– Jimmyjane are Sarah Marchick, Ethan Imboden and Melissa Ouellette (large pictured)
– 34 – 37. “Old enough to know better, young enough not to care.”
– Native of California; “Became of age aesthetically and philosophically in New York.” Now bi-coastal between San Francisco and Tribeca.
– Luxury retailer. “We see the world through a kaleidoscope of design, luxury and sex, and then create products that deliver that to others.”
How did you get into this business – high end sex toys don’t seem like an obvious career path?
We all connected through a shared love of luxury and a shared awareness – that there was nothing available in this category that made sense to discerning consumers like us. It started with Ethan’s sketches and then took a life of its own from there.
Ethan had quit his job at frogdesign to start Plink, his independent design consultancy. In the first few months after the doors opened, he was approached by three potential customers looking to make products related to sexuality. Curious, Ethan attended the industry show and was struck by the lack of products that are aesthetically or functionally pleasing. It seemed to him that he had stumbled upon a final frontier for design.
When friends found out he was researching the category, the word quickly spread and Ethan unwittingly became a sounding board for the wants, concerns, and aspirations of his peers, not just when it came to sex toys. , but sex in general. It quickly became clear that there was an opportunity to create products for this emerging new audience – an audience with demanding aesthetics, an expectation of quality, and an appreciation for luxury. The team crystallized around this idea.
Was there a void that you felt should be filled? (Intentional pun.) Really, how did you realize that everyday life should be a little sexier?
Fairly early in life, everyone realizes that life should be a little sexier. It took us a little while, but we realized we could actually do something about it. Previously, all that was available were products that assumed a customer with the lowest common denominator. The majority of products sold feature pornstars on the packaging, shapes reminiscent of cut anatomy, toxic materials that have been found to be carcinogenic, and shoddy construction that often breaks within weeks.
Rather, our collection represents our standards of quality and design, and taps into what we (and others like us) desire. We come from the worlds of design, fashion, art and luxury, and we instill that in our work. If anything is to be beautiful, it’s the products that are involved in our sexuality.
What was the reaction of friends and family? Pride? Stigma?
Nothing but support. Oh, and discount requests for friends and family.
Ethan, you are an award winning product designer – is Jimmyjane product research and development the same as any other product?
No, it’s much more rigorous. This is by far the most complex design project I have ever undertaken. Everyone’s sexuality is as unique as their fingerprint, so we must allow room for individuality in everything we create. Of course, the testing process is particularly difficult – but we are extremely dedicated to our work, so we are ready to make these sacrifices for the greater good.
In addition to vibrators, you offer perfumes, lariats and headbands. What is the most popular?
The breadth of our collection is a reflection of the fact that Jimmyjane talks about sexy all day long, not just a notion to be relegated to the bedroom. People are looking to engage in different ways, so all of our products are doing very well right now; we have something for everyone. That said, people especially love custom vibrators in gold and platinum – nothing like this exists anywhere else.
What does your average customer look like and what kind of feedback do you get?
Our typical client is not of a specific age or a specific region. What they have in common is a certain verve – a confidence, a playfulness and an appreciation of the “good things”. The comments we receive range from a simple but emphatic “WOOOHOOOOO!”, To beautifully articulated soliloquies on the joys of sex, to anecdotes on how best to bypass airport security by bringing one of our vibrators in hand luggage. (Take out the battery and motor block and tell them it’s a cigar case.) We love hearing from our customers.
We expected people to buy our products for themselves, and we certainly hoped that they would buy them for others, but we were amazed at the number of men and women who buy products to use with their partners.
So what are your expectations for the holiday season…?
Sex appeal is always in season, but we certainly see different trends throughout the year. This is truly our first holiday season, and so far it has been phenomenal. Sometimes giving gifts can become a chore, but when you find gifts that you can put your heart behind, that are of lasting pleasure and really connect with the recipient… it becomes a joy. Our designs are meant to amaze and delight, and there is nothing more rewarding than giving a gift that has that impact.
Vibrators can be customized. Particularly memorable requests?
Yes, vibrators can be engraved with up to 35 characters around the base – just like one would engrave the inside of a ring with a personal message. It is a very popular option.
We have had many memorable personalization requests, but discretion is the cornerstone of our business. We have a great celebrity following us, but we leave it to them to share. Recently, we ran an informal contest to come up with some personalization suggestions that we put on Jimmyjane.com. “Better than yoga.” got a lot of votes, as did “Pretty Girls Finish First.”
Ethan’s tastes lean towards the esoteric; her favorite is “Beauty will save the world”. – a quote from Dostoyevsky.
Are most of your sales done online or in-store? Are people hesitant to buy your products in person, even if or because they are in a luxury store?
It’s a fairly even split between those who buy Jimmyjane.com and those who visit luxury retailers that carry our range. Some people are happy to find us where they already like to shop: Jeffrey, CO Bigelow, La Petite Coquette, Catriona MacKechnie are all great places in New York. Why not grab a headband while you browse Louboutin stilettos, or a vibrator while browsing Damaris lingerie. Others appreciate the convenience and anonymity of shopping online at Jimmyjane.com. Right now, most of our retailers are in major metropolitan areas, so those outside of those areas come to us online.
Do sales differ by region or country, especially since Europeans tend to be less inhibited than Americans?
Europe has always been more open sexually, but American attitudes have changed very quickly. Sexuality here and abroad has long been represented by a Victorian aesthetic, and everyone, Europeans included, is excited about a new perspective. Jimmyjane is an American brand – it stems from the modern, upbeat, playful and diverse character of our country. Just as Japanese trends sometimes distill American culture in more interesting ways than we ourselves can, Europe seems curious about what has long been their domain coming back to them with a new twist.
Your fragrances are named Wit, Charm and Kink. In what proportion of each are you headed?
In theory, you would want equal measurements of each. At this point, however, we’re roughly:
– 30% WIT, 10% CHARM, 60% KINK for Ethan – eternally “dating”.
– 20% WIT, 30% CHARM, 50% KINK for Melissa – a little more uniform than Ethan, but not without his quirks.
– 45% WIT, 25% CHARM, 30% KINK for Sarah – as you can see in the photo, the KINK has caught up with her.
What other products are you developing?
We have many new designs in the works, further expanding the scope of our collection – from home products to collaborations with prestigious designers. We are also developing a new stylish vibrator with amazing capabilities. It’s Jimmyjane from start to finish. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
You operate on both coasts. How different is your life in New York from that of San Francisco?
Polar opposites. In New York, we’re bringing Jimmyjane to the world. While we are in SF, we are in the process of creating what will follow.
New York Confessional : Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Mac & cheese at Freeman’s, Jeffrey’s heels and whatever is on a roof.
Assuming you are generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there a time when you absolutely had to release your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Our lawyer advised us to take 5th on the asshole and satisfaction issues.
There are 8 million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to stick to a New York Minute.
Each of us kissed on a porch and made it turn into love. Only one of us has had sex on the subway, and we don’t know who.
Ethan Imboden received his Masters in Industrial Design from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and has since received numerous ID, AIGA, IDSA and Good Design awards for his contribution to the field of design. Melissa Ouelleltte is a luxury goods maven and a veteran of Barneys and Red Flower (Nolita). Sarah Marchick has always worked closely with art, artists and creatives, and is a Whitney Museum veteran. For more information, to browse their product line and order from their catalog, visit Jimmyjane online at Jimmyjane.com.
– Interview with Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs