Art & Architecture

The Art of Dildo Design

Vanessa Cuccia grabs a thick book from the top of a stack of literature in the corner of her Gowanus, Brooklyn workspace. Flowers and tapestries adorn the room, a stark contrast to the white walls surrounding them. A bookshelf holds more flora and fauna, a few trinkets and rounded obelisk-shaped wooden and crystal figures. They’re sex toys—items providing more than just pleasure for Cuccia and her customer base.

With the hardback in hand, Cuccia sinks to the floor, landing softly on a bed of fur. As she leafs through the book’s browned pages, colorful illustrations accenting blocks of text, it’s clear she’s pondered these stories before. The volume is comprised of fairy tales, a genre which Cuccia has a long history. 

As a child, Cuccia, now 29, was enamored with the idea of magic; in her early 20s, she moved from New York to California and worked as a fairy princess for tea parties, fantastic winged-regalia and all. Her other job was as a web order fulfillment clerk at a sex toy shop where she witnessed firsthand the male influence on products designed for female pleasure. “It seemed that in order for people to be okay with sexuality, they needed to be tongue-in-cheek, really goofy and cheesy,” Cuccia remembers.

Around this time, Cuccia was introduced by a friend to a woman with an expansive crystal collection. As she perused the items, her gaze landed on a phallic-shaped crystal. She recalls a palpable energy radiating off of the solid; a sensual attraction she hadn’t experienced with any of the adult toys in the shop where she worked. It was then that Cuccia realized she could pair the apparent healing and metaphysical properties of crystals with pleasure by creating a line of sex toys made of natural crystal, a company she calls Chakrubs.

Founded in 2011 when Cuccia returned to New York, Chakrubs products don’t simply get you off, but using them can also be an emotionally freeing practice. The entrepreneur says the properties of the crystals help users harness the spiritual and healing energy of the chakra system. Rose Quartz—one of Chakrubs’ most popular toys— speaks to the heart chakra, believed to emit love and compassion. It's soft pink in hue, sleek, wand-like, and about one pound in weight, possessing a striking physicality that balances the otherworldliness of the lines’ mission.

Like the fairy tales she loved as a child, Cuccia aims to take something amorphous like sexuality, spirituality, arousal and even magic, and make it tangible. That this crystal, this physical manifestation of earth science, can help users channel their energy into sexual empowerment and emotional clarity became its own kind of magic, she says. But Cuccia knew there was more to her practice, something more ethereal, but still sensual and awakening.

The Forest Line, a new collection of Chakrubs crafted from wood naturally dyed with pigment from flowers, captures the whimsy of fables and their wooded settings while playing with a new medium. Available now, the Forest Line sees Cuccia collaborating with woodworker Kevin Itwaru to bring her designs to life, and Cara Marie Piazza, a natural textile dyer who uses frozen eucalyptus, rose, and indigo exposed to vinegar to dye the wood. Piazza then steams, sands and coats in a body-safe finish. The combination of flowers and wood, Cuccia says, evokes a different kind of verve, one that is more subtle. “The energy differs between crystals and flowers because crystals take thousands of years to form,” she explains. “With the flower essences and the wood, it's a little bit more of a transient energy. Because they're here for just a short amount of time, the flowers wilt. It's acknowledging that type of energy which is more soft.”
Sexuality is sometimes the only creative, imaginative outlet that people have—sexual fantasies, role playing. You can be anything that you want to be.
Because wood is more malleable than crystal, Cuccia was able to experiment with various designs and colorways. One is fashioned like a backwards-S: “It works as a seesaw motion,” Cuccia says. “It's a nice G-spotter.” Another features a slight curve, like a fingernail shaving. Various mock-ups of these Forest Line figures hang on the walls of Cuccia’s office like decor, each outline filled in with watercolor paint to fully illustrate the vision. There’s an in-progress sketch on the desk—a simple ellipse-like sphere—in pencil on a notepad. Sometimes she’ll even mold a prototype out of clay to get a sense of its three-dimensional shape.

The child of a medical inventor father and a mother who composed meditative music, Cuccia is well-practiced in walking the line between science and spirit. While she has knowledge of the female anatomy and customer preference—like "The G-spot is here" and "This design received positive feedback"—Cuccia ultimately relies on intuition when it comes to Chakrubs. “It's about what shape is pleasing to the eye and not intimidating,” she says. “It's going to invite this appreciation for the art that will make you attracted to it and feel more comfortable exploring it.”

After creating the design, Cuccia sits down with Itwaru to discuss logistics in translating her vision into three dimensions. When the piece is shaped, Cuccia then sands each toy by hand, ensuring a smooth base for dying. The wooden Chakrubs are then handed off to Piazza, who’s studio is just down the hall from where Cuccia currently sits. Piazza retrieves bags of rose petals, eucalyptus, and indigo from a freezer and places them on a large white work table stained various shades of blue—the same color as her fingers. She wraps the plants around the wood, securing it with rope, finally steaming each for three hours. It’s a process she developed herself. “Wood takes the dye so beautifully,” Piazza says, dabbing petals against a wooden Chakrub revealing the deep blue blots left behind. The toys are then sanded again and completed with a glossy, hypoallergenic smooth finish.

Following the success of the original Chakrubs line, Cuccia wasn’t sure what would come next, but she knew the crystal toys were liberating people. Not only did Chakrubs help Cuccia move past her own sexual trauma, but she received testimonials from customers detailing the crystal’s ability to empower and create emotional vulnerability. It was after connecting with Piazza on Instagram, Cuccia realized like the fabrics Piazza dyed, so too could wood. “It popped into my head: This is the next thing. ‘The Forest Line’ just kept repeating,” Cuccia says. “I like the simplicity of it and can look to so many fairy tales and fables about the symbology of the forest.”

It felt like a good omen when, at a meeting with a chef who cooks with flowers, the old Italian children’s story of “Pinocchio” came up. They spoke of a blue fairy who, in the story, saves Pinocchio from an untimely death. “Pinocchio was made of wood and the fairy is called the Fairy [with the Turquoise hair],” Cuccia says referring to indigo’s blue hue used in the Forest Line. “So now this line is becoming a lot about fairy tales, fables and fantasy. This is starting to become a statement on allowing your imagination to guide you. That imagination, that creativity, that childlike wonderment, that belief in magic is slipping away. Sexuality is sometimes the only creative, imaginative outlet that people have—sexual fantasies, role playing. You can be anything that you want to be.”

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