Lined wall to wall with neon pumps, candy-colored wigs, and color-blocked jocks, House of La Rue definitely lives up to its title as a "style, glam, and drag emporium."
The store opened in Brooklyn's Bushwick neighborhood at the tail end of last year, providing a colorful contrast to its more industrial-looking surroundings. Owner Alan Cancelino says he doesn't mind the brick and concrete.
"We sparkle wherever we are," he said.
A musical theater composer by trade, Cancelino opened the original House of La Rue in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 2010. The store, nestled underneath beauty supply retailer Kiss and Makeup on busy Commercial Street, is stocked with gay "statement merchandise," but with a twist.
"The first time I went to Ptown many years ago, there was a need for everyone to have a rainbow flag on their car and on their shirts, you know? But we've evolved so much since then," he said. "So, I just started searching for [a new kind of] statement merchandise."
What does statement merch 2.0 look like? Think fewer rainbow suspenders, and more T-shirts emblazoned with the words "GAY AS FUCK" in all caps. Fewer "straight but not narrow" ally pins, and more nameplate necklaces with a unicorn jumping over the word "Faggot."
"I love people that dress how they want to and don't try to fit in. I'm just trying to keep nightlife colorful and how it was when I first came to New York in the early '90s," Alan said. "It just makes everything more interesting than going to a place where everyone's wearing designer clothes—beautiful clothes, but it's a little different when you can source one element from my store and build on that yourself."
The shop owner follows two rules when it comes to stocking his shelves: "Keep it fun. Keep it affordable."
You'll see he has that first part covered the moment you walk through House of La Rue's doors, located at 106 Thames Street inside the Shops at the Loom building. The walls of the cozy little store are lined with a diverse array of fabulously garish apparel and accessories, ranging from a collection of snapbacks emblazoned with Little Edie's image to a cascading waterfall of wigs.
As for affordability, almost everything House of La Rue sells is priced at under $100. Most of the items that cross over into triple-digit territory are either pre-styled wigs ("Better than shake-and-go!") or couture ensembles crafted by Brooklyn-area fashion designers like Claire Fleury, Eric Halliwell, Tyler Wallach, Jimmie Sprinkles, Casey Caldwell, BCALLA, and Sam Branman. The boutique also has a line of its own, in which the standout creation is probably a sleeveless, scoop-neck poppers-print catsuit.
Along with supporting local designers, Cancelino teams up with members of the borough's drag scene to sponsor a handful of queer nightlife events all over Brooklyn and Manhattan.
"A lot of the queens who have shows at various bars in the area pop in," he said. "I become friends with them, help sponsor their nights, and cross-promote—that kind of thing."
The list of parties that House of La Rue sponsors is as extensive as it is fun to read: There's GIRL DON'T GAG, hosted by Horrorchata and BCALLA designer Bradley Callahan at Don Pedro; DRAGnet, hosted by Merrie Cherry and Untitled Queen at Metropolitan; Elizabeth James' weekly RuPaul's Drag Race viewing parties at Lantern Hall; Alotta Stuff!!!, hosted by Alotta McGriddles and current Drag Race contender Thorgy Thor at Metropolitan; LadyQueen, hosted by Crimson Kitty at the Stonewall Inn; and STRAIGHT ACTING, hosted by Rify Royalty at This n' That. The boutique is also a sponsor of this year's Bushwig, Brooklyn's annual Wigstock-inspired drag festival co-founded by Horrorchata and Babes Trust in 2012.
Working in tandem, these partnerships build up the kind of supportive business infrastructure that will encourage queer nightlife to thrive. They also help keep Brooklyn, to quote a T-shirt I eyed recently, gay as fuck.
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.