By Barbara McMurray, Special to The Independent
“Are you Mrs. London?”
That question from shoppers never fails to tickle Elizabeth Benton, owner of women’s lingerie shop and loungewear boutique I.C. London, a tiny, local retail mainstay for 42 years.
The boutique, named for a children’s rhyme (“I see London, I see France, I see (name)’s underpants”), elicits a knowing smile from those who catch the cleverness of the store name.
Benton, a no-nonsense, Queens-raised purveyor of pajamas, panties, bras, robes, and thongs—which now, remarkably, come in mini, low-rise, mid-rise, and high-rise––has always had her finger on the pulse of what goes on underneath. She and a long-departed business partner started their business in 1980 when they looked around and asked what Laguna Beach needed that it didn’t have.
“It really was to fill a need,” she said.
The shop’s first site opened on Coast Highway at Diamond Street, in the space that used to be Don Romero Photography and is now a fitness studio. I.C. London built a clientele and in 1995 moved into its current Ocean Avenue location. Benton credits Zinc Cafe with bringing Ocean Avenue to life when it opened in 1988 on that then-desolate stretch of town. With the more convenient downtown location, I.C. London’s foot traffic increased and business grew to include loyal locals looking for lingerie as well as annual visitors who made the shop a regular stop to stock up.
The items Benton offers must pass “the touch test”–that is, they must feel soft and appealing. The boutique carries pajamas, foundation items both basic and beautiful, playful garter sets, and yes, sexy négligees.
“We try to avoid anything I call ‘ho-ey,’” she laughed. “If people want items that are more fetish- or fantasy-driven, I refer them to Romantic Boutique by Delicate Illusions. I’m happy to have someone else sell them what they’re looking for. I realize I can’t be all things to all people with such a small space. I keep it elegant and fun yet sexy. No toys, no whips.”
She carefully curates her store’s inventory across a variety of categories. There are just a few of many different items to meet the needs and solve the intimate problems of most customers.
“It’s a balancing act to keep my inventory fresh while stocking items that longtime customers come back again and again to buy. That’s one of my biggest challenges, in addition to hiring dependable store workers, especially now,” she said. “Know anyone looking for a nice, steady job?” Over the years, she has employed dozens of women, some of whom have become bosom buddies.
The boutique weathered the bursting of the 2000 dot-com bubble, the 2008 recession, and most recently, COVID-19. When malls closed, and everyone stayed home, Benton stocked up and did well selling “Zoom clothes,” items presentable on-screen yet deeply comfortable and suitable for napping. “You couldn’t look like you were in your pajamas during a virtual meeting,” she said. She added that local shoppers recognized that small retailers like her were in danger and helped to keep her store afloat.
“Locals are my bread and butter, my mainstay,” Benton said. “I couldn’t stay in business without them.” As Valentine’s Day approaches, she anticipates seeing the usual uptick in business––those true-blue customers she loves, the red-hot lovers of Laguna.
I.C. London is located at 314 Ocean Ave. Phone: 949-497-4254