Purple Magazine
— S/S 2007 issue 7

Betony Vernon

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
photography by KATERINA JEBB


She designed an exquisite collection of luxurious handcrafted sex jewelry. Then she created Paradise Found, an ultra-private members-only boudoir in Paris. Now BETONY VERNON opens her world to us, and with humour, uncommon sophistication, and a genuine concern for humanity, talks about her life, her fearless disregard of taboo, and her expertise in the art of giving pleasure.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where did you grow up?
BETONY VERNON — In Virginia, on the Appalachian Trail. I grew up in a teeny little town, Tazewell, that’s not even on the map.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a nostalgic vision of it?
BETONY VERNON — Absolutely not. For the first healthy, isolated, fifteen years I didn’t know that the rest of the world existed. My mother was from Great Britain, and my father was from Martha’s Vineyard. My father was an isolationist. He took his English wife and first daughter up the mountain.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Where did your parents meet?
BETONY VERNON — They met in North Carolina, at Chapel Hill. My mother went to Chapel Hill to go to art school—one of the few art schools that had a women’s program. While there, in 1961, she instigated the East Coast’s first sit-in, and without realizing it, helped to ignite America’s Civil Rights movement. But, the problem was, she was English, and as white as I am, and it was 1961. She was kicked out of the university, and only allowed back in after my grandfather insisted she be let back in. These were dangerous times, and she was given a bodyguard, by Martin Luther King.

BETONY VERNON — Because she instigated the sit in. She did it at a Woolworth’s store which had a little café. She was supported by local African-Americans. They stood in front of her, and the bartender motioned for to her alone to be served, because she was white. She refused, and that created havoc. In the end, she finished university and still does civil rights work in prisons and in ghetto schools. Today she lives in a predominantly African-American community in Virginia out of choice.

OLIVIER ZAHM —What did your father do?
BETONY VERNON — He was a pilot, first in the air force. Then he invented a low flying, one-seat helicopter, which he built in the house we were living in—a big Victorian home on the edge of the main street of our town. At heart he was a true hermit, hoping for a son to come along.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But he only had girls.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was the atmosphere of your home life?
BETONY VERNON — Bohemian-chic. But my mother lost custody in 1972—which was almost unheard of at the time—due to her Civil Rights activities, and a racist Virginia judge. The sit-in occurred during a time of heavy Ku Klux Klan activities. In 2001, she was recognized by African-Americas as a kind of national celebrity.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did your father come from a rich family?
BETONY VERNON — No. He was a classic self-made American, with a radical streak.

OLIVIER ZAHM — His helicopter was a proto-type?
BETONY VERNON — A working one that he built, and flew for years.

OLIVIER ZAHM — He transported people?
BETONY VERNON — No. He sprayed seeds. It was a one seat helicopter. He designed it so that no one could fly with him. When his friends and co-workers sprayed DDT and other pesticides, he refused. My father sprayed seeds, not pesticides. He invented a system of seeding and became a sort of air borne Johnny Apple Seed. I remember flying with him in other machines when I was young. He also had a bubble-front 1970s helicopter. It was pretty groovy seeing a sexy man flying a helicopter, with his little earmuffs, aviator glasses and bomber jacket. Quite hot.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did he become rich or famous for his invention?
BETONY VERNON — Yes, but one day someone set their vindication against my father: he went to work and found his helicopter in the field, blown up in 3,000 pieces on the ground. It didn’t matter because he was living sort of like a king, playing around, making sculptures out of this and that. He had a little collection of vintage Triumph TR3 sport cars. It took him about seven years to blow the cash he’d earned. He went bankrupt. He lost everything. It’s a long story. He was a hardcore ecologist. The reason he didn’t spray DDT was because he realized it killed not only insects and fungi on crops but fish in the rivers, birds and bees and the rest. He sprayed it one time in his life.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was your relationship with your mother?
BETONY VERNON — My mother lost custody when I was four so she wasn’t around. She moved to Norfolk, Virginia, on the Atlantic coast, the nearest city to Tazewell with a museum. The art collector, Walter Chrysler, built a museum there to house his collection. She was his director of education there, for thirty years. She was only allowed to see her daughters once a year, for a week, on my father’s turf.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You couldn’t see her otherwise?
BETONY VERNON — No, The judge was an evil, racist, misogynist. You don’t take four babies away from a healthy mother.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That must have been traumatic.
BETONY VERNON — It was a bit. But, I don’t have regrets. We had a babysitter. Daddy was flying about ten months out of the year, which is probably why they divorced. My mother was alone in the middle of nowhere. An artist, isolated with four baby girls. Daddy really wanted a boy. He was half convinced by the time my little sister and I came around that we weren’t his, because we weren’t boys.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So you spent your childhood without a mother.
BETONY VERNON — I love my mother. She’s really great. But, you can’t miss what you don’t have. I had two older sisters, who were great teachers—older sisters don’t do the kind of automatic filtering a mother does. My oldest sister would tell me everything a mother wouldn’t. In the beginning there were always ladies in the house to help take care of us. But they never lasted long. Can you imagine one woman with four rampaging children? We were wild. There was no parental control whatsoever.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that why you grew up so quickly?
BETONY VERNON — Probably. I didn’t have a choice.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why did your father let that happen?
BETONY VERNON — I guess it was revenge. I think he still loved my mother and kept the children to himself as a way to get back at her.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your mother wasn’t in love with him anymore? Did she have other lovers?
BETONY VERNON — It was due to his absence. My father was really a hermit. To this day he lives on a sailboat, and doesn’t have much contact with people. No address, no phone, no email. Daddy basically wasn’t there for her for the most part, ten months out of the year. So, my mother had to find some loving attention and she tended to prefer black men! She was totally liberated.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And your father found out?
BETONY VERNON — Of course. The town was tiny. Everybody knew everything about everybody. And a few of the African-Americans in the community worked for my father.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was your father racist?
BETONY VERNON — No, but he was possessive.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have great memories of your childhood?
BETONY VERNON — I do. My father bought almost 500 acres of mountains and forests. There was a natural water slide at the very top of one of the mountains where a cold spring ran down a fallen rock hidden between secular trees and rocks and rhododendrons. It was called the Lizard Slide. We would go up in jean hot-pants, sit on the top of the rock rendered slippery by eons of rushing water and slide down the 100 foot long slide—an amazing experience but shockingly cold!

OLIVIER ZAHM — So your father was a true ecologist?
BETONY VERNON — He was a nature lover. He wanted to save a piece of the planet. I remember spending hours collecting wild flowers, spying on deer, turning stones over, and him speaking about snakes and birds and trees and how to identify poisonous mushrooms. We were all trained in survival, basically in case anything should happen. Even today, I’m better at getting down a mountain, or finding my way out of the woods, than getting around a city. I have no urban sense of direction. After almost two years of living in Paris, I still get lost going to Café de Flore. I don’t drive, either.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you feel beautiful as a teenager?
BETONY VERNON — Well, I was already a little lady. I was probably pretty enough, but I felt like a freak. Big buxom redheads get teased. You’re different. You’re called carrot top and all sorts of other things. I was the only redhead in the class. I was also the biggest. Kids are not nice.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have a dream at fifteen?
BETONY VERNON — Not really. I wanted to model. I tried that. I was already the size I am now. I started working when I was 12 years old. Daddy was going bankrupt, and he even said I had the height. What else could I do at that age, clean toilets? So I became super skinny. But my first job was working as a secretary in a dentist’s office. It didn’t last very long. And by the age of fifteen I was gone. I had the sense that I needed to live my life, and things were becoming too tight. It wasn’t going to work.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you attracted by fashion?
BETONY VERNON —  At the time there was nothing around me that had anything to do with fashion at all. But I loved clothes. It was the end of the seventies. I loved getting dressed up. I loved costumes. I loved role playing. I had a sewing machine, and at one point I was cutting up bed sheets and dying them to make my own clothes. I still design most of my clothes. It’s pretty rare that you’ll see me wearing something that’s not mine. I’ve had a seamstress for years, but back then I designed and sewed everything myself, I loved making dresses from vintage table cloths and linens. Lacey things.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you get to New York?
BETONY VERNON — Greyhound bus. I had about $300, which was enough to figure out what was happening—though when I think about it, I feel lucky to be here now. I did a lot of different things. I played the piano from the age of five on and I had beautiful hands so I even did hand and feet modeling—whatever would come my way.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How old were you?
BETONY VERNON — Not yet 16. I had a hard time modeling, because I had big boobs. The modeling agents tried to starve me to death. In the beginning of the 80’s a board-flat chest was in.You had to be emaciated. Boobs were not acceptable yet, so I got very skinny. In the end, trying to acquire that shape was unhealthy for me. I decided I couldn’t do it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What was New York like?
BETONY VERNON — Wild. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was rough. I spent a lot of nights sleeping in the trash rooms at the Chelsea Hotel. I knew how to get into the Chelsea if I had nowhere to go, or find a couch to sleep on, or find someone to take me in. I was lucky. I had the love of others. I was always helped. I was blessed with older friends, older couples, who realized I needed help. They were angels. It was tough and I was a baby. Luckily, I found protection. I had just come down the mountain. I had never even been to the movies. I was completely absolutely pure and naive. It was scary. I didn’t know so much evil existed in the world. I’d been so isolated. I had spent the first fifteen years of my life simply, without asphalt under my feet.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you try to reconnect with your mother?
BETONY VERNON — It took me about five months to wind up really wanting a Mommy. I found her. It was December and it was snowing, and I called her from a pay phone. I went to live with her for about eight months in Norfolk, Virginia. I had never really had a mother, and at that time I thought I needed one.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was she happy to have you there?
BETONY VERNON — Yes, but I was a punk, completely independent, and an absolute hellion. I had started to experiment with drugs, was into loud, raunchy music and huge hair. I used tons of egg whites and aqua net to keep it up. I wore fuck-me pumps and ripped stockings and not much more than vintage underwear. I had the body of a vixen.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You still do.
BETONY VERNON — Apparently, yeah. It hasn’t gotten any smaller, at least.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You didn’t go to school in New York?
BETONY VERNON — No, I went back to high school in Norfolk. I loved studying and I loved school, although I wanted to get it over with. I had a year and a half to go. But I couldn’t live with my mother. We would have killed each other. I got a job taking care of a newborn for a Jewish family who basically gave me an apartment in their house. So, I left my mother’s place after about 8 months. I couldn’t stay, even though she needed to be my mother. She had an overpowering urge to mother me because she’d never really been allowed to before. I did my university studies in Richmond, at a liberal arts school called Virginia Commonwealth University. I lived in a huge squat—the only woman with ten men, punks, drug dealers and music people. I had a room filled with my huge vintage clothing collection. I never wore the same thing twice. If I had to, I’d cut it up to make something else. I also designed hand bags. Richmond at the time had the highest murder rate of any city in the US. I lost a couple of people to violence and overdoses, and I acquired a Doberman pincher from one of them. Her name was Tango. I finaly graduated with degrees in Art History and Religious Studies, along with a minor in metal smiting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you into heavy drugs?
BETONY VERNON — No, no. I was studying a lot, taking on a really heavy load of classes—24 credit hours a week, rather than the normal 18.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But your surroundings weren’t exactly academic.
BETONY VERNON — No. It was a much older crowd. They were a bunch of old rockers. I was the only one going to university. They were beautiful and harmless, but simply did too many drugs. I’ve never had an issue with dependence. I tried everything out of curiosity, but in general, I like being in control of myself. There are moments when it’s important to lose control, but I’ve never liked being too drunk or too high.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You always want to maintain personal control?
BETONY VERNON — I like being conscious of what’s going on around me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you have to protect yourself?
BETONY VERNON — I walked around with my big mean looking dog. She kind of looked like me. I dressed in black, she was black with a pointy red muzzle. I wore thigh-high boots, and I stuck my butterfly knife down inside one of them. I honestly don’t think I could have ever used it but I still have it today. Richmond was violent and rape was common. I feel lucky that nothing ever happened to me. I often flirted with disaster. I’ve always liked the thrill of extremes. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been bored. Ever.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Why did you have to leave America?
BETONY VERNON — I knew, probably even before I left the mountains, that I wouldn’t stay in America for long. I had visions of going to England, my mother’s country. I traveled to the UK quite a bit, but I finally ended up in Paris.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you survive with no job?
BETONY VERNON — I was looking for jobs and I was really determined. But I was too young, and a little too wild to fit in. I was twenty. People didn’t really take me seriously. I was extroverted looking, but unapproachable. I was shy and on my own. At a certain point, I decided to go to Florence with no money in my pocket. Florence has a history of jewelry making and art, and in the end that’s what I did. I thought I would find my way, one way or another. And, I did. I worked in a big metals shop and began to model again.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How long did you stay in Florence?
BETONY VERNON — Five years. After I decided to leave for Milan to study design. I got a masters degree in Industrial Design at Domus Academy. I was the only post-grad student that wasn’t an architect. I said to myself, either I go to the best school in Italy, or I won’t go at all. They accepted me. It was great. We worked with designers like Branzi, Sottsass Mendini, and others. It’s a completely modern system.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you know that you wanted to just make jewelry?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, but while I was there, I didn’t design jewelry because everything I designed and made there belonged to them. I didn’t want to mix things up. I did my thesis on bicycle transportation and ecological identity.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Most people think you’re a rather mean dominatrix.
BETONY VERNON — Well, people tend to have preconceptions. Doms are doms, and subs are subs. But there are switchers out there. They’re often looked down upon. They’re not understood or respected. But, a good dom knows how to sub, and does that from time to time to remember where she or he is taking someone. I’m more of a sensation seeker, into receiving and giving sensation: taking people places, and going there myself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Experiencing sensations for yourself at the same time?
BETONY VERNON — Of course. If I don’t get myself hung from a ceiling from time to time, I forget where I take you when I hang you up with love, attention, and care. It’s an art.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you approach this experience of sexuality as an artist? Do people accept it as art?
BETONY VERNON — Unfortunately, in the West, making love is not considered an art. Most men think that they’re born lovers. They have the classic three-to-fifteen minute phallocentric encounter, and that’s it. There’s no thought to mounting tension in order to achieve massive orgasm.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s uncommonly modern.
BETONY VERNON — The idea is that we can consider sensual play, or love making in general, a ceremonial art form. You can’t have a ceremonial session, or a lengthy session, if you don’t have skills. If you’re just using your body, or your genitals, you are not going to be able to continue for long. Where as if you play the body as an instrument, and learn to use tools and techniques, you can play for hours, even days.

OLIVIER ZAHM — The body, plus the accessories you’ve created.
BETONY VERNON — Well, the accessories allow you to do many things, that you can also do with your mouth, your hands, your sex… But the use of tools adds an aesthetic factor and lets you do it better and longer.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Which is very important to you.
BETONY VERNON — Absolutely. My work is a response to what happens in the sex industry, and in the market today. I am searching for a new sexual aesthetic.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because sex toys are not beautiful to you?
BETONY VERNON — I don’t make toys.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you find the market ones ugly?
BETONY VERNON — They didn’t ever satisfy my aesthetic needs.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re more and more Japanese, in a way. It’s very Manga-like.
BETONY VERNON — I have a very hard time imagining putting an alien or a bunny rabbit on my clitoris. Most vibrators designed today look like objects for children to play with. In fact, they explore a childlike approach to sex.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You said that you don’t design sex toys.
BETONY VERNON — I don’t call them toys. To me, they’re more like scepters, which are ceremonial implements. In the Wizard of OZ, Olivier Zahm, there’s all sorts of magic going on, like magic wands…

OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re jewelry and they serve a sexual function at the same time.
BETONY VERNON — I call them erotic implements, jewel tools. I consider them jewelry even though you can not wear them all on your body. They’re jewels for the inside of the body too. Handmade with precious metals.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, does sensation heighten body perception and sexual power?
BETONY VERNON — Absolutely. Even psychological foreplay can empower. For example, a lot of people—this is not your case, or mine—have a hard time communicating the fact that they want to make love, that they feel desire. Men and women often feel blocked and awkward when its time to convey their desire to fuck. I often suggest an object as a symbol of desire for those who can’t voice it. For example, if we were lovers, we could decide that when you see me wearing this collar, it means that I want you. If we go out to dinner, and I’m wearing it, you’ll know I want you, and that I am yours for the taking. It’s also a way of reinforcing the idea to yourself, and about yourself. My objects boost sexual confidence.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A secret link?
BETONY VERNON — Only the wearer and her lover know for sure. It’s a charge between the people that know, and that’s it. If you don’t know that the ring I’m now wearing is a runner for cords that can create an ornamental bondage, then its just a ring. In reality its part of a set of three pieces that can be worn together with these cords on different parts of the body.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there a classification of this new set of jewelry concerned with bondage?
BETONY VERNON — It’s not new. These are Paradise Found classics. They’ve been around for a while. They are pieces most appreciated by collectors who have a minimum of bondage know how, or enough creativity, or fantasy to say, OK, I’m going to take Betony’s guideline, and go with it where I want to. One of my goals is to nurture spontaneity, because that’s what great sex is all about. In fact, my upcoming book is not a guide. It’s more of an initiation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You want to be really relaxed first.
BETONY VERNON — At ease and comfortable. The intensity of an orgasm is reduced or even inhibited if you are not completely relaxed. Intense pleasure is all about accepting it. Many women, and lots of men too, have a hard time accepting pleasure. Great sex is about giving but taking too. It’s no fun, if you just give and give and give.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Porn is the model today.
BETONY VERNON — Well, yeah, but it’s the worst model ever. A lot of people think that if they fuck like a porn star, it’s going to be OK. But it’s not, because sex becomes a question of performance.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Porn is all about performing: the woman has to scream and the guy has to come…
BETONY VERNON — A lot! And fast too! In porn, it all has to happen fast. Ladies don’t find pleasure in three seconds though. A really great orgasm doesn’t happen the way it does in porn films. Performance sex makes for a good reason to have a vibrator.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your tools are also beautiful aesthetically.
BETONY VERNON — Thank you. My jewelry—rings, belts, chains, even earrings—all have a function. I have a pair of earrings with a long tassel that tickles the side of the collarbone, which is a very nice place to be tickled. And, of course it tickles anything that comes into its vicinity. Wear them as earrings, but if you’re giving head, they’re testicles ticklers. Imagine a little metallic tickle. Sweet, right?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is there one part of the body that you haven’t explored?
BETONY VERNON — By playing. I consider the entire body ground for sensation. By using the whole body, we intermittently degenitalise the act, and mount sexual tension. By doing so, we can play for hours. You might be into feet and sucking feet, which is a really nice thing to do, and then move on to the genitals, then back off for another senation somewhere else. If you only focus on the genitals, especially if you are playing with a man, sooner or later he’s going to come, and the session is over. So, the idea is to go around the genitals and come back to them, over and over again.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What I think is really artistic about your objects is that they are aesthetic and sexual. More than that, they’re abstract — when you look at them you don’t know exactly what sensation they’re meant to generate.
BETONY VERNON — That’s called discretion.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But, the shape is determined by secret knowledge that gives them an enigmatic dimension.
BETONY VERNON — That’s why I had to do a guide.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you accompany your customers in their utility?
BETONY VERNON — Well, I teach privately for couples and in the shops where I sell. I’m also creating a new space here in Paris—so that I can receive and do salons for small groups. Because what I’ve done in Paradise Found Salon, until now, is work with my collectors, either single or in couples. I’ll continue to do it, but I also like the idea of having groups that are bigger, like ten people. The interaction between ten people who are talking about different ways to give and receive pleasure opens the doors to a lot of ideas.

OLIVIER ZAHM — These groups—do you show them how to use your toys?
BETONY VERNON — I start with a theme. For example, in February, at the SOHO House in London, I’ll do a salon called “Anal Pleasure for Men and Women,” that deal specifically with anal tools, health and pleasure. I go into a class with my own implements, but I’ll also go in with other tools like latex gloves and lube. When I am working for a retailer like Kiki de Montparnasse in NY or Coco de Mer in London, things that are not necessarily crafted by me. Of course, the actual objects that I talk about are made by me. But, not everyone can afford my tools. In fact, in my book I don’t hone in on my creations alone. I also emphasize the importance of manual contact. Our hands are our first tools. For example, massage rings create a new dimension in the stroke of the hand, but it is designed so that it does not obliterate the sensation or the heat of the hand itself.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So you maintain the movement and the rhythm.
BETONY VERNON — Yes, but the tool adds another dimension : a certain power is transmitted through the metal too. The contact is charged.

OLIVIER ZAHM — By the silver?
BETONY VERNON — Silver and gold absorb and transmit energy. A lot of people ask me if my jewel tools are not cold against the skin. Actually, they conduct heat. In the end they become warmer than our skin. Metal has a conductive quality. After all, we use copper for electricity. Silver and gold both contain copper. Wear them a few minutes and they’ll get hot.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You don’t like plastic or rubber?
BETONY VERNON — I have an issue with them. I prefer metal, silver and gold. There is a hygiene issue too. I’ve had a lot of women come to me who complain of repeated yeast infections and if I ask them what tools they are using, they normally say a silicone, rubber, or plastic vibrator. These materials have a shorter life span than metal. With repeated misuse they may crack, or become porous. Most people don’t realize that these toys should be disinfected. I have vibes in these materials but I prefer silver. It’s antibacterial, and can be easily cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with solutions. It’s not porous, so it’s less likely to absorb and retain germs.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Isn’t there also the question of weight?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, for me silver and gold have a weight and presence, and there’s something sacred about a tool that has been handcrafted, hand carved. I do a lot of custom requests as well. If somebody wants a tool made wider, or longer, or whatever, I do it.

OLIVIER ZAHM —You personalize objects?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, I don’t keep things in stock. They are made to order. There are models in the shops, but only four stores in the world carry my things. Maxfield’s in LA was carrying them for a while. But selling sex gear is not like selling shoes. A fashion sales person is not likely to be comfortable explaining how to use a female g-spotter. In a shop that’s selling fashion today, you might be able to find a vibrator, because no one has to really explain how to use it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve also developed the art of pleasure, and teach it to others.
BETONY VERNON — It’s a 360 degree mission.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It wasn’t your decision at first?
BETONY VERNON — It was organic. I wanted to express myself from the beginning, of course, but I had to hide out. It’s not that I wasn’t telling the truth— but for a long time, for the outside world, I was just designing jewelry.

OLIVIER ZAHM — For Missoni, and Ferre, for example.
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, I did that as well, in the fashion system. But I always had my own line. I worked with Barneys America, Fred Segal, Liberty’s, L’Eclaireur in Paris—always high end shops.

OLIVIER ZAHM — When was this?
BETONY VERNON — I was working with Luisa Via Roma in Florence from 1991 to 1996. I had a sort of exclusive with them and everything was completely handmade; I had a huge window there. In 1995 I began to sell with Kashiyama in Japan and Barneys in America. One thing led to another. I used my name: the collection was called Betony Vernon or B.V. I’d like to re-edit some of this jewelry because I think there are some valid objects in the collection. I always made jewelry, in gold and silver. Not fantasy jewelry. In the fashion venues there are very few shops that deal with gold and precious metals. This is why I stopped working with the fashion system. I like noble metals, and the idea of an object that resists time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you develop the erotic aspect in your jewelry?
BETONY VERNON — I was doing it for myself, for my own use. All my prototypes were built for me. A couple of people knew about it, but no one in fashion knew about it. Then, in about 1999, I got brave. I took out a piece that’s still in my collection, a bracelet with a chain that can be worn as a necklace, but that you can wear alone or share with someone else. I showed it to the buyer of an important fashion department store in America. The buyer was bothered about it and couldn’t relate to the fact that it could be shared. I like to study ways to communicate through an object. A lot of my tools can be connected to each other, they can be transformed for different uses, and interchanged and shared. A collection of three or four of these pieces can give you about nine possibilities for wearing them. The collection is about flexibility.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What happened? Did people suddenly get it?
BETONY VERNON — I had a vision. It all came at once, and I couldn’t sleep for months. I was in Paris and I was walking with a friend of mine. It was after 9/11. Americans had all stayed home. The Japanese were terrified. Economic disaster was pending. I was walking in Paris and it just came to me. I knew that I had to take the risk. I designed a travel case, The Boudoir Box, and started to travel with my gear and presenting them in hotels. There were no venues for what I wanted to do, but I saw no sense in just making pretty pieces of jewelry anymore, especially in a world that’s so violent.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And so far from love.
BETONY VERNON — Big time. At that time I’d already designed about 30 pieces, including my crops and anal dilator set and several vaginal tools. Other pieces, of course, came later.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your favorite piece in your collection?
BETONY VERNON — In 2001, I designed a masturbation ring for men that became one of my signature pieces. It’s a petting ring and it’s a pure creation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is this object?
BETONY VERNON — A vaginal dildo. It’s also a vessel. The bottom screws off. You can put body oil inside it, and we could play. My body would heat the oil and I could use it to massage you. A lot of it is about sharing. We often become self-centered sexually, and it’s important to have objects that intervene and help us to interrelate better.

OLIVIER ZAHM — This is for anal pleasure?
BETONY VERNON — It’s the only piece in the collection based on a medical tool. This is a man’s P-spotter, and this is its counterpart for women. It can also be used as an anal tool. It’s called a love gun because when I hold it like this, it’s as if I’m shooting myself. It has a lovely anatomical weight. Its length and its curve are precisely calculated. People often ask me to talk about the G-spot. Its “discovery” sparked a sort of revolution. It’s an effective tool for working the PC muscles too. Sometimes it’s great to introduce something extra-body when you’re playing. Fingers and tongues and willies can get tired.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is the G-spot what causes a woman to ejaculate liquid?
BETONY VERNON — Yes, ejaculation is connected to G-spot stimulation, but stimulating the G-spot to ejaculation requires time. Some women complain because they don’t orgasm, and when you ask them for how long they were playing, they are likely to say about 10 minutes or so. That’s time enough maybe to have a quick come, but if your mate is lacking in skill and stamina, tools can help prolong playtime. Female ejaculation is often related to lengthy sessions of pleasure—but a woman can peak and come again and again without ejaculating. Men can learn to separate ejaculation from orgasm too. Female ejaculation is something that’s still negated by lots of doctors. We can all ejaculate if the conditions are right. I love to ejaculate.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s amazing how it happens to some women naturally. But for the majority of women it never happens, even with the right person.
BETONY VERNON — It’s not a question of the right person. It’s the right kind of stroking and taking the time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, but for some women, it never happens. And, some do have to learn.
BETONY VERNON — Exactly. Bravo. Some women have to learn this sexual skill.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But some women like things to come easily, without having to learn anything.
BETONY VERNON — Well, may they come on! There are lots of different types of orgasm.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Some women can’t help coming like that, and try to hide it because they’re ashamed.
BETONY VERNON — Well, a lot men don’t know what it is when it happens, and think it’s piss even though it smells like spring rain. It’s the sacred river.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are there books about it?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah. But its limited. There are still a lot of doctors that negate it, and the female prostate itself. Ejaculation is related to G-spot stimulation. It’s a different sensation, a different release, than a clitoral orgasm for example. It tends to be more emotional. Ejaculation is an act that makes men and women sexual equals. Ejaculation is not orgasm. It’s something else, it’s a different sensation. There are many ways to orgasm, but the most common way that women come is through tension. It involves clenching, closing down. This will not facilitate ejaculation. One of the things I talk about in my classes—I know it sounds ridiculous but in reality is quite fulfilling—is about pushing down rather that tensing up. A lot of women are afraid to do it because they think if they’re pushing down they are going to pee, which doesn’t happen. In the Orient, we may still find in flea markets ancient vessels that were created to collect female ejaculate fluid. The sacred fluid was collected and consumed. The idea of stimulating a woman to a point that she ejaculates was considered healthy, because the hotter she was, the more ready she was, the more she was getting off the happier her mate was too, because he also practiced internal ejaculation. It was about sharing, sexually sharing.

OLIVIER ZAHM — An object would catch the fluid?
BETONY VERNON — I see you’re very curious about female ejaculation. Yes, they made little vessels, often in ceramic. According to the Taoists, the fluid promoted longevity. In Oriental disciplines, the retention of ejaculation is a basic premise, and the fact that a woman can come and come again is another. If I’m totally relaxed, and if my mind is focused, I can come over and over. This is due to the fact that women don’t have the same erection mechanisms that men have. Men have a valve on the inside of the genital structure that shuts down the flow of blood to the penis. When the valve is closed, the blood is blocked in the penis. During ejaculation, that valve opens. We don’t have this valve, which is one of the reasons that we can be multi orgasmic. Evidently if we can, it means we are supposed to. It’s a question of retraining the body, and finding the time.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Does ejaculation involve love?
BETONY VERNON — No, not necessarily.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Women are so complex. There are so many layers—physical, emotional.
BETONY VERNON — Well, as a man, is your orgasm not an emotional thing? Are you one of those silent comers? Like, all of a sudden you come, and nobody knows about it, and it’s over? I like it when somebody comes, that they let me know they’re on the verge. Anyway, all the things that we don’t know and understand completely seem complicated. Women are not as complicated as you think.

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s a big difference when you love, and when you don’t love, someone. When you don’t love, you construct an artificial story and that’s it.
BETONY VERNON — Well, you’re right, but there are all sorts of layers and ways to love.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s an emotional process?
BETONY VERNON — When I talk about ejaculation being emotional, I mean that it feeds as much into the emotional side of the experience as it does the physical. It can provoke tears and vocal expression. Screaming, sometimes. It’s more wild and thrashing. This is because the g-spot, which is directly linked to ejaculation, is tied to the pelvic nerve. While the clitoral orgasm is fueled primarily by the pudendal nerve and sensation is therefore genitally localized, it’s not emotional and is more easily multi-orgasmic. A G-spot orgasm in connection with ejaculation is not just a physical release : it leads to full body sensations. It can result in quite a squirt, sometimes across the room.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Multiple times?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, over and over, because it continues to build if you continue to play. It’s released with this pushing down technique that I was talking about, which is something that most Western women don’t feel comfortable doing. They tend to tense up. It requires a little technique and practice.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s one of the last taboos?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, it’s completely repressed. If you think about the Orient, they have so many examples of worship of sacred rivers. In Western Judeo-Christianity, we’ve killed the source.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I think in Western culture anything that equalizes women and men is a taboo.
BETONY VERNON — Absolutely. The fact that women separate orgasm and ejaculation is due to this taboo.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A woman’s orgasm is invisible because she can hide it. A man can’t hide his ejaculation.
BETONY VERNON — A man who really knows, knows whether a woman comes or not.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, but culturally, the pleasure of a woman has always been repressed.
BETONY VERNON — Until Judeo-Christianity, it wasn’t. There was a mother goddess, and sex was a celebration.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, but in Islam it’s repressed, and in Africa there’s female circumcision.
BETONY VERNON — But that came later. And it was a ritual. This is a very touchy subject. Even male circumcision is touchy. I had a man ask me to design a piece that covered a late circumcision. I made a shaft slip that covered the scar. He was obsessed with the scar, so I made a really kinky object that covered the shaft of his erect penis. A lot of times my work is about overcoming a taboo, overcoming an issue or fear. It’s a lot about empowerment. If you have an object that gives you confidence, or that makes you a better lover, than you become a better lover.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you discover that you have this awareness, or sexual power?
BETONY VERNON — I began to play very early, and I had exposure to lots of different things. I was exposed to the hardcore scene, which is all about lengthy play, setting a scene, creating a ritual.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You were exposed to hardcore sex early?
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, but I was also exposed to sensation seeking. Probably my dissatisfaction in certain moments led me to search higher forms of sexual enhancement, which I could share with another person. It was frustrating not getting what I knew I needed in some moments.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Or, maybe you went too far into extreme sensations, which left you feeling empty.
BETONY VERNON — No, not empty, but wanting more. There’s lots of ways to get that. It can be completely tool free. A lot of people ask me if I travel with my tools, and I don’t always. I can do without them. My first tool is my body, which is my temple. Tonight, you had an organic meal with me. We ate clean food, lots of algae. I’ve been a vegetarian for 25 years, and have to be careful about what I eat, or I’ll get sick. Nutrition is a part of one’s well being. If you don’t feel well, you won’t fuck well. If I don’t eat cleanly, then my body smells funny, and I feel gross. Since I quit smoking, I taste like honey.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I have to stop smoking cigars.
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, it will make your cock smell like one too. I love my new taste.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Sex starts with what you eat.
BETONY VERNON — You are what you eat. You smell like what you eat. If you eat lots of meat, then you have a different odor from someone who doesn’t. Different lovers smell and taste differently.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What exactly is Paradise Found?
BETONY VERNON — It’s the name of my erotic collections and a members only salon where I also represent the works of other artists. My goal was to create a dimension. When members come to Paradise they no longer care to know what’s happening on the outside world. There is no outside world in this world. That’s kind of what sex is: a dimension that you move into, the real world is left behind. Little remnants of the real world can limit your pleasure. If I’m in the middle of an orgasm and I think, “oh shit, I forgot the keys,” it’s just not happening.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a kind of isolated environment.
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, like a temple or a sanctuary. You must isolate yourself if you’re participating in a sexual ritual and using my tools.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Like when you were a child, in the middle of nowhere.
BETONY VERNON — Absolutely. But it’s adult playtime. It’s about transcending the ordinary and embracing another dimension, and not being afraid to really go there. A lot of people are afraid to really let go, because you do effectively lose yourself in the moment that you’re embracing pleasure.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, Paradise Found provides this isolating space. Can we call it a boudoir?
BETONY VERNON — It’s an idea. The boudoir was actually a space that was dedicated to dressing and undressing. A ladies boudoir was like a mans cabinet. It was an area dedicated to preparation, where she might very well find herself having moments of pleasure too. But I think that it goes slightly beyond that now. It’s my private play space—and a members salon. I’ve had the pleasure of working with other artists, and I have the feeling there are a few of us unconsciously creating a movement. I wouldn’t say that it’s strictly centered around eroticism, but around the body. I recently did a project with Jeff Burton, in the museum house of Carlo Molino in Turin.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Tell me more about the Carlo Molino project.
BETONY VERNON — We went to Carlo Molino’s “garçonnière”, the “sanctuary” that he designed for his wife after her death.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was he living there?
BETONY VERNON — No, he never lived there. He took his erotic Polaroids there, but he never actually lived there. It is today exactly the way it was then —the furniture, the curtains, everything. We decided not to get the fashion system involved, or outsiders in general. It was a very tight group, and the vibe was full on. Magic. We didn’t really sleep for four days.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is the house a mausoleum?
BETONY VERNON — Sort of. He was an Egyptologist. In Turin there’s the second largest Egyptian museum in the world after Ciaro’s.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Let’s speak more about sexuality. You’re a kind of expert, are you not?
BETONY VERNON — That’s what they call me: the initiator.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think sex is something that we can learn about, or something that we have to discover?
BETONY VERNON — No one is a born lover. The Latin lover who can give every women an orgasm is a myth. Yeah, we all have the capacity to orgasm. Maybe women haven’t accepted their orgasm, and maybe men haven’t accepted that women can have a lot more orgasms than they can. It’s hard to turn around 2,000 years of phallocentric male supremacy in 40 years. We all have something to learn.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you working on it?
BETONY VERNON — Yes, I am. Always.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is your mission, or vision, to enhance sexuality for women?
BETONY VERNON — Sexual well being in general. For men and women. It sounds a bit idealistic. But the power of sexuality is innate. The problem is that this power is controlled by the church and state.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Sex is an industry controlled by the phallus. By men.
BETONY VERNON — Yeah, but never before in history have women known more about their pleasure potential. Until a certain point in history, women weren’t really allowed to work, or to build a career. It wasn’t until after 1968 that woman really held jobs of social importance, and could really participate in the making of history. More women today do what men alone could once do. But this brings up all sorts of questions, gender questions…

OLIVIER ZAHM — This can also change sexuality.
BETONY VERNON — Sexuality is evolving and not just because we’re bombarded by mass media.

OLIVIER ZAHM — If sexuality is evolving and changing today, do you think it’s thanks to women?
BETONY VERNON — A Yoga teacher once told me that Yoga in the West has taken off because of women. The fact that women can take control of their sexuality, and not just be objects, plays a major role in our evolution as a whole.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, the sexual evolution will be a woman’s revolution?
BETONY VERNON — I think it works in two ways. I have women clients who say they orgasm more on their own. But, I re-enforce the idea that they can come more than once, with their husbands, or mates, or whomever. As they acquire knowledge and skills, they must bring their male mates along with them. Otherwise, you’ve got a phallocentric man with a sexually evolved woman on her own. A woman can learn to orgasm ten or fifteen times in an evening if her man is skilled in the art of loving. Like a woman, he can learn breathing techniques, ejaculation control, and all sorts of wonderful things. This is the base of the sexual ceremony, which is what my work is about. My tools are scepters for such ceremonies. It’s all about extending playtime. When I speak of ceremony, most men think that their right to orgasm is negated. This isn’t the case. It’s about slowing things down, controlling ejaculation and even learning to separate orgasm for ejaculation. It requires skill after all. Boys learn to come quickly: circle jerks are all about seeing who comes first. the male is conditioned early on to come fast and quietly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — There is a taboo about female masturbation today, that it’s a sign of unsatisfied female sexuality. Is it a natural part of a woman’s sexuality?
BETONY VERNON — Clearly, if someone is only masturbating, something’s wrong with the picture. It’s like that Missy Elliot song “Every Girl Must Have a Toy,” where she sings something like, “I don’t need you anymore ‘cause I got my toy.” She’s great, but that’s bullshit. Nothing can replace the exchange of sweat, fluids, bites, kisses.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s scary in sex today?
BETONY VERNON —I have a friend who was in a rehab clinic recently. Drug addicts and internet porn addicts were being treated side by side. Some people think that because they’ve seen it all there’s nothing left to do. This kind of sexually complacency and boredom is really frightening. We think we’ve evolved, but the amount of sexual or pornographic imagery that we deal with, on a really subtle level, suggests otherwise. We’re going numb. Viagra sales on the Internet indicate a serious problem. Viagra is a serious drug and kids are using it. Especially overweight teenagers who have erection problems. Viagra has also become a sport drug in the gay community. Rather than learning how to maintain an erection, or to have an internal ejaculation through the practice of tantric loving techniques, men prefer to come with ejaculation again and again with the help of the little blue pill. According to the Taoists and the Tantrists, the more a man externalizes his ejaculation, the less long he will live. If they’re right, that could means that the Viagra generation is going to be short lived! Scary thought.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s internal ejaculation?
BETONY VERNON — It’s male orgasm without external ejaculation. You can learn to do it. I encourage women to learn how to ejaculate, and I encourage men to learn to avoid the externalization of bodily fluids. But this doesn’t mean that orgasm is denied. On the opposite, it can lead to multi-orgasms in men, due to the fact that the vital energy dispersed through ejaculation is reserved. You can have a full body rejuvenating orgasm, but without emission, which is what most women identify with. They don’t feel tired after orgasm and can keep on at it and go for more!

OLIVIER ZAHM — Women encourage male ejaculation because they want proof that they gave pleasure to the man.
BETONY VERNON — You’re right, but we learn this from phallocetnric porn. It’s a good example of why porn is a bad teacher. There should be nothing to prove. It’s not a performance.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about anal sex?
BETONY VERNON — I do a class now where I teach how to have safe, pleasurable anal sex. This was once the last taboo. But today, female ejaculation may have taken its place.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Also, anal sex for men who are not gay is still a major taboo.
BETONY VERNON — I work on that too. I have an object called The Trophy, which is designed to stimulate the prostate. I do classes with it for men, no matter their sexual orientation. You would be surprised how many of my gay men have a miserable relationship with their anus.

BETONY VERNON — Yeah, and you would be surprised how many boys don’t even go there. Will you print this? The sexual lives of single gay men are often essentially masturbatory. Anal penetration outside of established couples is often a rare act as it’s complicated to perform quickly in public places like bathrooms, saunas, etc. It’s more about fast and fancy blow jobs than intercourse. You know, I believe we’re all bi-sexual. We’re all potentially attracted by both sexes.

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re really convinced of that?
BETONY VERNON — Yes, we are not all gay, but we’re all potentially bi-sexual whether you repress the idea or accept it. At any rate, my point is that you don’t have to be a gay man to enjoy anal play.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Saying we’re all bi-sexual is expressing another social issue, because you’re denying the specificity of gay sexuality.
BETONY VERNON — We should try to categorize less and enjoy ourselves more. I have a sort of Proustian questionnaire for those who want to get into Paradise Found. It asks “What do you most admire in a woman?” and “What do you most appreciate in a man?” I get answers from men, such as “Well, I like women, so what could I possibly tell you about appreciating a man?” Why, as a man, can’t you appreciate certain qualities in a man? Ask a heterosexual man if he has ever put his finger up his own ass and explored to see where his prostate is : most of them will say “Are you kidding, I’m not gay!”

OLIVIER ZAHM — I found a questionnaire with something like 500 categories of sexual perversions.
BETONY VERNON — You have to distinguish between them all. People like to put everything in boxes. I hate it when somebody asks me, what do you do? How in hell can I describe myself in a few words without being categorized as a sex fiend? So I say: “ I’m a designer” and a part of my work is about pure artistic research. But I’m terrified of calling myself an “artist”. I found my creative path as an educator and I’m writing a book about sexual ceremony. I conduct educational salons, about once month, with twenty or thirty people, but I’m not touching enough of the world. That’s why I decided to write the book. We are missing sexual common sense. People get caught up in the superfluous, and forget to dedicate time for really basic fundamental things like sex. They’ll make time for all sorts of pastimes that are not nearly as important as erotic loving. Take a few hours to make love or take three days. Close yourself in. Learn to make a ceremony of it. If we look at the history of erotic ceremony, it was a luxury in a certain sense. Those who could practice the Kama Sutra were privileged. Indulge in the luxury of loving.

OLIVIER ZAHM — They had the time.
BETONY VERNON — Yes, lucky them. And so do you! Sex guides were historically accessible to the rich. Sex, once again, is power, and the idea that everybody has the chance to be sexually well is a complicated thing, because in order to be sexually healthy, you have to be well in general, which means spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically healthy. You have to treat the body as a temple. To do that you have to have the education and the money to be able to say I know how to treat my body like a temple. I believe it’s a pity to have such power and not tap into it. All of us

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s no real source of such information. There are very few books that discuss female ejaculation, and anal pleasure.
BETONY VERNON — You really have to want to dig it out. I have been digging it out for ten years. And, I’m compelled to finish what I’m doing. My book is almost finished.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s not only basic common sense. It’s pushing the envelope of sexuality, equalizing men and women through the idea that with female ejaculation, women have the power of men.
BETONY VERNON — We’re missing common sexual sense. Ejaculation is not the only thing that makes us worthy, or similar or powerful. Women and men have very similar genital structures in general, but it’s all just shaped and placed very differently. I have a clitoris that goes into erection. We’re biologically identical until approximately eight weeks after the fetus is conceived. We even have the same sex. At eight weeks, cells divide and multiply. They take an estrogen shower or a testosterone bath and according to chromosomes, the fetus becomes a girl or a boy. If you look at your balls, you will see a little seam, your sac is sewn by mother nature while girls are left open. It’s so pretty. The female prostate produces an alkaline substance, similar to the male prostate. We’re just laid out differently. Your penis is composed of erectile tissue, and so is my clit. If you know what you’re looking for, then you know when I’m ready, when I’m hot, because I’m swelling, a mountain valley ridged with steep hills rise inside me. Isn’t that gorgeous?

OLIVIER ZAHM — Any difference between man and women?
BETONY VERNON — The clitoris is the only part of the human body that is made for pleasure alone. I have a mechanism which has no other purpose on the face of the earth other than to please me. Isn’t that fantastic? Your penis is multifunctional, it not only fucks but it emits fluids to the outside world. We ladies happen to pee and ejaculate from the urethral opening, a totally different hole altogether.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What you said about being the same sex until we’re eight weeks in the womb relates to hermaphrodites. In most hospitals, you are not allowed to be between genders, which is to say someone between man and woman is not allowed to survive as such.
BETONY VERNON — The hermaphrodites in ancient Greece were considered demi-gods, divine creatures.

OLIVIER ZAHM — A person who’s in between categories is often not allowed to survive.
BETONY VERNON — Somebody decides according to the size of the predominating organ. But, at the same time, if the penis is present on what they presume is a girl, almost without fail the uterus is not present. So, if the- re’s no female mechanism for making a baby, they decide it’s a boy. It’s so unfair. I think that people should be left alone, and decide things later as adults, or remain demigods.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s very rare.
BETONY VERNON — It’s very rare that parents are beyond the influence of social structures that determine such things. Sometimes you have to really look twice to figure out gender. I’ve been fooled a few times and even attracted to a young prince who turned out to be a gor- geous princess… I like androgynous women and men. There is something holy about their dualism, something sacred.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a genocide of a category of humans who might develop their own aesthetic, their own sexuality, their own music…
BETONY VERNON — It’s social dogma. You have to be and act out your gender role, boy or girl. But, myself, I don’t believe in catagories.


Franck Mura, photographer’s assistant — Sarah Regate @ DWM LONDON, make-up — Sébastien Lecoroller @ AIRPORT, hair — Hervé Bialé @ JANCHON, digital retouching — Jean-Christophe Pinoteau @ ONE HELP, digital capture — Special thanks to Axterdam


[Table of contents]

S/S 2007 issue 7

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