- Jimmyjane is Sarah Marchick, Ethan Imboden, and Melissa Ouellette (l-r in photo)
- 34 – 37. “ Old enough to know better, young enough not to care.”
- Originally from California; “came of age aesthetically and philosophically in NYC.” Now bi-coastal between San Francisco and Tribeca.
- Luxury retailer. “We view the world through a kaleidoscope of design, luxury, and sex, then create products which offer this to others.”
How did you get into this field -- high-end sex toys don’t seem like an obvious career path?
We all connected through a shared love of luxury, and with a shared realization -- that there was nothing available in this category that made sense to discerning consumers such as ourselves. It started with Ethan’s sketches, then took on a life of it’s own from there.
Ethan had quit his job with frogdesign to launch Plink, his independent design consulting firm. In the first few months after opening the doors, he was approached by three potential clients looking to make products relating to sexuality. Curious, Ethan attended the industry tradeshow, and was struck by the absence of products that appealed aesthetically or functionally. It seemed to him that he had stumbled across a final frontier for design.
When friends discovered that he was researching the category, word spread quickly and Ethan unintentionally became a sounding board for the desires, concerns, and aspirations of his peers, not just as pertained to sex toys, but sex in general. It quickly became clear that there was an opportunity to create products for this new audience that was emerging – an audience with a discerning aesthetic, an expectation of quality, and an appreciation of luxury. The team crystallized around this idea.
Was there a void you felt needed to be filled? (Pun intended.) Really though, how was it that you came to realize everyday life should be a bit sexier?
Pretty early in life, everyone realizes that life should be a bit sexier. It took us a little while, but we realized that we could actually do something about this. Previously, all that was available were products that assumed a lowest-common-denominator customer. The majority of the products being sold feature porn stars on the packaging, forms that recall severed anatomy, toxic materials that have been shown to be carcinogenic, and shoddy construction that often breaks within weeks.
By contrast, 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 this in our work. If anything should be beautiful, it’s the products that are involved in our sexuality.
What’s been the reaction from friends and family? Pride? Stigma?
Nothing but support. Oh, and requests for a friends & family discount.
Ethan, you’re an award winning product designer -- is the research and development that goes into Jimmyjane’s wares the same as with any other product?
No -- it’s far more rigorous. This is by far the most intricate design project I’ve ever undertaken. Everyone’s sexuality is as unique as their fingerprint, so we have to leave room for individuality in everything we create. Of course, the testing process is particularly difficult -- but we’re extremely dedicated to our work, so we’re willing to make these sacrifices for the greater good.
Besides the vibrators, you offer fragrances, lariats and blindfolds. What’s most popular?
The breadth of our collection is a reflection of the fact that Jimmyjane is about sexiness throughout the day, not simply a notion to be relegated to the bedroom. People are looking to indulge in different ways, so all of our products are doing very well right now; we’ve got something for everyone. That said, people particularly love the personalized gold and platinum vibrators – nothing like this exists anywhere else.
What’s your average customer like, and what sort of feedback do you get?
Our typical customer isn’t of a specific age or from a specific region. What they have in common is a certain verve -- a confidence, a playfulness, and an appreciation of "the finer things." The feedback we get varies from a simple but emphatic “WOOOHOOOOO!”, to beautifully articulated soliloquies on the joys of sex, to anecdotes about how best to circumvent airport security when bringing one of our vibrators in a carry-on. (Remove the battery and the motor unit and tell them it’s a cigar case.) We love hearing from our customers.
We expected people to buy our products for themselves, and certainly hoped that they would buy them for others, but we’ve been amazed by the number of men and women purchasing products to use with their partners.
So what are your expectations for the holiday season… ?
Sexiness is always in season, but we definitely see different trends throughout the year. This is really our first holiday season, and so far it’s been phenomenal. At times, gift giving can become a chore, but when you find gifts that you can put your heart behind, and that are of lasting enjoyment and really connect with the recipient… it becomes a joy. Our designs are intended to astonish and delight, and there’s nothing more rewarding than giving a gift that has this impact.
The vibrators can be personalized. Any particularly memorable requests?
Yes, the vibrators can be etched with up to 35 characters around the base -- much as one would engrave the inside of a ring with a personal message. It’s a very popular option.
We’ve had many memorable personalization requests, but discretion is the cornerstone of our business. We have a great celebrity following, but we leave it to them to share. Recently, we had an informal contest to come up with personalization suggestions we’d put on Jimmyjane.com. “Better than yoga.” got a lot of votes, as did “Nice girls finish first.”
Ethan’s tastes lean toward the esoteric; his favorite is “Beauty will save the world.” -- a quote from Dostoevsky.
Do most of your sales take place on-line or in shops? Are people shy at all about buying your wares in person, even though or because they’re in a luxury boutique?
It’s a pretty even split between those who shop through Jimmyjane.com and those who visit the luxury retailers that carry our line. Some people are excited to find us where they already love to shop: Jeffrey, C.O. Bigelow, La Petite Coquette, Catriona MacKechnie are all great locations within NYC. Why not pick up a blindfold while you’re browsing the Louboutin stilettos, or a vibrator while perusing Damaris lingerie. Others like the convenience and anonymity of shopping online through Jimmyjane.com. Most of our retailers right now are in major metropolitan areas, so those outside these regions come to us online.
Do sales differ by region, or by country, especially given that Europeans tend to be less inhibited than Americans?
Europe has historically been more open sexually, but American attitudes have been shifting very rapidly. Sexiness here and abroad has long been represented by a Victorian aesthetic, and everyone, Europeans included, are excited for a fresh perspective. Jimmyjane is an American brand -- it stems from the modern, optimistic, playful, and diverse character of our country. Just as Japanese trends sometimes distill American culture more interestingly than we can ourselves, Europe seems curious about what has long been their domain returning to them with a new spin.
Your scents are named Wit, Charm and Kink. How much of each are you ruled by?
In theory you’d want equal measures of each. At this point, however, we’re approximately:
- 30% WIT, 10% CHARM, 60% KINK for Ethan – perennially “dating”.
- 20% WIT, 30% CHARM, 50% KINK for Melissa – a little more even-keeled than Ethan, though not without her quirks.
- 45% WIT, 25% CHARM, 30% KINK for Sarah – as you can see from the photo, the KINK caught up with her.
What other products are you developing?
We have many new designs in the works, extending the breadth of our collection even further -- from products for the home to collaborations with prestigious designers. We’re also developing an elegant new vibrator with some amazing capabilities. It’s Jimmyjane through and through. You’ll have to see it to believe it.
You operate bi-coastally. How different are your New York lives from your San Francisco ones?
Polar opposites. While in NYC, we’re out bringing Jimmyjane to the world. While in SF, we’re in, creating what’s next.
NYC Confessional : Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
Mac & cheese at Freeman’s, heels from Jeffrey, and anything on a rooftop.
Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
We’ve been advised by our counsel to take the 5th on questions pertaining to assholes and satisfaction.
There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Each of us has kissed on a stoop and had it turn into love. Only one of us has had sex on the subway though, and we’re not telling who.
Ethan Imboden earned his Masters in Industrial Design from 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 maven of the luxury goods market, and a veteran of both Barneys and Red Flower (Nolita). Sarah Marchick has always worked closely with art, artists, and creatives, and is a veteran of the Whitney Museum. For more information, to browse their product line and order from their catalog, visit Jimmyjane online at Jimmyjane.com.
-- Interview by Lily Oei and Aaron Dobbs