Finding heaven on earth: an interview with Betony Vernon

Betony Vernon is a triple threat: designer, author and "sexual anthropologist" (a title given to her by publishing house Rizzoli), who has made it her life's mission to educate people about their bodies. She teaches the therapeutic benefits of letting go and accepting pleasure, for she believes this is the secret to achieving sexual wellbeing and peace of mind, as well as more loving behaviour towards one another. 

    Betony Vernon by Raul Higuera 

Our Creative Director, Mauro Durant, sat down to talk to Betony in her studio in the Parisian Marais neighbourhood. She works from a beautifully designed emerald green space, which she calls Eden, sitting above a pale pink room called Heaven, where her infamous Boudoir Box is on permanent display for her collectors. A Paris boudoir where everything’s meant to be touched. 
MD: The design of objects that aren’t just aesthetically beautiful, but that actually have a function seems to be your raison d’être. Tell me how it all got started. 
BV: In 1992, I was living and teaching metalsmithing in Florence. I designed a collection that I called Sado-Chic. It was composed of interchangeable jewellery components handcrafted in silver and gold. 
One day, I linked the Sado-Chic ring, chain and cuff together before going on a date with a gentleman I fancied. After dinner, we were chatting about something intimate and I suddenly felt inclined to put the ring I was wearing on his pinky finger. We were instantly chained together and it felt exciting. Neither of us was in a more powerful position than the other; on the contrary, we felt equal - and extremely connected too!
A current seemed to flow through the Sado-Chic kit, reinforcing our sense of connection to each other. It was electric. When I looked down to admire the beauty of our hands bound together, I noticed that my friend also had chills and the hair on his arm was standing on end! That was how it all started...
“To speak of intimacy, love, pleasure, sex...makes a lot of people squeamish!”

The Sado-Chic collection
 
MD: The Sado-Chic collection was your first ever erotica jewellery collection, and it was created over 25 years ago! Today, we have a more open market for this concept and your creations have inspired the work of many designers and mainstream brands. What was it like back then? Who were your clients and those who supported you, believing your work had a future?
BV: Things have changed in the minds of some, especially when it comes to the millennials who are now in their 20s, but there is still much to learn, to unlearn and to battle for.
In the mid-90s, I showed buyers and collectors the Sado-Chic collection. At that time, my atelier and showroom were in Milan. I presented 15-20 pieces to my collectors, who loved it. To my surprise, however, the boutique's buyers were either shocked or struggled to show any sign of interest in these exciting new works! I had another epiphany: to speak of intimacy, love, pleasure, sex, and the like makes a lot of people squeamish! I felt like I had hit a nerve and I realised that I had found my calling.
Obviously, I took a huge risk when I decided to pursue my mission of sensual design and sexual wellbeing, and I certainly could not have come this far without the love and support of my collectors and the media as well, which gradually started to warm up to everything that I was creating by the turn of the century. My mother was my biggest fan, though, and as much as I made her worry sometimes, she never stopped cheering me on. I am very lucky and grateful for this.
The Boudoir Box - Photo by Katrin Backes 
“To really let go is to enjoy!”

MD:
 Let’s talk about restraint. What therapeutic benefits does allowing oneself to be restricted bring to the body and mind?

BV: 
When you allow yourself to be bound by someone (who you trust, of course), there is a shift of power, and this in itself prompts an exciting flow of inebriating hormones into the bloodstream of both partners. Being restricted in an erotic context is fun; it forces the bound to succumb, to abandon her/himself to pleasure and of course to the bindee - and to truly let go is to enjoy! Now, that’s what I call sexual wellbeing!
MD: In addition to your career as a designer and author, you are a certified medical hypnotist. Your new work, presented last autumn at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris (Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris), reveals over two decades of research into the effects of constraint and suspension on the human body and mind, and the study of the Theta brainwave frequency, which culminated in your creation of the Thet Rig. Tell us what this work entails. 
BV: The Theta Frequency Session #1 was my first-ever happening. It took place last September in the Salle Dufy. The walls of this womb shaped room are covered, floor to ceiling, with 250 panels painted by the artist Raoul Dufy in 1937. The monumental work depicts the history of electricity; it is called La Fée électricité - the Electricity Fairy. 
During the happening, my subject was suspended about 150cm from the ground. The experience triggers the theta brainwave frequency and the related mind/body state, which is often described as waking dreaming, ecstasy, peace, floating, etc...
The electrical impulse generated by the subject’s brain was captured using an electroencephalogram and processed by a synthesiser. The resulting sound was emitted into the Salle Dufy in real time. My ultimate goal was to induce the same theta brainwave trance state not only in my subject but in the public as well. Everyone left the museum feeling peaceful and well! 
Theta Frequency Session, Museum of Modern Art, Paris by Franck Murra 
MD: The Boudoir Box, an exquisitely crafted leather jewel case containing over 30 Paradise Found Fine Erotic jewels and jewel-tools, was conceived in 2000. A collector’s piece, it was shown to the public for the first time last year (almost 20 years later), as part of the MEDUSA exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. What kept this wonderful box’s life so secretive?
VB: I understood that my work was not for everyone long ago, so I explored the power of discretion, mystery and exclusivity with the help of the Boudoir Box. It was designed to transport and display the collection to clients around the world. I also decided that the Boudoir Box, now 18 years old, had come of age!

As you can imagine, there were and still are very few viable windows to the world for my work. Travelling with the box became part of the art, per se, but since travelling has become everything but glamorous, I prefer that my collectors view the Boudoir Box privately in Eden, my dedicated space here in Paris.
 
“Sex is power, and the sexually empowered tend to be empowered in every other aspect of their lives...”
 
MD: With the publication of your Boudoir Bible in 2013, you shared your knowledge from personal experience and endless years of research into how women’s and men’s bodies function, and by understanding this, how we can dismantle misconceptions about pleasure and achieve sexual wellbeing. What do you think is missing in today’s society to end these taboos and talk frankly about sex and pleasure?
BV: Sex is power, and the sexually empowered tend to be empowered in every other aspect of their lives, and I believe that this is the problem. Our society does not want us to be empowered, for the empowered are bad for the system that is still in place. This leaves us obliged to learn from all the wrong places, and the misunderstandings like the taboos around sex and the body in general continue to negatively affect the majority.
I personally find this unacceptable. Consider that my work, which is a durable response to the sex industry as we know it, and which is geared towards wellbeing as much as it is design-related, is not supported by social media! My posts don’t automatically fall into your feed and I am not allowed to promote my work in any way. The robots do not discern between pornography and design or didactic material, and those who control the robots are not allowed to lift the blocks that prevent me from reaching a wider audience. It’s not easy in this day and age to overcome such a limitation, but we are studying a way around it, so stay tuned! 
MD: In the era of the Internet, where information and misinformation go hand in hand, do you think adolescents are being well educated about sex?
VB: Most kids are involuntarily exposed to pornography from the age of five onwards. And what adolescents learn from pornography is often the only pleasure-focused sexual “education” that they will ever get - long before they actually start having sex. Porn is the worst teacher when it comes to real pleasure. The Internet era has massively complicated the sex lives of adolescents and adults alike and not until sexuality and the importance of pleasure in our lives is taught in the classroom will sexual ignorance cease to wreak havoc on our sexual perspectives, and our private lives in general.
 
“I fell in love with Dr Jackson’s not only because my skin loves every delicious drop of the product, but also because Dr Jackson’s loves the planet!”
 
MD: Throughout your career, you have collaborated with very few and well-selected artists, designers or brands. What attracted you to collaborate with Dr Jackson’s on this project?

VB:
 I was taught from the day I could talk that chemicals are dangerous for all living things and for our planet in general. My father was a hardcore ecologist and he taught me that anything I put on my skin goes into my body. It was a good lesson, but it’s not easy to find natural skincare products that work for my skin. So I fell in love with Dr Jackson’s not only because my skin loves every delicious drop of the product, but also because Dr Jackson’s loves the planet! It is the only brand that I have used to date that does not use plastic packaging, and this means a lot to me. It’s so back to the future! Thank you!
 
Betony Vernon x Dr Jackson’s – Powder

MD: What is something we can all do to make our planet greener?
VB: Avoid supermarkets, buy fresh, unpackaged fruits and vegetables at the local market, and cook at home whenever possible. If a product is packaged with more than one thin layer of plastic, leave it on the shelf and find a similar product that actively supports the paradigm shift that is required in order to save our planet and ourselves from the irreversible damage that plastic waste is provoking. And avoid chemical intake by eating real food and using green products, whether they are for the home, or your beautiful face and body. And last, but not least, just love! 
To find out more about Betony Vernon’s work and to order The Boudoir Bible, Rizzoli, visit www.betonyvernon.com.
Take a look at Betony Vernon x Dr Jackson’s exclusive Valentine’s collaboration to celebrate a month of love: Powder and Noisette
Betony hand-picked some of her Dr Jackson's favourites and tied them up with satin ribbon inside a box that can only give you (or the one you love) a great pleasure to discover what's inside and apply it all-over. These all-natural products work in synergy to keep skin smooth and beautifully nourished.
Betony Vernon x Dr Jackson’s – Noisette

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