When the dominatrix was a little girl, she was constantly locking people in cupboards. In the bathtub with her brother, she would instruct her sibling to close his eyes and open his mouth.

“But you’ll put the bar of soap in it,” he’d say.

“No I won’t. I promise.”

“Aaah,” went his mouth. In went the soap.

It’s one of those classic dominatrix stories with a foregone conclusion. Hannah, or Mistress Absolute to those with whom she is on whipping terms, has a naturally domineering personality and has, in a sense, been tormenting people her entire life. “When I told my mum what I was doing for a living, she said, ‘Oh, darling, you’ve always been like that.’”

Mistress Absolute, who prefers her last name remain private, is lounging on a leather chair in the dressing room before the “Art of Restraint” class she teaches at the only U.S. branch of the elegant little sex shop from London called Coco de Mer, a gilded, luxe place on Melrose with naughty toys in Victorian cabinets where you can pick up $10,000 gold vibrators and almost-as-expensive La Perla lingerie. Mistress Absolute is herself an elegant, slinky person, with pale skin, red lips, long black hair, and a fun-loving, puckish air, without which she would be scary. She lives in London, but regularly includes Los Angeles on her teaching circuit (she returns in April), and when her flight to LAX got in, a female slave met her at the baggage carousel wearing fishnet tights, a tailcoat, a leather chauffer’s cap, a sign that said “Mistress Absolute” and a huge grin.

“There’s a school of thought that says you should start out submissive before you become dominant,” the dominatrix says as students begin to arrive. “That if you don’t know what it feels like, how can you do it to someone else? I don’t follow that thought. I don’t have a set of balls, but I torture balls.”

She is 33 years old, and found her calling at 23. She went to a fetish club for the first time on her own. She bought her first rubber dress, strapped on her first pair of boots. “Within 15 minutes I was giving somebody a caning. I was somewhere I fitted. Finally I had a name for how I am.”

These days, when people in session confess their desires, she sees a weight come off their shoulders. “It’s about being able to release a side of somebody that they kept hidden, and not judging them. They tell me about their fetish, and maybe it’s something they haven’t told their wife, they haven’t told their best friend, they aren’t even sure they should be telling me. So when they say to me ‘I just love to be spat on or kicked about. Is that normal?’ I say, ‘Well, define normal.’”

Soon, class begins. One surprising take-home lesson is the great effort that goes into making sure you don’t accidentally hurt someone when you’re intentionally hurting them. For instance, stockings are particularly diabolical and should be avoided — the more the victim struggles, the tighter the nylon gets. Better to try neckties, straitjackets or collars.

“Some of the nicest collars I have are from pet stores. Pet stores are great fun. A lot of the time, these are things you can find around the house,” Mistress says in her plummy British accent. “Well maybe not a straitjacket. Unless you’re in my household, of course.”

The world literally opens up when you start imagining the erotic potential of household items — clothes pins, shoelaces, wooden spoons, hairbrushes, rulers. She stole a pair of escargot tongs from the Rainbow Room the other day, declaring, “These are fabulous!”

The play scenarios that Mistress Absolute will entertain, as specified by her Web site, include: humiliation, degradation, sensory deprivation, trampling, rubber (including vacuum bed), tickling, foot worship, waxing, hair plucking, caging, chains, blackmail, blindfolds, needles and cling-film mummification.

Clients also come to her through referrals or through her listing in Serious Mistresses magazine, where you might spot her name among those of various Baronesses, or Mistresses Flogmores, or Madame Panthers. In other words, she doesn’t sit around in the dungeon waiting for people to call her.

Mistress Absolute is what you’d call an old-school dominatrix. “Girls on the Internet will do anything, but I’m quite prudish, ironically,” she says, flexing her long legs. She eschews adult baby — where people dress up in diapers — and sex with slaves, who are forbidden to touch her above the knee. “I am the person on the pedestal. I am the untouchable.”

Because even untouchables have chores, slaves come over to her home in London to do her ironing and scrub her bathroom floors. Otherwise, she doesn’t live and punish in the same space. In addition to a stark, white medical laboratory-themed room, she rents torture chambers in an 18th-century barn in Warwickshire. The barn is also a bed and breakfast, so if you want to get technical, it’s a bed, breakfast and dungeon.

On a brisk, damp evening, her other class, “Mistress in the Bedroom,” is in full swing at the store. Mistress Absolute discusses how to use silence in an unnerving way, how to cultivate mystery, and how to build up your bank of wicked ideas. “I have great fun thinking about the men I send off to work in women’s underwear.” Conversation turns to the niceties of role playing — for those who want to dress up as an office bitch, or schoolmarm, say. She occasionally employs a “hilarious” German interrogation accent.

“Do you start role playing without their knowledge?” one student asks.

“You usually want to discuss it first. Or they might think you’ve got a split personality.”

Flush with power, new dominatrixes will often come down with a bout of “domititis” and start thinking every man is submissive. This is not necessarily the case, she says. Mistress Absolute is a great proponent of public humiliation, though never of beating in anger. Recently, she dressed a client up in a pink tutu and dragged him lovingly around the street.

The first thing she does is to make the client kneel, kiss her feet, and don the collar, a civilized little ritual that marks the start of the session.

“At what point do you put in the Japanese anal beads?” interrupts one woman.

“Dinner,” answers another.

Mistress Absolute sometimes tells nosy strangers she is a “psychodrama therapist” when feels like toying with them. “And no, I don’t do my grocery shopping in full rubber. Though some would love to hear it if I did.”

You wouldn’t guess she is a dominatrix if you saw her out of the bedroom. She was milling about at Harrod’s recently looking for a white ruffled blouse to go with her jodhpurs and riding crop. “What event is it for, madam?” asked the unsuspecting salesgirl.

“Event? I’m a professional dominatrix and I need a new outfit,” said Mistress Absolute.

“Oooh!” said the salesgirl. “Lovely madam. Right this way.”

Over the years, having seen and done it all, she’s developed a theory about sexuality. “Your main setup is before 6,” she says, “Somebody’s kink comes from when they get a stirring but they don’t yet know what it is.”

Still, even an experienced mistress is not without her difficulties. Feet get sore from running around in 5-inch stilettos. Then there’s the consuming mental aspect of making sure your client isn’t going to go into cardiac arrest or lose too much hair when you set him on fire, or that he’s having a good time while he’s suffering. Too often, you’ll get a client roped up in a gorgeous, complicated truss that took two hours to execute — like she did recently with an older businessman — and, even though he swore a love for hardcore bondage, he’ll kvetch: “Ouf, mistress, my ankle has gone numb.” Then there is nothing to do but sigh and untie him.

Class is almost over now and the slave girl who picked her up at the airport arrives. “Come here, young lady,” says Mistress Absolute, crooking one red-polished finger. Having fetched the mistress’ shampoo and conditioner, the slave is rewarded by being told to walk a student’s dog. This particular slave likes to be beat with a cricket bat, Mistress Absolute says casually, and the novices wince. Afterward, dog walked, the waiting slave looks in through the window glass. Rain begins to fall. The mistress smiles.

Coco de Mer: 8618 Melrose Ave., L.A. (310) 652-0311 or www.cocodemerusa.com. For more information on Mistress Absolute: www.mistressabsolute.com.

LA Weekly