What’s so wrong with pursuing pleasure? According to author, jewelry designer, and sexual anthropologist Betony Vernon, absolutely nothing. For more than 25 years, the Virginia-bred, Paris-based Vernon has dedicated herself to lifting the taboos surrounding our deepest sexual desires. Through her multifaceted empire, Vernon, a fiery-haired femme fatale whose mere presence can make any man or woman’s knees buckle, encourages her clients and students to embrace their sexuality—and thus, themselves. But such an unorthodox and often misunderstood path does not come without its challenges.
In the early ’90s, while teaching metalsmithing in Florence, Vernon introduced a line of luxury accessories that aimed to please both visually and physically. Her exquisite wares attracted stores like Liberty and Barneys, however, when they realized that a sculptural ring could double as a personal stimulator, for instance, the big names got cold feet. “People would categorize me and my work, saying, ‘We didn’t know you were into S&M, that you were kinky. These new designs are perverted,’” recalled Vernon while reclining on a couch in her plush Paris salon, Eden, which serves as her Marais headquarters. “I was like, Wow, wait a second. No, I’m not a pervert and your vision of sex is very small. Being categorized is one of the problems I have encountered over and over again for the past 25 years. Categories create pleasure-inhibiting limits and my goal became to broaden sexual horizons by diffusing sexual information and to dismantle the pleasure taboo therein. Our sensual possibilities are infinite. There are so many ways to make love to each other, why should we limit our possibilities to genitally orientated sex alone?”
Since then, Vernon has gone on to write an international best-selling book, The Boudoir Bible—The Uninhibited Sex Guide for Today, which, published in 2013 by Rizzoli, is an initiation to what she describes as sexual ritual and the tools and techniques of “full-body stimulation.” It’s also a memoir, of sorts, detailing her introduction to different kinds of loving. She conducts intensive therapeutic sessions, aimed at healing emotional trauma, and hosts sexual well-being salons around the world that foster frank discussions about sex. Her jewelry line, which comprises rings adorned with feather ticklers, chokers outfitted with woven metal floggers, belts that double as restraints, and beyond, is carried by the likes of Colette and Dover Street Market.
What’s more is that Vernon’s work has been featured in a host of exhibitions around the globe. Most recently, she was tapped to participate in the Musèe d’Art Moderne’s Medusa: Bijoux et Tabous, a show that, on view now through November 5, looks at jewelry’s complex cultural connotations. It’s here that, for the very first time, she’s unveiled to the public her Boudoir Box, a hand-crafted, leather-clad chest filled with ornaments and instruments intended to titillate in every way imaginable. “I designed the Boudoir Box because, by 1998, I had yet to find any viable retail outlets for my erotic designs,” Vernon said. “[The box] became my boutique. I would pack all the jewelry into it and travel to see my private clients. But traveling with the box has become more and more complicated.” No kidding—imagine toting a leather tabernacle filled with erotic, precious metal accoutrements through airport security today. “Getting through customs is very much part of the art!”
Presenting the Boudoir Box for public consumption is simply the next step in Vernon’s quest to normalize sexuality, a pursuit she discusses at length in the below interview. Here, she sits down with Fashion Unfiltered to talk feminism, fetish in fashion, intimacy in the Internet age, and yes, even Fifty Shades of Grey, which, as we all know by now, isn’t an ideal representation of BDSM. As an added bonus, Vernon calls out some of her most prized creations—and explains how to use them—in the above slideshow. Abandon your inhibitions, click through, and enjoy.