25 September 2017
Betony Vernon, sexual anthropologist
The American artist explores the pleasure of the senses with jewels and erotic objects. Some are on show in the “Medusa” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, where she will hold a happening on September 28th.
Can you tell us about the Boudoir Box, this leather trunk in which forty or so of your pieces are displayed …
This is the first time I have revealed it to the general public. I designed it 18 years ago to transport my collections in with elegance because at the time, no shop or gallery dared to take on my rosebuds, suspensions, dildos, whips and other accessories used for bondage. While traveling, my Boudoir Box caused such a fuss at times I could write a book on it! The only regret I have in life is that Helmut Newton was unable to photograph it as he’d wanted to do for T Magazine. His health unfortunately prevented him from doing so. Today, I hardly ever travel with it because since 9/11 everything’s become complicated, and I now have a showroom in Paris, where I receive people by appointment.
You define yourself as a sexual anthropologist …
Why are there so many taboos related to sexuality when we are all the result of it? My mission is above all to fight against those related to pleasure. I try to reveal the senses especially through ritual, an essential notion separating the profane from the sacred, the ordinary from the extraordinary. I define myself as an industrial designer. My jewelry is part of a total approach, just like the furniture and interiors I design. Right now, I’m working on a table service and on a Michelin-starred chef’s new restaurant. I would love to design a car!
When did this “mission” begin?
The day I wore a cuff with a chain attached to a ring and I slipped it on my friend’s finger. An electrical current shot through us both and this gave me the idea for the first “Sado-Chic”collection in 1992. I then organized salons in London at Soho House London and Coco de Mer. During these encounters with forty or so people, I explored how to use the objects, the know-how and the creativity necessary in a relationship. Otherwise, it declines, it is biological, as the body becomes accustomed to the odors of others. I then wrote The Boudoir Bible, translated into seven languages it sold 90,000 copies. It is available in e-book format but it is mostly a bedside book to keep close at hand.
They are very luxurious objects …
In silver and gold sometimes paved with diamonds, they are not like those forgotten under the bed! Some are limited editions and numbered. I used peacock or ostrich feathers, silver tracing to better represent the male sex on a sleeve. The ropes of the “Noble Knots” collection are made of gold and silver plaited with microfibers using a machine from the 1950s for making stockings.
Are these erotic jewels only intended for intimate purposes?
80% of the 400 pieces in my collections have a dual function. Some contribute to daily well-being like the “Sensual Spheres” ring with which you can massage a shoulder or the forehead in the case of migraine. Introduced into the vagina, the “Ben Wa Balls” strengthen the muscles after childbirth. And then some are purely decorative like the “Sado-Chic” earrings. Angelina Jolie and Christina Aguilera are collectors who openly wear them.
Your jewelry has been presented at the Milan Design Triennial, the Victoria & Albert Museum and at the MUDAC. What is your Theta Rig happening about at Paris’s Museum of Modern Art?
This doesn’t stop Instagram and Facebook from categorizing me as a sex shop … In a metal structure with leather straps inspired by bondage, I suspend a body horizontally to relax it until it reaches theta state. A state in which the brain produces waves comparable to those produced when in a trance, during meditation or experiencing an orgasm. The public will be able to experience the effects of this physical state very soon.