Elle’s Boutique Encourages Austin to Embrace the Joy of Sex
Clarksville’s new “sensuality boutique” puts education and accessibility at the forefront
By Laurel Miller
Photographs by Clay Grier
Elle Florescu is delighted as she recalls one of her favorite customer interactions. “An 80-year-old woman came in to buy some new sex toys for her and her husband to enjoy,” says the proprietress of Clarksville’s new luxury “sensuality boutique,” Elle’s. “But we’ve also had a mother and her teenage daughter, groups of friends and couples of all ages, as well as customers who have never purchased lingerie or toys.”
While the demographics may be surprising, they’re also definitive proof Elle’s is filling a void in Austin’s retail landscape. “This is such a progressive city in many ways, but it was lacking an elevated sex shop,” says Florescu. “I felt the time was right to open a place that encouraged sex positivity but repositioned sex retail, reimagining it in as a high-end creative space, one that functioned much like a traditional salon, where people can go to socialize as well as attend educational talks and foster a sense of community.”
Growing up in Houston, Florescu didn’t foresee a future peddling skimpy undergarments and vibrators. As a teen, she was an avid skateboarder; prior to Elle’s she worked in the entertainment industry as a marketing executive. “I had a relatively unconventional upbringing,” she says. “As a result, I’ve always been a curious person.”
While Florescu’s parents are now divorced, they “always had very direct, open conversations with me and my siblings about sex and other subjects that are very real and human. I credit them both to leading me to my current path. My dad is European, and that also allowed us to grow up being comfortable in our own skins. The fear of intimacy and sex has always intrigued me because that’s so wholly different from my experience.”
Florescu first started entertaining the idea of “creating a space that embraced freedom and fostered accessibility around the topic of intimacy” a decade ago, as she became burned out on the music industry. “I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do next but opening a sex shop had always stayed with me,” she says.
Elle’s opened in early February in a renovated 1935 cottage adjacent to Clark’s Oyster Bar and Swedish Hill Bakery and down the street from luxury clothing retailer, ByGeorge. The location isn’t mere coincidence: the boutique was designed by Florescu and Lambert McGuire Design. Her boyfriend is restaurateur Larry McGuire. The ethos and product selection, however, are entirely Florescu’s.
In addition to tasteful, gossamer undergarments by designers like La Perla, Carine Gilson, Wolford and I.D. Sarrieri and beautifully preserved vintage lingerie, there’s a curation of “pleasure-centric” items, including Kiki de Montparnasse sculptural silicone and little silver- and gold-plated bullet vibrators, rose quartz and jade dildos, and gold-plated handcuffs, collars and leads. Your typical truck stop adult shop, it’s not: “For many of us, mainstream ‘sex shops’ put it into our heads that sexuality is a taboo subject, something to be ashamed of,” says general manager Kayla Marmillion, who formerly worked in hospitality in Paris and Manhattan. Says Florescu, “Kayla can successfully sell a sex toy to anyone.”
Florescu was inspired by famed London lingerie/erotica retailer Coco de Mer, which over the past two decades has served as both an educational outlet as well as community resource. The self-described “House of Pleasure,” which now has 32 stores worldwide, offers classes (“The Art of Spanking,” Taking the Lead: An Introduction to Sexual Exploration with Mistress Adreena”) in the store’s salon.
“I 100 percent credit (Coco de Mer founder Justine Roddick) with giving me the idea to make Elle’s a salon concept,” says Florescu, who met with the now retired entrepreneur in 2019. “Education is the most important part of Elle’s to me. It’s power to know and understand your own body and your desires: that’s a freedom that can’t be taken from you. I wanted this to be a comfortable space for people to have conversations or attend classes and how-to tutorials about sex, while feeling like they were in someone’s home.”
Elle’s is launching its permanent speaker series in mid-April, which will feature internationally renowned experts in the areas of sex, therapy and women’s studies. Currently on the roster are Lora DiCarlo, an entrepreneur in the sex-tech industry, Ashley Kelsch, a certified dating and relationship coach whose Tribeza column began this year, and Rebecca Alvarez, a sexologist and founder of Bloomi, a sexual wellness marketplace.
Besides education, Florescu wanted to offer Austinites and tourists an aesthetically pleasing, unintimidating place to shop and try on lingerie and ask questions. The cottage was decorated to resemble an “extravagant Milanese living room,” says Florescu of the longleaf pine flooring and midnight blue and terracotta plaster walls. The ambient light and smoky curls of incense give the space a dreamy, hedonistic ambiance.
Elle’s also embraces the art of just hanging out. “Guests can have a drink, read, listen to vinyl,” says Florescu. “We even kept the kitchen, which allows us to host catered and private events, which are proving extremely popular.” The trellised back garden is also suitable for gatherings.
A tasteful dressing area is kitted out with an oversized sheepskin rug, flattering rosy lighting and a vintage bar cart where customers, significant others and friends can sip cocktails from retro glassware. “I wanted this area to feel indulgent, not performative,” says Florescu. “We’ll get groups of women back here, drinking sparkling wine and providing feedback to one another.”
While Florescu acknowledges her shop is marketed toward women, it’s still an inclusive space. “I don’t want to be entrenched in binary, exclusionary thinking,” she says, “But I also didn’t want to stray away from what I know for this initial concept. You have to start somewhere.”
In keeping with celebrating the female form, Elle’s also sells CBD-enhanced wellness products, ceramic art pieces and custom jewelry by local designer Vada. There’s also Florescu’s favorite erotic literature and coffee table books on hand for browsing, by celebrated artists and photographers like Devendra Banhart, Nan Goldin and Helmut Newton.
Less than two months in, Florescu is beyond pleased with her new venture. “When I saw the bungalow, I knew it was the right place,” she says. “I wanted a central location to legitimize the boutique’s approachability and pique curiosity, almost so passerby are forced to engage with it. Acknowledging and questioning that which makes you uncomfortable is a steppingstone for most of our self-discoveries.”