“Poetry is a naked woman, a naked man, and the distance between them.”
― Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Poetry as Insurgent Art
Eroticism is wholly dependent on the viewer's culture and personal tastes pertaining to what, exactly, defines the erotic. Eroticism is more commonly described as a quality that causes sexual feelings, as well as a philosophical contemplation concerning the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love. Critics have often confused eroticism with pornography, American radical feminist and writer Andrea Dworkin going so far as to say: "Eroticism is simply high-class pornography; better produced, better conceived, better executed, better packaged, designed for a better class of consumer." This confusion, as the Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History at the University of California Lynn Hunt writes, "demonstrates the difficulty of drawing a clear generic demarcation between the erotic and the pornographic". Indeed, arguably "the history of the separation of pornography from eroticism...remains to be written".
Whatever its exact definition may be, and what differentiation can be determined with pornography, Eroticism may be found in any form of artwork, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music or literature. It has be found in jewelry design for centuries, where it has explored not only the celebration of eroticism as a human taste shared universally but also the underlying social and cultural boundaries existing in fashion. Overall, there is a very sensual reality in the art of wearing jewelry. It is close to our skin, we carry it on our body to translate an emotion or highlight a trait of our personality. A pair of dangling earrings caresses your neck during a dinner, while a chain necklace under your shirt flickers through the fabric to shine softly on your skin as a discrete invitation. You insert your finger into a ring, pushing the shank to slide smoothly to the end. And you admire this ring on your finger once it has abandoned itself to your thrust. The jewel will even sometimes force you to adapt your clothing and enhance your charms. A décolleté, for instance, will be most adequate for a plunging necklace. And as you enter a room, you are influenced by the jewel and by the looks on you to adapt your behavior. The jewel becomes an intimate lover, with whom we celebrate our bound by wearing it in public.
One of the most traditional depictions of eroticism could be found in the Japanese art of netsuke. Netsuke craftsmanship became popular in the 17th century and these objects are still produced in Japan representing a valuable part of the cultural heritage. Netsuke initially served both functional and aesthetic purposes. The two Japanese characters ne + tsuke mean "root" and "to attach".
Since the traditional Japanese garments had no pockets, netsuke were used to secure cords of the pouches that contained personal belongings. Usually carved from ivory or hardwood, these figurines come in different shapes and sizes. Such objects have a long history reflecting the important aspects of Japanese folklore and life, and it is therefore only normal that several craftsmen depicted through this art Japanese erotic life. Some of most prized erotic netsuke pieces are made of hand carved ivory, and contemporary creations are usually made with mammoth tusk. Interestingly, the scenes depicted in netsuke translate heterosexuality as well as homosexuality, often bi-sexuality, and they invite viewers to explore a large panel of fantasies and possible combinations of partners. The characters, however, are exclusively Asian looking, as far as my research as gone. I take this opportunity to invite anyone to share with me pictures or references of netsuke erotic scenes depicting multi ethnical groups. I believe these pieces would be extremely rare and of high collectible value, should they have ever existed.
In 1999, Paris high jewelry designer Mrs. Victoire de Castellanedesigned for Christian Dior a fine jewelry line entitled “Soumission” (French for “Submission”). The press release was composed of black “sweaty” lacquered paper representing yellow gold diamond body chains floating on a black background. The name “Soumission” was a literal reference to sado-masochism, taking inspiration from the erotic pin ups such as Betty Paige.
The collection was initially composed of yellow gold chains set with minuscule diamonds, to be work directly on the body and under your lingerie. The “first ever jewelry lingerie” had an entire range of ankle bracelets, body chains, necklaces, rings, wrist bracelets and earrings. One delightful detail was the names Mrs. de Castellane gave to each jewel, the most famous one being the tiny “Rocco” chain ring (in reference to porn stallion Rocco Siffredi), later renamed “Mimioui” for marketing reasons. The line was eventually discontinued, but the “mimioui” ring remained in the permanent collections for a decade, becoming a bestseller. Regardless of the changes in names and press releases, Victoire de Castellane continued to describe the ring as a “diamond tattoo”, a poetic yet rebellious reference to the sensual relationship one has with their jewels.
Betony Vernon is jewelry designer who lives and works in Milan and Paris. She is known for jewelry based on eroticism and sexual ceremony. She has collaborated with several fashion designers, including Missoni, Alain Tondowski, Gianfranco Ferré and Jean-Paul Gaultier. In 2006 she designed a neckpiece for Swarovski’s Runway Rocks project that was later used by Lady Gaga for her “Paparazzi” video. She has held design seminars at both the European Institute of Design and Domus Academy in Milan, Italy. Her work has been featured in a number of international exhibitions, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to the Triennale in Milan and the Museum of Sex in New York City. As she explains in her website, “The Paradise Found Fine Erotic Jewelry collection is the first fine jewelry range to explore the possibility of adorning one’s body with objects that can also be used for sensual pleasure.”
The concept evolved organically from Vernon’s hugely popular Sado-Chic collection launched in 1992. Each object in the Paradise Found collection is designed to glorify the human instinct to attract and excite. They heighten confidence and intensify sensorial perception - expanding the sensual horizons of those who wear and share them. They become symbolically charged through use, like portals to higher states of being. Some of their functions are more overt, others are discreetly disguised. After all, simply knowing you are wearing an object that can impart great pleasure is empowering in itself.
Paris based designer Mrs. Lydia Courteille is famous for her rebellious streak and limitless creativity. She designed over the decades several erotic contemporary jewels. One recent addition is the Lip cocktail rings, in reference to the art of fellatios. The ring shanks are designed as laced diamond corsages, clasping a bright red glossy pulpous lips holding a melting diamond made of rock crystal. It requires a certain level of confidence and appreciation for jewelry art to wear such a ring, but the wearer can be sure to make a bold and inspiring statement.
Inspired by eroticism and the cult of priape, Lamouche Joaillerie developed a line entitled “La Chaleur” (French for “Heat”). One of the main pieces, interestingly enough, is composed of a rare netsuke representing a hand carved penis on which a group of individual abandon themselves to carnal heterosexual and homosexual pleasures. The netsuke seems to be floating in diamond set pink gold fumes.
Eroticism should not be taboo. On the contrary, eroticism should be celebrated as a poetic, pure and joyful part of life. The creators of these elements of fascination and repulsion come to me as courageous artists who have explored within themselves deep enough (no pun intended) to create in an attempt to inspire others the art of being true, of being alive and of being human. To all of you, I wish you delightful kisses!