré nature of his wares, the Californian native seems disarmingly normal. If he has any kinks, he hides them well, ever the mellow, responsible merchant. "Life often takes you in directions you never thought you'd go," he philosophizes. The store's clients are inclined to agree, as they attempt to squeeze into their latex and try out their newly purchased riding crops.