Sex for Grown-ups

PHOTO BY JEANNE RICEThere's a long list of items you'll never find at the La Rouge lingerie store in Laguna Beach, so we'll just mention a few of them here: chartreuse stripper heels, edible panties, crotchless panties and the entire wardrobe trailer from the Anna Nicole Smith show. And butt plugs. La Rouge sells sex the way it was before Irving Klaw started photographing Bettie Page—way, way before the underwear-as-outerwear thing. Basically, it doesn't sell sex at all. Because, given a chance, sex will always sell itself.

“It's not overstated. It's really the opposite of that. This is for someone who really appreciates attention to detail and workmanship,” says store owner Pani Golbaz, 26, who started La Rouge after her older sister got married. As the younger sister, it was Pani's job to buy lacy things for assorted showers and for the wedding night, and she quickly discovered there weren't any worth having.

“Victoria's Secret isn't like this,” Golbaz says in a rare moment of bashing the competition. “They don't do anything in-house anymore.” Everything at La Rouge is in-house at some point—and craftsmanship is key—even though almost everything they sell originates in Europe.

European fabrics and designers are the best because they get it, Golbaz says; they get that lingerie should make you feel special—and that special doesn't always mean on your knees. As she talks, we walk in circles around the shop, which resembles a front parlor or drawing room. Remember drawing rooms? Me, neither—but apparently they're quite lovely, all hardwood and dark paint, velvet curtains and overstuffed chairs.

Atmosphere is also key to putting one in the mood for sweet nothings from Wolford, I.D. Sarreiri of Italy, and one-of-a-kind sheer black robes with tiny pink hand-sewn polka dots by Parah of Italy. These are pleated, tucked and hand-sewn brassieres, peignoirs, slips and nighties, taken every bit as seriously as couture outerwear. Customers get it, she says; so much so that one man recently told his companion they'd have to leave or he was going to start crying in the face of all that ruffled beauty.

“It's a very different look because of the fact it's so unique,” Golbaz says. “That's what the store's about, unique stuff you can't find anywhere else.” Stuff such as the Janet Reger line, named for the late clothier whose house still makes undergarments for British royalty—and the new lingerie from Roberto Cavalli. “We're the first lingerie store to carry his line,” Golbaz says.

It's here first, it's beautifully rendered, and it's sexy—very much so—but with a matter-of-fact Continental sophistication that's still a bit alien to our own gee-whiz sensibilities. This is underwear for people who might not wear it as outerwear—but who easily could. Wearing La Rouge lingerie is like owning a Maserati or a De Tomaso Pantera: you may not want to drive fast, but if you do, you have that luxury.

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