Where sensuality and creativity intertwine, inhibitions dissipate, and self-expression takes center stage – meet artist Julie Mollo as she reveals the lively world of playful and provocative art. With a mission to bring smiles through her designs, she underscores the role of humor as they delve into the subtle eroticism and sex positivity within Julie’s creations – including the most adorable glitter vinyl clutches.
In this episode of The Pleasure Provocateur, we explore the fusion of art and sensuality, shedding light on how playfully provocative elements like seashells and eggplants find their place in Julie’s designs.
Katy Perry’s Iconic Banana Costume & Reclaiming Words
Lorrae: When you started to incorporate kind of the sex positive pieces into your collection, and you have a Magic Wand clutch, you have a burlesque clutch, a seashell clutch, and they are just so cute and playful and provocative in this really subtle, sexy way.
What was that like to start incorporating that eroticism and sensuality into your work?
Julie: It’s fun! Take something like the seashell clutch – yes, it’s seashell boobies, but a six-year-old could use it after school for her pencil bag, but also somebody that’s older can kind of use it as a wink. And that’s really fun.
So much of what I’ve always been inspired by, and taking inspiration from my early work in stage wear, has been around really winky fun things like bananas and eggplants and peaches and kind of saying, “Yes, it’s a fruit, but what do you think it is?”
Lorrae: I love that it’s this really playful self expression, and art is just such a powerful way in general to express ourselves. I know that you’ve done a lot of work with big names like Katy Perry and Andre Day, and you also create custom bags for anybody who wants them.
What has it been like to work with folks that already have these big platforms of self-expression versus everyday people express themselves more deeply or get outside of their comfort zone and try something new to feel more glam and embodied?
Julie: Katy Perry was the first person that I had ever designed clothing for ever besides my teachers. I got started with her when I was in college and some of the biggest pieces that I’ve ever done were literally my first few costumes I had ever designed for anybody. To take Katy Perry on the VMAs wearing a banana romper singing like a virgin, peeling a banana, talking about the Jonas Brothers Promise rings, pulling white sequin semen out of her banana – oh my god, it’s just so funny.
When I was thinking about different ways that people have expressed themselves through my work, one project came to mind that we made last year. Somebody had reached out and they were like, “Listen, I know you put words on a bag, but I wanna put a lot of words on a bag. I wanna put every word I’ve ever been called as a queer person. I wanna put them loud and proud all over a bag. I want to make the biggest version of a bag that you can do. And I wanna reclaim these words.”
Words are powerful, but they can be taken back and used in a different way. I might’ve been called a dyke and now I want that loud and proud on a bag. And I want to wear it and be like, “Nope, this is my word now. Watch me carry it around.”
On the other hand of things, one of our best sellers has been a bag with the word “cunt” on it. And it’s become such a word in our studio that we don’t even think about it because we’ve made so many of those clutches.
Lorrae: I think that is so important and this reclamation of words has been such a huge part of why I created Slutty Girl Problems.
I remember way before I even had sex, when I was in high school or even middle school, I was always getting in trouble for maybe a tiny bit of skin between my shirt and my pants showing. I’m 5’9″, I’ve been 5’9″ since I was like 12 and my shorts during the summer just could never hit my fingertips.
I remember getting called down to the principal’s office getting in trouble, being called a slut, when there’s literally no clothes that I can buy that are summer related that don’t do this on my body because of how tall I am and how things were being made back in the 90s. But we are given these labels of slut and whore way before we even know what sex is.
That has followed me and so many other people for so long that when I created Slutty Girl Problems, I really wanted to reframe that as “I’ve been called this all my life, and what is the problem here?”
Julie: 100%. I got these boobs in third grade. I understand completely.
Lorrae: I feel like our art and our work is such a way to reclaim that, to express ourselves and our souls.
Self Expression and Shame Working in the Sex Industry
Lorrae: How do you find that your self-expression has come through in your art and the interplay between art and sexuality and how they support each other?
Julie: It’s been a wild ride, honestly, and I think you just have to laugh at things sometimes. Everyone’s having sex, everybody has sex. That’s how all of us are on this planet. You just have to have fun with things.
Having my work be somehow tied up in the sex industry, even though I’m an accessories designer, has kind of made it all open up in a way. Being able to really see like, “Yes, I also work in the sex industry, but I’m making bags, but it’s made other people more accepting, which in turn kind of makes it more acceptable.”
Lorrae: I feel that way a lot about my work as well. It starts out feeling really taboo to talk about these things. Then, once you do and people are responding positively, you realize this is actually making an impact to help other people navigate their own shames and fears and insecurities and those tough parts of themselves that feel stuck.
Julie: I remember I had to stop into Babeland in SoHo a couple years ago and my mom was in town and we were walking by and I was like, “I’m just gonna run into Babeland for something real quick, do you wanna come in?” You can see all the bags are on display and she was like, “I’ll stay outside.” So I walked inside and somebody was like, “Oh my God, I love your Julie Mallow bag.” And I was like, “I am Julie Mollo.”
So then I told my mom she should have come in, that it was a nice moment. It’s just bags and it’s just products. It’s a fun store. It’s all fun.
Lorrae: Yeah, there’s just so much shame and stigma and taboos still attached to sexuality.
Have you found any pushback by being in this work or has it illuminated to you places that we still have work to do to overcome these shames and societal taboos?
Julie: I touched upon the cunt clutch earlier and there was one time I was doing an event at a Babeland in New York City and the banner image across the Facebook event had the word cunt, and I remember a family friend saw it and commented something really rude on my page and brought it up to another family member and then it was this whole thing.
I was like, “Everybody chill, let’s just have fun with it. It’s just a glitter word. It’s just a shape that’s cut out and put on a bag. A lot of people love that.”
And I think being able to literally pay my rent through some of this work makes people take it a little bit more seriously when you realize that you’re making a lucrative business off of something in this space and in this industry.
A Magic Wand Dream Collaboration
Lorrae: It’s so amazing that your bags have become so iconic in the sex accessories field. They’re so one of a kind. And I know that you’ve had multiple different projects over the years that have really touched on this.
You’ve incorporated the Magic Wand into your art, which is also just a cultural icon. So, I’m curious about the story behind that and how that kind of evolved to be.
Julie: I’ve had my business for a very long time. I started my career in stage wear, dressing pop stars, all of that. Eight years into my career, I decided to take the shapes off of dresses, put them on clutches, and lower my price point and be accessible to all.
Then, the amount of clothing that I was selling was much less, but the amount of styles of bags that I was making was growing exponentially.
Soon after, one of the pop-ups that I did was in SoHo. I had signed a five month lease, and I was right across from a Babeland in New York City. So, customers would come in from Babeland and then come into the pop up. People would come in and they’d be like, “These are great, you should sell at Babeland.”
I started communicating with a woman named Coyote and Coyote was my original buyer at Babeland and she responded to me and was like, “Julie, I love these bags. I really wanna put some vibrators on them.”
So, I started making Magic Wand bags and they were our standard clutch size.
She then said, “I love having it on a bag, but I think we need to make it bigger so that it will fit the Magic Wand. Why don’t we meet in one of the stores? I’m going to give you a Magic Wand so that you can prototype a new size.”
And that style became so popular, it became a bestseller in every Good Vibe store, in every Babeland store.
And now at this point, I’m fangirling for Magic Wand. And so that’s what we’ve been working on. I developed a print for Magic Wand in my aesthetic, in my doodle print, but using all of their iconic imagery.
I’m so honored that they approached me for this project and that we’re now basically working together in this ongoing relationship using this branding.
Lorrae: Oh my gosh, that is so cool. When you were talking about the clutch bags, I was like, I’m always looking for something to carry my toys and my Magic Wand around in. It is kind of like on the big side of those toys, I need something that’s gonna be hefty to carry that around.
So I know that you haven’t launched the series yet. Where has your inspiration been coming as you’re specifically looking at Magic Wand bags and that type of imagery? What’s been coming up for you?
Julie: When I first set out to design the print, I was looking on their website, I was looking at the actual toys, and I was like, “What is it that is so fun for me right now and in designing this print?” And I was really inspired by a lot of their buttons and how each one of the buttons on the different versions of each wand is unique to that style.
I was kind of breaking down the actual wands and using the parts to develop a print, but also using the way that the wands make you feel. I think of the Magic Wand as the best, so I incorporated little trophies and I made them vibrate within the print. Then thinking about how a Magic Wand literally makes you feel, I incorporated eyeballs that are going crazy and something with star eyes and heart eyes. Also, thinking about the words that Magic Wand makes you feel like “powerful” and “iconic.”
When I started talking about the print, I was like, “Ooh, a little tiny vulva would be so cute on the printer.” And they were like, “We love that, but we actually don’t use vulvas in our imagery. We try to make it just about independence and being iconic, original, the best.”
I know the legacy behind the brand now and everything that they do, and it’s been so fun to take my imagination and put it on their product.
Lorrae: When I think about the Magic Wand, I also feel those feelings of iconic and pleasure. And I love the idea of incorporating some of those very body representative manifestations of pleasure, like eyes going crazy or heart eyes. Or I think about all the stars and sparkles.
Whenever I’m writing captions, I’m always thinking of that big growing heart and sparkles because when I think about pleasure, whether it’s related to sex or just enjoying life when you feel all lit up, those are the things that come to mind. It’s not necessarily the sexual, juicy, wet vulva, even though it can be like that sometimes to me. It’s that pleasure and play, and it’s this really flirty inner joy that gets to radiate out.
Julie’s journey, sparked by a love for fun, flirty, retro rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics, sets this episode of the Erotic Artistry series on The Pleasure Provocateur podcast. Stay tuned for this vibrant episode, where creativity knows no bounds, and the joy of self-expression takes center stage.
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