An Afternoon with Betony Vernon, High Priestess of Pleasure
BY SARAH HASSAN
The Parisian expat makes deliciously functional jewelry and extols the healing powers of BDSM
On a gray and rainy day in the bustling heart of the Marais, I find myself bound to Betony Vernon. This is not a figurative statement. The American-born, Paris-based designer, clad in black satin, with her fiery red hair cascading over her shoulders, has slipped a small gold ring on my finger; the ring is attached to a chain leading to a bracelet on her milky white wrist.
“I want you to feel what it does to us,” she says, her voice husky and low.
Vernon has made a name as a self-described “sexual anthropologist” by honing in on the pleasure that we embrace and deny. The daughter of a civil-rights activist and an inventor, she grew up along the Appalachian Trail and moved to Europe in 1990, after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University. In Florence, she taught jewelry and metalsmithing for Fuji Studio Workshop; from there she decamped to Milan, where she obtained her Masters in Industrial Design and founded her first atelier. Soon she was appointed Design Director for Fornasetti, the legendary Italian house. Married to Barnaba Fornasetti, son of Piero, for over 10 years, the now single—and singular—Vernon resides in Paris, upstairs from Eden, her private playground and sanctuary.
In Eden, Vernon meets with clients for bespoke fittings and displays her jewelry and objets. Erotic paintings and sleek cabinets line forest-like walls, and a Fornasetti leopard keeps watch from the commode beside us. The atmosphere is hushed and relaxed, the color scheme of green chosen for its unisex nature. (It also brings Betony back to her earliest memories of those Virginia forests.) Reclining in a Gio Ponti chair amid her spotlit handiwork—pastel feather ticklers, necklaces that double as harnesses, bracelets that fasten you to another—Vernon twists her double-sphere massage rings around a manicured finger.
“The blue-blooded fetishist,” she says, “is a lover of fine materials.”When she first began her search for such materials, in the early 1990s, Vernon realized luxury was absent from the world of sex shops—and sexuality itself. “It didn’t really exist back then,” she says. “I felt that the sense of ritual and the sacred and the durable and the sensual was missing. That was, of course, unless you visited the leather shops for ‘the boys’ on the wrong side of town.”