Name: Christopher King
Occupation: Fetish Boutique Manager
Years in Baltimore: 8
If you’re the kind of person for whom leather whips, switches and harnesses count as “lifestyle essentials,” you may already be acquainted with Christopher King, the friendly manager of Chained Desires on Mount Vernon’s picturesque Read Street. For those less familiar with the local bondage scene, despite the shop’s exterior, Chained Desires contains nothing to be scared of. Although to the casual observer, the basement level storefront with its rows of whips and chains might seem slightly intimidating, thanks to Christopher King, Chained Desires is about as friendly as a bondage boutique can get.
King, a Gardenville resident, has always had a strong interest in sexual subcultures, especially the world of drag. Before moving to Baltimore, he worked for MAC cosmetics as a makeup artist in the boutique he managed on Philadelphia’s South Street, Trixie L’Amour. Here, he advised aspiring drag queens and female impersonators on makeup to match their wigs, stilettos and feather boas—or to clash with them, depending on personal taste. When Trixie L’Amour closed down three years ago, King continued to work for MAC another five years, then moved to Baltimore and trained in leatherwork as part of his internship at Chained Desires (the boutique has an on-site custom workshop where harnesses, saddles and bustiers are made-to-measure).
The store also sells costumes, whips, shoes, gags and what King describes as “high-end inflatables.” “It’s the only store of its kind in the city”, he informs me, proudly. “And Mount Vernon is the gayborhood. Sure, there are other adult stores that sell novelties, like Sugar in Hampden, but this is the only store that specializes in real custom leatherwork.”
The leather workshop is a hangover from the store’s previous identity. Eight years ago, the space that now houses Chained Desires was home to the Leather Underground, a venue that catered more specifically to gay men. Chained Desires, on the other hand, has a more diverse clientele: straight, gay, queer and trans. “We sell everything that’s needed for bondage, scene play, pony play, you name it” said King. “We have harnesses, bits and bridles, and all alterations are done free of charge on-site.” What kind of costumes is he asked to create? “Anything you can imagine,” he laughs. “Recently I had a special request from a stripper who wanted a squirrel tail made from fake fur. Not just a little thing, either—I mean, she wanted a gigantic tail, proportionate to her body, that plugged into her b(ottom).”
Behind the shop counter in his Read Street basement, King gets the chance to meet a fascinating cross-section of Baltimore’s residents. “My customers are doctors, lawyers, Hopkins professors, as well as just regular people,” he tells me. “A city court judge comes in here a lot, and a private chef.” Their common denominator is an interest in BDSM (bondage, domination, submission and masochism). “The doms and subs have an interesting dynamic,” said King. “The doms will come in and choose what they want, and the subs will pay for it. Under the counter, we keep a Gift Registry especially for doms, with a wish list of all the things they want. Then when they feel like it, they’ll send their subs in to buy them something special from the list. Sometimes they’ll get here in wrist or leg manacles. That can make it difficult coming down the front steps. Sometimes I have to go and help them out.”
Since he’s started working there, King feels, Chained Desires has taken on the shape of his own quirky personality. He oversees two assistants, both female, who, like himself, are relaxed and outgoing—a vital attribute, since those visiting the store for the first time can be nervous and tongue-tied. King likes them anyway. “I love working with all the different people that come in, helping regular customers find the special things they want,” he says. “I also like helping new people, those who’ve never tried anything like this before. I like suggesting new things for them, helping them to experiment and broaden their tastes a little.” Are there any drawbacks to the job? “Not really. Sometimes people just drop in looking for a novelty toy for a bridal shower or something like that, and I have to explain to them we’re not an adult toy store, we’re a fetish boutique. Then there are people who just come in to try things on and don’t want to buy anything. That can be a little annoying.”
What’s his favorite thing about his job? “Everything,” says King. “I love it here. I’m a pervert!”