When sex and design meet.
Words by Marta Faustino & photos by Studio Cremaster
Bastiaan Buijs, the man behind Studio Cremaster, only graduated in 2015 from the Eindhoven Design Academy but he’s already on everyone’s lips. Studio Cremaster is dedicated to designing for pleasure and their products are a strange and appealing combination of statement pieces and efficient sex toys. We don’t know about you, but we were salivating already, so we had to learn more about them.
How did your interest in designing for pleasure begin?
I’ve always been interested in taboo topics in my personal life and, naturally, also in my work and education as a designer. My mother is an artist and, for most of my life, she made hundreds of paintings depicting vaginas and penises in different ways. So you can say it has been a topic my whole live. As a designer, I got struck by the sexuality theme since the beginning of my education. I was looking for unexplored subcultures and a niche market – there are many interesting subcultures linked with sexual behaviour or desires.
What was the first toy you’ve designed and how did the idea develop?
I think one of my first designs was the Hearybear. I got interested in the ‘bear subculture’: a gay subculture, focused on big or muscled, though hairy guys. I developed a toy that showed the user was part of this subculture: a gadget for bears. The toy was designed to look like a haribo gummy-bear. It was made to be used, but also to be shown to others, exposing and making clear you are ‘a bear’.
Looking at your products, there is a satirical aspect to them, yet they are fully functional objects. There is a lot of attention paid to the materials used or, as with Grandfather’s Clock piece, you showcase the mechanism for anyone to see, placing its technological side in the spotlight. Where do you position yourself: Are you aiming them as statement pieces, or actual functional sex toys?
Exactly as you said, not ‘or’ but ‘and.’ My toys are statement pieces AND functional at the same time. Just as with a lot of other products: think of a car or a chair. But, in this case, you’re just not used to expose your sex toy as a statement.
Despite being slightly tongue-in-cheek, your products are discussing very relevant matters: taking your sex toys out of hiding and freeing them into the living room. Why do you think this is so important? Do you think a time will come where people will proudly display their toys?
To be honest I don’t think there will be a time, at least during my lifetime, where sex will be an open subject as any other subject in our western society.
If we look at history, not so much has changed. We aren’t hiding chair and table legs anymore (like in the Victorian age), but things like ‘being nude’ publicly or in art are still taboo. How much has changed since the public threw tomatoes at the Olympia painting? I have been thrown so many ‘virtual tomatoes’ since my work started being exposed! People call my work disgusting or myself a pervert, just because it’s about sex.
On the other the hand, the positive reactions when people see my work inspire me to explore these topics even further. People like sex, people like design, they like the combination, they’re just not used to it…. Making sex more public might scare them, but I think the scary things in life are more interesting.
I think it is important to keep breaking taboos and open up these discussions. To me, it is important because we face other needs more naturally compared to the uncomfortable attitude we have towards needs like sex. I think sex as a subject or theme is fun, exciting and has everything in it. It would be a waste or shame not to use it in our daily life or in the ‘world’ of Design.
Why do you think women have their sex toys already largely “accepted” (or at least there is an enormous industry catering to them) and men’s not so much?
I don’t know. If you look at literature on the topic, based on scientific research, there are a lot of taboos in our society which makes the whole subject difficult to explain. For example, research shows that there are dominant prejudices, confirmed by psychologists and psychiatrists, related to BDSM. There is a misconception that BDSM is linked with personal disorders, sick or weird behaviour. Even though recent research shows this is not the case at all. Mentally healthy people practice BDSM and profit from it in different ways. These kind of preconceptions are also known in gender roles and expectations.
Where a woman is allowed to be vulnerable and use a ‘helping tool’ for her sexual needs, a man is not allowed to be weak and need ‘help’. It is easy for us to consider those kind of guys as losers or failing to get ‘normal sexual satisfaction.’ I think judgements like that have a big influence on consumer behaviour.
Also in terms of Design and Engineering, women’s toys seem to be having a great and fast development: from tacky anatomically realistic dildos to state-of-the-art effective pleasure machines, with research-led technology and design. Do you think this momentum is here to stay? Why do you think that we’re finally opening design for pleasure as a valid discipline of product design?
The question should be, why didn’t we do this a long time ago? In design, there are preconceptions and conventions as well on how it should be. For many people, sex is still a difficult thing to combine with design.
In this case, I think it just followed what’s been happening in society already. The whole pink, shiny, cheap image of sex toys changed a lot as the market started to grow and more and more customers wanted an aesthetic product that fits their lifestyle. As soon as Design realised sex toys could be like that, they followed this movement.
If on one hand, we’re seeing successful crowdfunding campaigns financing sex toys or templates to 3D print your own customizable toy, on the other there is a luxury market with some prohibitive prices. Was this a conscious choice to position yourself in luxury goods? Is price a factor on what are you trying to say?
No, I don’t think so. If I could, I would make it cheaper. The problem with my designs so far is that their handmade quality and my aesthetic criteria made my products really expensive. If I can come up with a beautiful toy for a ‘normal price’ I will make it straight away. I just haven’t come up with an idea yet.
What is the future of toy industry?
I think the Design industry will keep focusing on sex toys – it’s a big and interesting market. With our society becoming more and more complex and diverse, there will be more space for it to grow. Preconceptions will change and become more flexible and less ‘black and white’. That’s a good space for Design to fill.
How are you carrying on? What’s next for you?
Well, this topic won’t be boring for quite a while…. a lot of subcultures to discover, a lot of products still to be made… I am discovering now a more serious group: I would like to make toys that can be used by disabled people. But, as I said, this is just in a research phase. Besides that, I am trying to find cheaper ways to produce but still keep true to my style and the aesthetic considerations of my toys. This is a challenge!