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Photographs by Stephen Laufer

Models from left to right: Terra, Kellie and Julia
Felina Spring Collection
Terra: Bra - $29, Panty - $24
Kellie: Bra - $40, Panty - $18
Julia: Bra - $35, Panty - $19

All models are wearing Ellie shoes, style 'Vanity' - $45

Get the Kinks Out

It's fast fashion in Santa Cruz when Camouflage throws one of its edgy fashion shows. And in honor of all things romantique, our lovelorn wannabe-French-Existentialist correspondent spices up Metro Santa Cruz's annual fashion issue with a peek behind the scenes

Text by Mike Conneaux

I still see her--ah, my sweet, French pussycat--she's strutting down a runway of memories in my mind. She came into my life as I was coming of age (I believe it was back in the year 2002, if memory serves), sauntering boldly through a lightning storm of flashbulbs, a swarm of photographers clamoring to capture an image of her essence ... or was it the essence of her image? No matter; the cameras could never glimpse what she and I shared.

She, a lingerie model, a vision of feminine elegance with a touch of unfathomable confidence on a runway stage in Paris. And I below, bending all my will to make her see me ... and then our eyes met. An eternity of understanding opened as our souls linked in that moment--I felt our connection run through me like a shock of electric despair, distilling my destiny down, down, down into a blur of ecstatic ruination and redemption. Something in her eyes told me ... well, that I didn't have a chance in hell with her. But also, they told me secrets that I never learned in Catholic school or the straightlaced feminism classes I took in college: Lips slightly pursed, her sultry gray eyes defiantly narrowed, her look simply said: "I feel sexy." And also, "Lingerie is good."

All at once I was wrecked and resurrected by those eyes, which spoke with all the authority of the Creator Herself. Or should I say Himself? For there are certainly those who would argue that lingerie is merely a male chauvinist fantasy perpetrated on women to objectify, humiliate and subjugate them, but we'll talk more about bondage later (which, it should be noted, is an equal-opportunity affair when properly practiced). But who invented lingerie anyway, or, for that matter, the concept of fashion? And more importantly, which came first--the leopard-print thong underwear, or the men and women who love to wear them?

I found myself pondering these and other universal questions back in February while sitting outside a café downtown. I was debating with a homeless man whether or not Sartre was well endowed when I noticed a commotion at the lingerie boutique across the street. I walked over to have a look inside.

Ah yes, Camouflage. A note to the uninitiated: this ain't no army surplus store. On the contrary, it's quite the opposite of anything even remotely associated with the military ... except maybe the handcuffs and other assorted restraints.

No, Camouflage is all about fantasy and imagination. It's about sexy clothes, fun toys and plenty of how-to manuals that teach you how to use 'em. It's about role-playing and feeling good about your sexuality. It can be about domination, too, but not the global kind--it's the good kind where "safe words" will get you out of a painful or otherwise uncomfortable situation. And when world politics got you down, sugar, it's all about escape. Or, okay, getting captured can be kinda kinky too, but you get the idea.

General manager Mimi Swenson is especially aware of the therapeutic effects that fantasy can afford.

"Especially with the state of the world right now," she says, "people come in here to escape, and we're able to give them that. And that feels so good."

Model: Kellie
'The Naughty Schoolgirl' by Lip Service - $85
Ellie shoes, style 'Eden' - $45

All featured clothing available at Camouflage.

Twice a year, once before Valentine's Day and once before Halloween, this sexy little shop hosts a fashion show of sorts, a mini-festival of fantasies. Hence all the commotion in the store as I wondered inside that night back in February. It's packed wall-to-wall with all kinds of people--young, old, happy, curious, with plenty of laughter and flushed, rosy cheeks.

Maybe it was just the chill from outside that had everyone's cheeks glowing. Or maybe it was the alcoholic punch being served. Or maybe--just maybe--it had something to do with the scantily clad lingerie models serving the punch and hors d'oeuvres.

Yes, because after all, it's a lot easier to imagine what an article of clothing will actually look like when somebody's actually wearing it. Granted, those "somebodys" are uncommonly fit men and women with washboard abs and/or cellulite-free thighs, but still.

Naughty nurses and sexy schoolgirls roam through the crowd, offering snacks and displaying their wares. And although they already have two bouncers on hand to keep the peace, what sexy dress-up party would be complete without a man in uniform?

Mike Silcher, one of Camouflage's brave and strapping models, describes his peace-keeping outfit: "It's a risqué cop uniform with the hat, briefs, a tight shirt and a badge and I'm walking around with a billy club, you know, just kind of working the theme."

Work it boy! But if this is all starting to sound like a sexed-up Halloween dress-up party, that's because it is. "I'd call it an informal fashion show," Swenson says. "The male models will be serving beer nuts and say things like, 'Would you like to try my nuts?' We make people feel playful and a bit awkward at the same time, you know what I mean? We play with those boundaries, the push and pull, the give and take--that's what sex is all about."

And of course their business is to expand the boundaries of sexuality, because the more people who are curious about fetish outfits and sex toys, the longer stores like Camouflage stay in business. To that end, they use these parties to entice an otherwise hesitant public to take a peak at their products.

"It's nice for people who feel uncomfortable," says Silcher, "it makes them not feel so shy to walk around and have a glance at what's going on. We welcome everyone who comes in."

Indeed, it's easy to excuse yourself for wondering into a party that's open to the public. And hey, if you just so happen to inspect that undulating dual-headed multi-speed Super Vibro Delux 2000 while you're in there, well, that's just fine, too.

Or maybe you've always wondered what liquid latex was really like, and you finally understand what it's all about when the model offering you cream puffs and chocolate nipples is wearing nothing else from the waist up.

At this point you may be wondering how these models get so bold. Silcher explains it thusly: "We have beverages beforehand, just to kind of get us rolling."

Two of the women concur. Says Julia: "At first for me, [modeling] was nerve-wracking, but you get used to it. And a couple of drinks help, too."

"And everyone trusts everyone here, we all have a good relationship with each other," adds Kelly. "Everybody's really respectful...but we have bouncers just in case."

Bouncers, models, booze, hors d'oeuvres...it's a lot of trouble to throw a great party, but it's a party that aims to open people's eyes to some of life's finer pleasures, and that makes it all worthwhile. Because when you just happen to spot that sexy little number that you just know you'll look hot in, you'll appreciate the sexually empowering vibe that Swenson and her crew work hard to cultivate. "I give a lot of encouragement to the women who come in here" she says, "the, 'you're hot, you look great, you look so good' kind of thing. When girls come out of the dressing room, they're just exuding that energy of 'Check. Me. Out. I'm the hottest thing around.' That's when we know we're doing our job."

All featured clothing available at Camouflage, 1329 Pacific Ave., downtown Santa Cruz; 423.7613.

Models from left to right: Kellie, Julia, Mike
Kellie: Hot Sauce skirt/tietop set - $60
Julia: Hot Sauce long gown - $100

Models from left to right: Terra, Mike & Julia
Terra: 'The Naughty Nurse' by Lip Service - $85
Mike: JM black boxers - $20
Julia: 'The Sexy Maid' by Dream Girl - $55

Models: Mike & Kellie
Mike: JM black boxers - $20
Kellie: Cosabella 'Verona' black lace camisole - $95
and lace hot shorts - $75

Model: Terra
Cosabella 'Amy' bustier - $150
Cosabella 'Amy' thong - $26

Models from left to right: Kellie & Julia
Kellie & Julia: Eberjey camisole - $75; Eberjey hot shorts - $45

Model: Terra
Cosabella 'Ceylon' bra - $70 & hot shorts - $70

Flesh Toners Left to Right: Jennifer Heath, Shanda Thomas and Deborah Polverino of Pure Skin.

Next of Skin

Clinical expertise and cutting-edge treatments are the beauty mark of Capitola's Pure Skin

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Lab coats. Shiny instruments. and ... back issues of Cosmo?

Walking into Pure Skin in Capitola is like walking into a doctor's office. An airy, serene doctor's office where smiling women in lab coats offer you a glass of cool water and a nice, cushy chair while you wait. So, really, not like a doctor's office at all.

"We offer full-body treatments, all in one place," says Shanda Thomas, co-owner along with Jennifer Heath and Deborah Polverino. "It's not strictly clinical, but it's not foof. You can come in and target the areas you want to target, but also escape your day." Deborah agrees. "Even if you're coming in for major skin work, you're in a relaxing environment."

An enormous scented candle sits on the counter; behind it are products from Sothy's offered for sale, including some featured in this month's issue of In Style magazine. Soothing music plays in the background. The clientele is surprisingly diverse: young men, older women, mothers with their daughters.

"From a teen with acne to a dad who wants to look younger, we offer something for everyone," says Deborah.

Pure Skin's estheticians pride themselves on their clinical expertise. Jennifer Heath offers one of the clinic's most popular treatments: Swich, or Dermal Rejuvenation. "It can take years off your skin," she says. Swich stimulates skin growth on a cellular level, boosting collagen and elastin production.

Heath travels to Pennsylvania two or three times a year to study with the founder, skin research biophysicist Peter T. Pugliese, M.D.

"Some people leave esthetician school and go straight to work," Heath says. "We wanted to offer a wealth of experience to our clients. Lots of knowledge, lots of school--we're interested in aggressive skin care."

Aggressive, but at the same time decadent. Among the extensive services offered by Pure Skin are massage (one therapist specializes in prenatal, the other in lymphatic--and both do the popular warm stone massages), waxing, Botox, microdermabrasion, body wraps and permanent makeup (which, in addition to the traditional eyeliner or lipliner, can also be used to camouflage scar tissue).

And, of course, the facial.

"The PureSkin facial is our most popular," says Deborah. For $70, you get an hour and a half of skin-pampering bliss, including an analysis of your skin, a facial massage and extraction of whatever might be clogging your pores (which really isn't as painful as it sounds). "Even if all you get is a facial," says Heath, "you're stimulating cell growth and speeding up the metabolism of the skin--and that lasts four to six weeks."

"Life is stressful," Shanda says. "Everybody needs the sort of experience you can have at Pure Skin. Beauty definitely comes from within. If you're confident in yourself, you're going to shine."

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From the April 23-30, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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