Last Saturday afternoon, Aug 6, a few members of the fetish community—decked out in head to toe rubber, latex, and vinyl—showed up to party in an unlikely location: in front of the downtown Nordstrom flagship store on Pine Street. Out on the sunny sidewalk, a redheaded woman named Miyou peeled off a purple lace dress to reveal a black latex one underneath. A friend stepped forward to polish her latex-clad rear until it shone. Another woman, with cropped black hair, dark sunglasses, and a black corset over her own latex dress, joined Miyou in front of the window. The pair—both in tall, high-heeled black boots—shimmied against the glass and struck seductive poses, limbs intertwined, as a photographer snapped pictures.
They were there because one of their favorite fetish-wear shops had a few pieces—long opera gloves and thigh-high stockings, both in latex—in the window as part of the fall-fashion display. Nordstrom had gone kinky. "When we saw that Nordstrom had latex on display, we thought it was progressive that they are doing it," says Miyou. "We're hopeful that it will project into the mainstream."
Nordstrom didn't seem to like the attention, however. Half an hour into the shoot, two employees with walkie-talkies burst outside and told the group to put their cameras away.
Indeed, the high-class department store has been reluctant to admit that the accessories are actually fetish gear. "We don't carry those," a friendly, middle-aged saleswoman in the accessories department told me last week when I inquired about the skin-tight latex goods. They were notably missing from among the pricey pashmina shawls, clearance straw hats, and designer handbags. "I think they got them at Display & Costume," she added, referring to the innocuous North Seattle party-supply megastore.
Same thing on Saturday afternoon, when one of the store's staffers refused to discuss the gloves' provenance: "No comment," she said, after explaining that she'd helped with the window display. She then told the folks posing on the sidewalk to scram. Meanwhile, Nordstrom's spokerson was demure. "They were purchased from several costume shops in the area," Deniz Anders says. "That's all I know at this point."
It seems the latex wear actually came from a popular Capitol Hill boutique—not a party store in Northgate—SNM Underworld, which specializes in leather and latex fetish gear made by local artisans. Nordstrom staffers recently popped into the brick-walled Broadway shop—a loft space overhead doubles as a dungeon for heavier-duty bondage equipment—and purchased the gloves and stockings. They explained the accessories would be used as display window props, shop owner Sam St. Martin says, clearly flattered. She's excited that the gear has gone beyond the fetish community. "This is the first time something like this has been in the [Nordstrom] window, ever," she boasts.
Indeed, Nordstrom's reach into a subculture to jazz up an advertising campaign is exciting—and not that unusual a marketing tactic. Symbols of almost every subculture, from skateboarders to punk rockers, have been tapped to sell products.
Typically, companies aren't shy about hyping the subcultures they exploit. But for local Nordstrom, goods from a Capitol Hill leather shop might turn off shoppers there to pick up the season's "must-have bag for fall" or a dress "for every occasion."
Additional reporting by India Bodien.