By Alissa Demos

Noir Leather, one of the longest standing independent boutiques in Royal Oak, has been “feeding and expanding the Detroit punk and fetish scene” for over 30 years. Emperor of leather Keith Howarth, a self-taught craftsman in the art, owns and operates the shop and offers a number of alternative style, kink, and fetish items.

Howarth originally established Noir as a wholesale leather company in 1981, a time when the Detroit underground hardcore punk scene was on the rise. With the help of other innovative rockers like himself, Howarth and co. created punk and S&M influenced accessories, selling genuine leather items to shops across the U.S., Asia, and Europe.

Present-day, Noir Leather is a centralized storefront in downtown Royal Oak, encouraging individuality in a city that, over the years, has transformed into a sea of normalcy.

Photo by Alexander Castañeda

In her article “Freakin’ Out”: Remaking Masculinity Through Punk Rock In Detroit,” author Katherine Wadkins says, “Detroit is the birthplace for some of the earliest forms of punk rock.” In light of this, preserving the scene is of great importance. Noir continues to uphold its traditional aesthetic of sex, punk, and rock ‘n roll, despite the repeal of other longstanding alternative boutiques in the area (i.e. Incognito, est. 1982)

Gothic jewelry, high-end clothing, “Fuck Me Pumps,” liquid latex, not to mention quality leather and jean jackets, are just a few items one will find when first stepping foot into Noir Leather. One item of particular interest is an incredible hand-crafted, studded jean vest with a portrait of Charles Manson on the back. Hey, regardless of how fucked up the guy is, he makes for a great case study and his music is pretty damn good.

But enough about Manson, let’s talk about the Bondage and Fetish section – where things get real freaky real fast. Visitors aged 18+ will discover premium sex toys galore, including whips, chains, handcuffs, ball gags, dildos, strap-ons; the list goes on and on. It is truly a fornication paradise, and a quality one at that. Looking to get your kink or fetish fix? Look no further.

While browsing this backroom, copies of The Leather Journal were up for grabs. Founded in 1987, “the BDSM/Fetish/Leather community publication” further supports the fact that leather is truly a lifestyle. It is astounding how many leather friendly events occur throughout the nation on a weekly basis.

Noir Leather hosts and sponsors a number of events in Detroit and the metropolitan area, including erotic fashion shows, concerts, sidewalk street performances, as well as Hellbound, their grandest and most renown event. (For more details, visit their website.)

Visiting the store as somewhat of an “outsider” can truly open one’s mind to a world of curiosity and experimentation. Considering Noir’s high quality products and blatant flying of its freak flag, it is easy to appreciate the shop and its history, more importantly the local scene it influences and supports.

“Noir Leather is home to all you want and all you want to be…Trust me,” says employee David Justin.

David could not have said it better. Whether you are looking to feed your fetish, test the waters of a new sexual experience, or simply search for some nice street/club wear, Noir is the place to go. So stop in, take a look around, try on something sexy, and nourish your libido. It’s human nature after all…

124 W. 4th Street | Royal Oak, MI | 248.541.3979


Author’s Note:
The name says it all. Noir (or black) is obviously dark, but there are certainly spots of color in the vast array of darkness. I say this because while I browsed the shop, funk band Here Come the Mummies’ “Ra Ra Ra” played over the speakers:

When all is said and done,
We’re not the first to be here.
There’s nothing new underneath the sun.

For such gloomy lyrics, the song and band alike are unconventional yet lively. I think the same can be said about the essence of Noir Leather.