BETON VERNON FETISHIZES FINE JEWELERY
By SHYAM PATEL
The intrepid designer’s erotic Boudoir Box makes its first public appearance.
Jewelry, like fashion and art, has the innate ability to elicit emotion. Taking this notion beyond like and dislike, erotic fine jewelry-maker Betony Vernon imbues her designs with the power to provide intense sexual and sensual pleasure. This year, the self-proclaimed sexual anthropologist celebrates 25 years of her storied Paradise Found collection and the first public unveiling of her legendary Boudoir Box, now on view at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art’s “Medusa” jewelry exposition through Nov. 5. The sleek, handcrafted leather case, full of Vernon’s arousing “jewel-tools,” previously viewable only by appointment, has been under lock and key since its inception nearly two decades ago. Surface sat down with the doyenne of desire to discuss sex positivity, the evolution of her craft, and her sudden leap into the public eye.
How did the Boudoir Box come into existence?
I designed it nineteen years ago in Paris. At the time, there was a negative response from buyers and retailers to the idea that jewelry could have a sensual purpose. There wasn’t a single retailer in the world that was a candidate for what I was doing. People said I was crazy, but I felt that I had an obligation as a designer to make daily life better and our sex lives seemed to be ignored at the time.
So without retailers, how did you sell it?
I quickly understood that I would have to go directly to my clients, so I started to travel with the box in 1999. It allowed me to reach a special clientele, in a private way. I would receive clients for four days, normally in hotel rooms, and take private orders. I handled it that way up until 2004, when I built my first space in Paris for reception. I kept the box private for clients.
You’ve decided to share it with the public for the first time, at the “Medusa” exhibition at the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art, this year. Why now?
I think that now, more than ever, we need to expand our sexual horizons. We have to be careful about our sexual freedom because it comes in waves. We’re in a time of apparent freedom. I see every day the [negative] reactions of people to my work and I deal with censorship constantly for no reason. Although I feel as if I’m standing there naked [with this exhibition], it’s time for me to be fully in the light.
Why is “Medusa” the right format for its unveiling?
The Museum of Modern Art takes risks constantly, and it’s not known for taking on the easy show. And because this unveiling is institutional, it feels safe to me. The museum helps me to further the idea that sex, art, and aesthetics all go together. They’re all a part of every one of us. That we continue to have to fight for our bodies and the right to make love, it’s so awkward, no?
Where did your interest in eroticism come from?
It started very young. When I was fifteen I would find boxes with erotic magazines at garage sales. Some of my favorite finds were issues of Bizarre by John Willie. I was in love with the women in his illustrations with their gorgeous lingerie, bullet bras, gloves, stockings, and fuck-me boots. Finding Bizarre magazine was a turning point for me. At sixteen, I looked like a pin-up that had walked out of a John Willie illustration. It never left me as a vision of an empowered woman.
It seems that your mission is to sexually empower men and women, and to promote sex positivity.
Absolutely. One of my goals is to dismantle the pleasure taboo. There isn’t a sexual taboo anymore. Sex is everywhere. For example these apps that makes sexual opportunity like going onto Amazon and buying whatever you’re looking for. It’s not healthy. It’s like fast food. Fast sex and fast food: They make you hungry for more, and you keep going back, but you’re not getting the nutrition or the pleasure you deserve when you treat sex like a consumer product.
Why choose fine jewelry, which is a largely prim category of decorative arts, as the medium to accomplish that mission?
The jewelry is aesthetically pleasing and non-toxic, so it became a way for me to bridge the taboo with know-how and understanding. A lot of what is designed to be put inside of our bodies is very toxic. Silver is antibacterial. It’s durable and easy to clean. If you own one of my objects for penetration, you’re never going to throw it away. It’s something that elevates lovemaking to an art.
What do you hope viewers will take away from seeing the Boudoir Box at “Medusa”?
I hope that they can shed the tendency to categorize things. I hope that they can say, “Oh wow, there is beauty in an object of penetration that’s made in silver. What can it do? How would it feel?” If nothing else, I can nourish curiosity and curiosity is what drives us to experience life to the fullest.
Photography by Raul Higuera