Ethan Imboden may be the man behind Jimmyjane—the local pleasure product company known for bringing high design to vibrators—but don’t mistake him for a sex fiend. He has degrees in engineering and design from Johns Hopkins and Pratt. He spent 10 years developing products for such big wigs as Nike, Motorola, and Ford. And he’s totally normal. Imboden’s a-ha moment came when three people separately approached him about designing for the adult novelty market. The rest is history. Since 2004, Jimmyjane has been honored with numerous AIGA, ID, and IDEA design awards and is the only company of its kind to have products featured in Vogue, W, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and GQ. Jimmyjane’s celebrity following includes Kate Moss and Dita Von Teese, and the team has partnered with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics and the Gorillaz’s Jamie Hewlett. The latest trick up Imboden’s sleeve is his Pleasure to the People collaboration with Yves Behar. The third and final vibrator in their Form series is scheduled to hit stores in April, and we hear it’s going to be a doozy.
How do you introduce yourself at dinner parties?
First I just say I’m a designer. Then I say I make products in an area where design hasn’t had much impact. Inevitably, I get backed into a corner, and as the prodding continues, I explain that I started a company called Jimmyjane, which designs products related to sex. And after all the “uh huh, uh huh” nodding, people stop cold and say, “What?” Then the conversation becomes all consuming.
Does your family get what you do?
My entire family has been very supportive. My stepfather bought me a book about sex toys one Christmas. My sister did some admin and accounting for us. My mom was one of the company’s first investors. But you know moms. They’re always behind you 100 percent. Her main concern is what impact this job is going to have on my sex life.
Fill in the blank. Food magazines have test kitchens. Jimmyjane has __________ .
A massive list of people who would like to be a part of our, let’s call it, development cycle. Which is great because you can dream all you want in the test kitchen, but until somebody’s actually sitting down for the meal, you don’t really know what you’ve created. Luckily, customers are happy to tell us.
There’s custom stationery, monogrammed towels, engraved jewelry. What does a personalized Jimmyjane look like?
We’ve seen everything from bridal party inscriptions to a 25th anniversary commemoration. There was one etched with the words “this end up” that I found wonderfully concise and an order of five platinum vibrators inscribed “to my one and only” that was marvelously self-negating. Next year, I’d like to set up a collaboration with the publishers of Six-Word Memoirs or perhaps San Francisco’s 2011 poet laureate.
What’s your sales pitch to a vibrator virgin?
If someone is really reluctant, I would go nuclear on the whole thing and just hand them a vibrator. The infallible sales pitch is, “Here’s a Form 2. We’ll finish this conversation later.” It’s pretty convincing.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Jimmyjane is one big guilty pleasure for me. And Venn diagrams about sex.
You design vibrators and attend adult novelty trade shows for a living.
Is there ever a place where you feel prudish?
Everywhere, all the time. I’m fundamentally introverted and reserved. I find myself blushing constantly about all this sex stuff.
Do you talk openly about your own sex life?
Jimmyjane is one massive statement about my sex life. I’m pretty transparent, but I’d say publicly, I stick to speaking about it in general terms. I will say that I’ve got a very well-accessorized bedroom.
Your wise words to Valentine’s Day haters?
Find another hater, and make mad, passionate hater love. This, followed by a dozen discounted red roses the day after, will make it all better.
Tempt us with a tantalizing word or two about this spring’s new Form vibrator.
It has a formidable presence, and I think it will have a lot of passionate fans.