Is Portland, and the rest of the nation, ready for a Victoria's Secret for men?
Steven Lien thinks so.
I'm not surprised. Twenty years ago, I worked for the now 50-year-old Lien at his used sporting-goods store, Sports Exchange (it was where Spartacus now stands). I've always known Lien to be an astute retailer. He taught me the proper way to sell ski equipment—including a slightly improper way to fit ski boots on hot men—even though I'd never spent a day on the slopes. After I quit in '86, we lost contact; I'd heard he'd gone on to co-own a nightclub. So I was stunned last week when I strolled into a still under-construction shop downtown and found him behind the counter.
"Men's underwear is underrepresented in Oregon," Lien said when I asked him why he was opening a store devoted to the most intimate of apparels. "I thought I might make it into a Web-only-based business, but underwear is tactile. I needed to open a brick-and-mortar shop."
That's what he and his partner, Larry Laughead, have done with Under U 4 Men.
Located just steps from Jane's Vanity, an upscale lingerie women's outlet, Under U 4 Men features men's unmentionables from cool vendors like C-IN2 and Ginch Gonch (QW, April 26, 2006) in fabrics from bamboo, hemp, soy and milk, priced from $12 to $45. It also features live male models in their skivvies on two different platforms (Lien trolled Craigslist for candidates) and scantily clad shop workers.
Is Lien pouring thousands of dollars into this venture just to see men in the buff, or is this just the ultimate dream sequence from Sex and the City? Well, neither.
Lien says he's spent two years researching the market, and he believes now's the time for a Victor's Secret. Only in the past decade, he says, has this men's-furnishings category gone beyond such stalwart basics as Hanes and Jockey—as well as once hot but now mainstream brands like Calvin Klein or Polo—to embrace more form-fitting gear. His hope is to open more stores in the near future, with plans of eventually going nationwide. For now though he'll focus on the downtown boutique. And it's interesting he chose downtown for his very first locale.
"Most men's underwear is bought by women," says Lien on why he and Laughead chose Southwest Broadway over Stark Street, or any other queer-centric thoroughfare that might be more accustomed to seeing nearly naked men through store windows. "That's why we didn't want it to be on Gay Street, U.S.A." To that end, Liens also doesn't plan on carrying thongs, jockstraps or other stripper-friendly items.
Still, this might be one of the sexiest stores to open in Portland. And it'll bring a new meaning to your holiday package.
Under U 4 Men, 507 SW Broadway, 274-2555, underu4men.com.