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Nice out, naughty in

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Fur handcuffs, fishnet stockings, customized 'naughty' calendars and more - this V-day, online retailers have lovers hooked.

India's online lingerie portals seem to have pulled out all stops for Valentine's day this year. The websites know where the real action is on V-Day : in the bedroom. Whether it is sexy lingerie and accessories or role-playing costumes or even a lingerie stylist, there's something for every kind of couple this V-Day.

"Gifting sexy and seductive lingerie on Valentine's Day gift is an idea that's really taken off. We are seeing a huge surge in demand and it's grown tremendously since last year, " says Saurabh Dadu, founder of Straps and Strings. com.

No matter how tantalisingly naughty or evocative the shop window might be, men will not enter the lingerie store. Monica Anand understands that attitude well. So when she launched her online lingerie retail called Under Cover Lingerie, she knew she had to make men feel comfortable about shopping for lingerie for their wife or girlfriend. She ensured that when orders are delivered, the packaging is discrete, without any logos or signage.

"Men, especially, like to buy 'undercover'. So the merchandise is shipped to them in very innocuous packaging, without any signage or logo on top. Inside, it's a different story with a satin-lined box and sexy arrangements, " Anand says. A former banker, Anand started her website a year ago and retails "sexy but classy" lingerie and accessories such as handcuffs, nipple pasties, role-playing costumes, masks, blindfolds and satin cuffs.

Men have never said no to sexy lingerie, but online stores have made them comfortable with buying it for their wives and girlfriends for the first time. For some extra hand-holding on mundane stuff like finding the right size, Zivame. com has created the 'Gentleman's guide to buying the ultimate Valentine's gift'. Potential male buyers are asked to slot themselves into three categories depending on how often they have bought lingerie for their partners, and the gifting advice depends on your skill level. For instance, beginners are advised to buy free-size "sexy, flowy nightwear" while more experienced buyers are led towards more exciting areas of the website with practical advice like "get hold of her best-fitting T-shirt and check the size".

This year, Strap and Strings came up with a unique idea to sell its high-end and often pricey lingerie around this time: pop-up lingerie boutiques that you can surprise your partner with. For a small amount (Rs 5, 000, which is waived if you make a commitment to buy merchandise worth Rs 50, 000 and above), Straps and Strings will send a stylist-cum-fitter to your house armed with a suitcase full of the most delectable silk, satin and lace confections. "It's not just about buying lingerie, it's the whole experience of trying it on and admiring yourself in it... giving full play to your sensuality, " says Dadu.

Recently, a Delhi socialite booked them for a pop-up store to be set up in her home, tried out all the pieces and got a girlfriend to take pictures. Later, she created a personalised calendar out of the images and sent them to her boyfriend as a pre-Valentine gift. Oh, and incidentally, she made purchases worth Rs 2 lakh from Straps and Strings, where the average bill is Rs 25, 000-35, 000.

But women aren't the only ones lacing their love life with nifty ideas. A Bangalore man has booked a pop-up boutique to be set up at his girlfriend's home on V-day, committing to a Rs 75, 000-spend. "Around 65 per cent of our customers are men, and they are big spenders, because they contribute 80 per cent of our revenue, " reveals Dadu.

"This time of the year - with both Valentine's Day and the bridal season - is the Diwali of lingerie retailers, " jokes Richa Kar, founder and CEO of Bangalore-based Zivame. com. "We wanted to make the gifting of lingerie flirty and playful, and added new features like 'send a hint to your lover'. It's about creating a conversation around this. . . start steaming things up a bit. "

The costume section at Under Cover encourages real bedroom drama with classic role-play staples like a bunny bikini, belly dancer kits, naughty nurse dresses and sailor-girl suits. Is this the 50 Shades of Grey effect? "Not really, because we launched just before the book became such a rage, but yes, the hype around the series definitely gave us a boost. Handcuffs and blindfolds are doing very well, " says Anand.

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