Thursday, November 09, 2017

Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba--has passed.

Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba, Dies After a Last Night at Nightclub
June 6, 1938 – Saturday, November 4, 2017 

Obit by William Falcetano

Nightclubbers and fun-lovers will mourn the passing of Susan Phelps, owner of Hubba Hubba, purveyor of fetish couture and adult toys in Cambridge.  Suzie was an enormously beloved figure, not only in the nightclub scene; she was known and respected as a trail-blazing business woman, a regular contributor to good causes, a helper of those in need, and a genuine free spirit – the kind that every great city produces when it’s lucky – Cambridge got lucky for forty years.  Anyone who wandered into Hubba Hubba knew they had entered a special place looked after and cared for by a very special person. 

Hubba Hubba (a throwback phrase to the glory days of big busted blonde bombshells) was not merely a “sex shop”; it was more than a that: it was a meeting place for outcasts, a home for circus people, a club-house for strippers, sex workers, porn stars, and drag queens. Everyone felt welcomed there even the many otherwise ordinary folk who just wanted to put a twist into their sex lives.  Hubba Hubba was about freedom, mutual acceptance, and the celebration of being different, even deviant; it was about fun; and it was about tolerating other people’s kinks, even if they aren’t your own.  

Susan was born June 6th, 1938. Her father Dick Phelps was a designer of amusement parks and golf courses all over America. Suzie grew up in an atmosphere that was fantasy to the rest the rest of us – but to her that fantasy world was home. The carnival barkers all knew her as “Dick Phelps’s kid”; and she got to go on the rides for free.  That gay and care-free sense of joy never left her; and she bestowed it freely as a gift on all she met.  Countless customers left Hubba Hubba with a smile on their faces because Suzie made them feel great about their new naughty purchase. 
Suzie grew up in Lexington; a graduate of RISD in Providence, Susan had a keen eye for beauty and fashion; a fine turned leg always turned her head.  She loved to rip out the pages of fashion mags to show her friends and customers what she liked and what was au courant.  She also had a few great adventures that took her to Europe and Africa, London and San Francisco, New York and finally Cambridge, where she opened the first incarnation (there were four) of her unique store in 1977.  
In the early 1980s Hubba Hubba was a vintage shop with a few adult items for sale under glass or discretely off to the side. The store was imbued with a sense of delicious naughtiness. What stood out were a few signature touches: the bondage Barbie dolls strung up and hunched over in hilarious poses, dressed in punk-rock regalia, typify Hubba Hubba’s unique mix of sex and humor. Susan Phelps was the Vivian Westwood of Boston / Cambridge; she influenced style, fashion, and the culture of the era; and she made people feel great about spending their hard-earned cash on hedonistic purchases.

Suzie and her then business partner Liza Chapman were “the glamorous lesbian couple of Central Square”; they cut quite a figure around town in those days of shoulder pads, new wave music, and big hair. The author remembers them going to The Channel nightclub for new year’s eve, dressed in black leather pants and mink coats (not politically correct couture!) with bottles of champagne hidden underneath!  Attention must be paid!  We were young once and fabulous too! 
Eventually, the rough edges of punk rock passed into the more conspicuous glamor of the goth scene in the 1990s and early 2000s – the heyday of ManRay, when stage shows were avant garde happenings. The glamor of that era reflected a gilded culture awash in new money from computer technology and the Peace Dividend after the end of the Cold War.  The late 1990s and early 2000s were the heyday of Hubba Hubba and the nightclub scene in Cambridge.  There was a symbiotic connection between the club scene and the store.  The club scene was all about ManRay; and ManRay was all about “Fetish Fridays”.  Once a week people could peel off their mufti and squeeze into their cat suits and shiny black vinyl, kick off the wing tips and throw on the platform heels, stage make up, corsets and collars, and dance to the pounding beat of German Industrial techno and the spooky sounds of Peter Murphy.  

The dancing in those days was unlike anything I have ever seen before or since – the stage full of tangled bodies, figures in a Luca Signorelli scene of damnation, twisting, writhing, turning, kicking – all in perfect unison with the liquid music, as strobe lights dappled off the shiny vinyl and studded collars creating a mix of sensations and sounds, colors and moods that defies easy description.  ManRay was home to some spectacular stage shows – the best of which was Ooze, headed by Nicole MacDonald, creator of 99nth Mind.  With her blood curdling screams, suspended bodies, and Felliniesque sensibility, she and her talented crew turned Cambridge into something that counts as “cutting-edge”.

During all this time Hubba Hubba was a Mecca for the talented and the tasteless, the kinky and the cool.  It was a Club House for the deviant and the defiant.  To go there was so much more than to conduct a mere commercial transaction; it was a way of being different, of being with others who liked “different” things, and thought in unconventional ways than the usual vanilla herd of muggles.  They knew there was magic among them – they could see it before their own eyes every Friday night in the stunning costumes of Tara Emory and the unforgettable stages shows of Ooze.  
Susan Phelps was last seen in public at the ManRay reunion Wraith – at the Paradise Club Friday night, November 3rd.  She looked amazing in a black lace dress with corset and two giant safety pins; her beaming face was full of happiness as she was soaking in the fun, pleased to be out among the kids, selling her wares, dispensing her praise, and soaking in the love.  She will be mourned by many and her memory cherished by countless people whose lives she touched.

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