By Savannah Schepp
If you go deep down enough into cyberspace, you can find anything: old high school friends, a used bicycle or sadomasochistic fetish wear. Think post-apocalyptic cyborg meets Johnny Depp’s mistress at an industrial orgy on shrooms – that is the vibe I initially got from viewing Monkey Dungeon’s apparel online. Designer and owner, Patrick “Trick” Kelly, had a more concise description of his business. When asked to describe it in few words, he told me simply “[we’re] a manufacturer of leather products and straight jackets.” For someone whose website boasts products such as an “Anal Impaler” amongst a plethora of bondage restraints, Trick proved to be a variety of things I didn’t expect in the brief time we spent together. I firmly believe that deep impressions can be made within just a few minutes of meeting a person (or people), and the entrepreneurial and artistic Kelly family did just that.
When I first walked into the Foundery Coffee Pub in Savannah, Georgia, I immediately spotted Trick sitting at a table with his wife and kids. It may seem strange to some that a person with a kink-oriented career is a family man, but Monkey Dungeon is in fact co-owned by his wife and high-school sweetheart, Tara Kelly, and employs his sixty-five year old mother full-time sewing the jackets. Trick explained to me, “She is not wild and crazy by any means – quite the opposite, but when someone asks her what she does for a living, she gets the biggest kick out of telling them she sews straight jackets for her son. It’s really fun to watch different people’s reactions, from super interested and intrigued to completely uncomfortable and squirming, looking for an escape.”
And Trick is more than familiar with garnering unique reactions, as he spent his first years after graduating from the University of New Orleans – where he earned a degree in film – street performing in his own comedy juggling show. His love for acting is also reflected in his certificate from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. It was only after he had worn through his first performance jacket when the monkey business sparked. Tara’s degree in costume design proved helpful, because as he explained to me, “there was no point spending a couple hundred bucks on a new straight jacket when she could just design one for me.” What started out of convenience led to the couple’s first sale on eBay, and eventually, after it proved profitable, grew into the mecca of kink it is today.
“We named it ‘Performance Jackets,’” Trick told me, describing the company’s beginning. “We decided we wanted to branch out and do other things besides just the jackets, so we changed the name pretty early on…If you try to search ‘monkey’ anything,” he laughed, “it’s like, taken…we thought it was pretty catchy.” The name evokes the running theme of wild and erotic; but don’t be mistaken in thinking that Monkey Dungeon is your average sex toy shop. The website boasts handcrafted restraints next to nightmarish and psychedelic masks and hoods. With products inspired by plague doctors, steampunk bunnies and Hannibal Lecter aesthetics, the Kelly duo can create costumes for any fantasy.
I asked Trick if there was any request that was too extreme, but he seemed to think the wilder the better. “Actually, the crazier the item is and the more expensive it is, the more people like it and the more they want it. I don’t have any kind of hang-ups. I’ve gotten some very odd, strange requests. I had one guy, he told me how he put on his diaper, then he put on a rubber suit on top of that and then he got into his straight jacket and he couldn’t get out all night long and he was excited about that,” Trick laughed.
But Monkey Dungeon’s clientele are not limited to just closet freaks and the sexually adventurous. The Kellys have designed top hats for themed weddings, straight jackets for magician acts and they also make gothic and steampunk handbags and pendants for everyday accessorizing. My newsfeed boasted a jacket with a “World’s Best Mom” applique that Trick shared on Facebook just in time for the holidays. But the weirdest request he’s ever received from a customer? “We actually had a celebrity who didn’t reveal who he was for several months of talking to him. One day he called me on the phone – I didn’t recognize him; he had a very thick accent…He was pretty odd, he wanted a full-body jacket with leather straps from head to toe, as many as you could fit in and he wanted to get into it by himself,” Trick chuckled.
I asked, alternately, if he felt that BDSM has recently been commercialized to a more “vanilla” image. “I definitely think that with 50 Shades of Grey, even when the book came out, more people are willing to talk about it,” he explained, “I think a lot of things are [mainstreaming], just with the Internet, stuff like that.” It has certainly played to his advantage. Monkey Dungeon apparel has been worn by artists such as Slipknot, Disturbed, Lil Wayne and has been featured on shows such as Mad Money, Heroes, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and General Hospital. The outfits and accessories have been donned in haunted houses, as well as Italian Vogue.
But Trick explained that he doesn’t get any special satisfaction from sending products out to celebrities versus Average Joes. What does surprise him, however, is seeing his accessories worn in public, “I make these personalized leather collars that are really popular, but we sell to people all over the world, so I would never expect to actually see someone out with one on, especially since it’s not really a product that most people would wear in public.” But it happened one day in the exact coffee shop I met Trick in. “Tara and I were sitting there having a coffee,” he continued, “when this guy comes in wearing one. I told Tara, ‘that’s one of my collars’ and bolted over to the guy. I was so excited I ran up to him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Trick, owner of Monkey Dungeon – I made that collar you’re wearing.’” Envisioning Trick, who sat before me in a tie-dye tee, rainbow hoodie and striped beanie, leap to his feet to shake hands with a sexually submissive stranger made me grin. Trick explained, “I wouldn’t think that someone that would wear that collar in public would be startled by much – but I think I caught him a little off guard.”
The most satisfying part of Trick’s career? It’s not the profit, nor being on the big screen, nor seeing his pieces live in action. “The thing that excites me about the business is the creation of new products. What’s even better than creating something new is the first time it sells.” Trick continued, “If we get a three hundred dollar sale then a minute later we get a thirty dollar sale and the thirty dollar item is a brand new product that I made, I’m way more excited about the [second] sale. To know that you created something that you thought was cool is fun, but when someone else likes it enough to pull out their credit card – even on a little thirty dollar product – now that’s exciting to me.”
Before I left I had to ask Trick about his shameless obsessions, to which he replied that there was no specific one: “I get infatuated with different things and move from one thing to another. So I’ll work on leather products for a while and just get obsessed with those and see all the different types of things I can come up with. And then I’ll get tired of doing that, and move onto something else. I kind of have an obsessive personality as far as diving in goes. I’ll get in and do it until I get sick of it.”
Official Site: www.monkeydungeon.com