What's a Nice Girl like You ..?; They Have Cars, Cash and Designer Clothes -That They Keep on. Forget the Grubby Image of the Sex Industry. Penny Fray Meets Three Women Who Are Revolutionising It

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Byline: Penny Fray

WHEN actress Gwyneth Paltrow emerged from a well-known sex shop with a wicked grin and a mysterious bag in her hand, the rumour mill went into overdrive. With one paparazzi snap, theHollywood star had managed to shed her ``holier than thou'' image to challenge the erotic boutique's seedier side. A few months earlier, Liz Hurley was pictured emerging from Hustler sex shop in Hollywood.

It seems that today, pleasure palaces no longer cater exclusively to the ``dirty mac'' brigade. Instead, they attract designer-clad women by bringing desirability and aspiration to the burgeoning business of seductive underwear and up market toys.

Saucy boutiqueMyla started the trend with its appliquedlacelingerie and range of soft maribou mules. And who could resist Agent Provocateur's pretty pink and black boxes with tissue wrappedmerchandise?

Even sex shops in the North West have realised the potential of attracting a more sophisticatedclient. Scandals in Birkenhead, for instance, hosts wine parties, while Chester's Nice And Naughty is cashing in on its designer surroundings.

Forget its grubby image, thanks to an army of sassy businesswomen, sex is now becoming a slick, profitableindustry. I mean consider the figures. The average north -westerner is now twice as likely to buy a risque magazine than any other mainstream title. Lingerie has already become a pounds 1bn-a-year industry and pornographic films generate more revenue than most other types of live entertainment.

So,little wonder that a new breed of executive is recognising the potential of an industry that once didn't dare speak its name.

EX shops have really changed in the last decade or so, according to Trish Murray. When the 33-year- old director of Nice & Naughty first became aware of their existence they were the preserve of strange men in trench coats. These days, they'rea delight for lovers, with silk slips openly displayed in lighted windows and other goods pre-gift wrapped in pretty paper and glitzy bows.

``Sex accessories are nowadays all about awakening one's sensuality with a little glamour as well as boosting intimacy between partners,'' she explains.

With that straight forward philosophy, the former business consultant has worked hard to shatter the negative stereotyping of sex shops.

Knowing that most women didn't want to be surrounded by hard core porn fiends in a seedy-lookingestablishment,Trish sectioned off an area for those who just had an interest in lingerie and fun toys,leaving the more male- orientated goods in the back.

``When my partner,Simon,first opened a store,he sold the usualPVC club wear and adult videos,'' she explains.``But as a business consultant I knew that more could be done. For instance, sex shops used to feature blacked-out windows and were often frequented by dirty old men. As such,it was a place that a lot of ordinary women didn't want togo. So,back in 2001 we fought to become the first shop in the North West to have an open window. To me opaque windows suggested something dirty or taboo. But that's not what we were about and in my view,an open window reflects that.

``Nowadays,our clientele varies from young women to married couples eager to spice up their love lives. …