By  on November 26, 2007

MIAMI BEACH — A luxury lingerie store named Sex & can send several messages, especially when located near nightclubs, tattoo shops and late-night pizza parlors on Washington Avenue here.

The store, which opened in October, is a high-tech retail experience with all-black glossy surfaces, mirrored moldings and Roberto Cavalli-designed Swarovski crystal chandeliers. After paying a membership fee of $99 that goes toward women's charities, only women, with the press of their thumb to an identification keypad, may gain access into the labyrinth of boudoirs displaying perfume, jewelry, eveningwear and lingerie, among other categories. Director of protocol Nicole Chaniac said customers will be able to make purchases with the same technology in six months.

"Every jet-setter has an exclusive credit card these days, so we're going to the next level of personalized luxury," she said. "It's more like their home, where they can just drop in, buy something with their thumbprint and leave."

Chaniac said other services include limo transportation, on-site hair and makeup services and a Champagne and water bar that serves cherry-picked delicacies like Bling h2o bottled in Swarovski crystal-embellished frosted glasses, the house's private label bubbly and light bites from noon until midnight.

One of the shop's two silent partners, a French émigré and the owner of a Paris-based women's specialty chain, chose the name in the hope of transforming negative images of sex by revealing its romantic, playful and healthy aspects, Chaniac said. She noted that a rare, 6,000-square-foot piece of South Beach real estate fit the bill for his vision.

"He...wants to teach women in the U.S. the art of sensuality rather than overt sexuality," said Chaniac, adding that the other partner, a Miami and New York real estate developer, believes Washington Avenue's popularity will gain momentum as more designer boutiques open. "They know Washington is a challenge, but if they win, they win big."

The first-year sales projection is $4 million, Chaniac said.

"Men are invited to shop and sip, too, but as guests of female members," she said.

Reminiscent of São Paolo-based boutique Daslu's series of themed and color-coded rooms, the store presents treasures at every turn, such as jewel-encrusted evening bags by Carlo Zini for $1,900, black slippers trimmed with pale pink marabou and ruffles from Sylvie Rost for $250 and a necklace of white gold, diamonds and red string by Redline for $1,050."Redline is very exclusive, as we're trying to offer new vendors to the U.S. and never stock more than three of each garment," Chaniac said.

There are four buyers, three of whom operate in Europe and are dedicated to novelty jeans and novelty items such as lambskin jackets in matching travel sacks by Saga Ibanez and ballgowns by Alessandro Dell'Acqua.

Designer European lingerie takes center stage. New merchandise arrives every 15 days, and prices include: a bra and panty set in pink eyelet lace with black ribbon trim by Chantal Thomass, $500; a bold black corset with garters with a spray of clear crystals by Christie's, $570, and a geranium-colored silk and ivory lace thong by Lala Rose, $95.

"I love Andrés Sardá's attention to detail, too," said Chaniac, delicately handling a removable floral embellishment of Swarovski crystals and ribbon attached to a bra of cranberry satin and lace embroidery. It sells for $330. Cadolle, Agent Provocateur and Sonia Rykiel round out 25 to 30 brands.

Chaniac said the owners view "the project" as a lifelong dream.

"That doesn't mean they don't recognize there's lots of money here, like in Saint-Tropez, with discos, restaurants and residents catering to this VIP clientele," she said.

The store concept is planned for Los Angeles' Robertson Boulevard next year, followed by units in Las Vegas and New York.

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