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Take a Walk on the Wilde Side

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Gay-owned Heights store puts the ‘fun’ in funeral. 

By Kim Hogstrom
Photos by Dalton DeHart

Have you ever wondered about the best place in Houston to buy body parts bobbing in formaldehyde? How about a shrunken cyclops head? And where can you go to procure your rodent-taxidermy-themed Victorian funeral attire?

For those who want nothing but the finest in morbid oddities, nowhere but The Wilde Collection in the Houston Heights will do.

In its second year, The Wilde Collection has garnered many fans and provoked more than a few nightmares. According to its promotional material, the remarkable shop features “oddities, gifts, taxidermy, and decor.” But this doesn’t do it justice.

A visit to The Wilde Collection is roughly akin to gawking at freaks in a turn-of-the-century circus sideshow, perusing the vignettes at a natural-science museum, soaking up the wonders of a mystic art gallery, and attending an authentic Victorian funeral. Oh, and there’s an aviary, too—with live peacocks strutting and preening amidst skulls and skeletons.

Take a walk on the Wilde side. To pass up the chance to visit here would be a grave mistake.

The Spirit Moved Them

“The Wilde Collection is the result of decades of a passion for collecting bizarre things,” says co-owner Tyler Zottarelle.

“Both of us have always been interested in the Victorian era,” adds co-owner Lawyer Douglas. “We were friends first, then discovered that each of us enjoyed the art of oddities. And here we are.”

Douglas, an artist and sculptor, creates many of the unusual works in the shop. His work is often breathtaking, sometimes haunting, and occasionally mortifying. Some of the sculptures are animated, and Zottarelle acts as the animatronics engineer who makes them come to life.

“I grew up in a superstitious household,” Douglas explains. “All the women on my mother’s side were faith healers. My father is from Louisiana, and there’s voodoo on that side. As I grew up, I became fascinated by things that frightened me. That led me to create art with those same scary things. I thought that I could minimize the fear if I created them myself. I started collecting things that were really bizarre—items that were studies of light and dark, good and evil, life and death. Now I am actually making those things.”

“I am a big animal lover, so I first started collecting taxidermy,” Zottarelle says. “From there, my collecting grew. The shop is hard to describe, but there is an elegance to everything we have here. While a few people view the items as grotesque, many people see the beauty and mystery in it all.”

There is an entire room devoted to taxidermy at The Wilde Collection. Visitors can wander through a selection of museum-quality animals such as wolves, tigers, and a zebra. All specimens were collected in the 1950s and ’60s, before any faced extinction and hunting regulations were tightened. Some of them did, in fact, come from museums.

It is rare to find business partners who are so sympatico. Even the shop’s branding is a collaboration. Douglas is a fan of Victorian writer and bon vivant Oscar Wilde. Zottarelle reveres the work of American writer Edgar Allen Poe from the same period. When the two launched The Wilde Collection, they named the store after the notorious British Victorian, while drawing from Poe’s The Raven for their logo.

This is the second business that the friends have operated. The first was called Vanity Transformations, which specialized in products to help trans people transition. Douglas is openly gay and has been with his husband for 26 years. Their one full-time employee, Amanda, is gender expansive.

Gallows Humor

All of this may sound a bit dark, but it’s also funny. The ouija-board handbag (a clutch that looks like a Bible) and the scorpion jewelry ➝ all made us laugh.

Last year, Douglas produced a line of Silence of the Lambs Buffalo Bill body lotion that is presented under a bell jar. We could almost hear “It puts the lotion in the basket or else it gets the hose again!” when we took a whiff.

In one corner of the shop we found a new favorite: a beautiful terrarium diorama with a little live tree and a small fountain, chock-full of animated tree roaches. It was a work of art. When we asked Amanda how Zottarelle and Douglas were able to make the roaches look so real, she said, “They are real! They’re our pets!” Dark? Yes, but funny.

With Halloween approaching, the business partners are throwing a party called “To Death Do Us Part”—a must-do Halloween and masquerade ball set for October 28 at Rockefeller Hall in the Heights. Two couples in costume will wed on stage, and the $75 ticket price includes food, drinks, and dancing all night.

Knowing Douglas and Zottarelle, the décor alone will be worth the price, and the party will surely be to die for.

For tickets, go to wildecollection2017.eventbee.com.

More photos from the store below.

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Kim Hogstrom

Kim Hogstrom is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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