Fur, Handcuffs, & A Webcam: What Happens When A Porn Site Opens An IRL Store

There are a few things one can expect to see when walking around the cobblestone streets of New York's fashionable Soho neighbourhood: Designer stores with intimidating price tags; pristine, white-walled art galleries; salons where the cost of a cut easily exceeds most people's weekly food budgets. Likewise, there are a few things you do not expect to find in that part of town: A wall of books with raunchy titles such as Hot Sex: Tips, Tricks, & Licks and The Little Book Of Big Penis (or The Little Book of Big Breasts), a table of boxed leather blowjob sets, and a live webcam where singles and couples are encouraged to play out their fantasies.
But that's exactly what you'll find at 70 Wooster Street — across from Celine, and down the block from Chanel — for the next few weeks. This is where PornHub, the internet's largest pornography site, has set up shop. The website opened a limited run pop-up that will be open to the public (18 years old and up, only) through December 20.
The location choice was a strategic one, according to the company. "PornHub came to us to elevate their brand," Amanda Nina Abdel Hadi, the creative director of Pop Up Mob, the all female experiential marketing agency behind the pop-up, told Refinery29. "We chose this space to take the taboo away from sex and make it more accessible."
Since what PornHub is selling — sex — is an experience that drives all your senses, the pop-up was designed to do the same. The store is nondescript from the outside, save the brand's black and orange logo, listing of its hours, and 18-plus notification. But when you enter, you walk beneath a fur archway lined with a neon orange light, and are immediately met with softly pulsating music, the sort you might expect to find in a darkly lit, downtown club. (The only difference was that I was not carded on my visit.)
The front half of the store is all about the merch. Walls are lined with unisex PornHub branded t-shirts, thongs, and booty shorts. Pornhub-branded leather jackets are designed to look like concert tour shirts, although instead of cities, there are the names of Pornhub's various viewing categories (amateur, bondage, toys, and so on). There's also a charitable collection, "Pornhub Cares," created in collaboration with porn star Christy Mack. All proceeds from the collection go to a domestic violence charity of Mack's choosing.
The PornHub merch continues throughout the store, with the branding in some questionable places: There's PornHub lube ("Premium Rub," "Luv Rub," or "Porn Rub"), PornHub hats, PornHub tank tops, PornHub duffel bags, and PornHub water bottles, for all your hydration needs. It's probably best to keep that bottle at home, for now, and use a plain Swell at work.
A huge screen takes up the entire back wall of the first room of the store, showing a highly pixelated version of the webpage that hints at some of the challenges of opening a porn-related store in the first place.
"It was tricky to get anyone to allow PornHub in a space," Abdel Hadi said. "We had to pixelate this [wall] even more because things would show up a little. There were a lot of obstacles for this whole pop-up."
One of the most obvious obstacles was likely the provocative room in the back. The soundscape here is different from the front of the store. Created by Brooklyn-based record label and artist collective Enstantine, it's a playlist of "eargasmic journeys", erotic sounds sourced and mixed from PornHub videos. There are dressing rooms and a black fur-lined table full of sex toys. Anchored above the dressing rooms, and across from the table, is a webcam that streams directly to the site's homepage in real-time; shoppers are encouraged to get comfortable on the other side of the camera.
The response to this feature of the store has been mixed: "Some people come in ready with their partners — [they're] all leathered up and they have a little show," Abdel Hadi said. "Some people come and sit alone and talk; some people get a bit shy and start playing with the props."
A less-public option does exist in the form of interactive phone installation on the back wall — an old-school payphone, lined in black fur with a gold phone attached — and lets the user who picks it up in on some breathy phone sex.
For something that feels so abnormal in the neighbourhood, PornHub's pop-up has a surprisingly run-of-the-mill goal. "It's just trying to become a normal brand, sharing its products and its lifestyle," Abdel Hadi said.
During the time that I stopped by the store, it was quiet. (Though to be fair, it was the middle of the day on a Monday after a holiday weekend.) A few boys who looked like they could barely pass for 18 and a pair of girls wearing backpacks stopped in. One middle-aged man in headphones did a loop.
Over the weekend, the foot traffic was a lot busier: Over 1,000 people went in each day, from Friday through Sunday, with about 20% more men than women stopping for a look. So far, the biggest seller has been the plain, $35 (£26) PornHub t-shirt, though Abdel Hadi says couples have been buying the most expensive set, the "supercharge wand", which sells for $115 (£86).
Of course, PornHub's store was always going to be be harder to sell offline where customers are not anonymous IP addresses logging on for a viewing. "Some people are like, 'I just want to touch it but I'm not going to use it,'" Abdel Hadi said of those buying vibrating toys. "I'm like, 'It's fine! I'm not going to judge you. Touch it, use it, do whatever you want.'"

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