Dakota Johnson and Maude are set to make sex more beautiful
“Sex is like exercise in that when you do it, you feel better,” Éva Goicochea told me in the spring of 2018, shortly before the launch of Maude. The initial four-piece drop was understated, with smartly packaged condoms, a three-speed vibrator in dove gray, and two types of lube. “The idea is wellness and integration into your everyday life—and I know that’s super, super overused,” the founder acknowledged, referring to the still burgeoning (and already cliche) self-care movement. “It has to become a practice”—but not, she added, a chore. The brand’s tagline, after all, had the ring of an upbeat mantra: “A better morning is coming.”
Two and a half years later—in the midst of a pandemic that has seen more than 22,000 pre-orders of Maude’s best-selling Vibe—that message of optimism finds plenty of listeners. It also finds a new voice, with today’s announcement that Dakota Johnson has signed on as Maude’s new co-creative director, focusing on sustainability initiatives and product development for the expanding body-care range. The actor is also an investor, having joined the latest $2.2 million seed round that counts venture-capital firms alongside high-profile people, including choreographer Benjamin Millepied and fashion retailer Steven Alan.
“It’s kind of cool for me to come to a company that’s already flying, and then I just get to do fun stuff,” Johnson said with a sly smile, speaking from her Los Angeles home via Zoom last week. Above the actor in my grid of talking heads was Goicochea, at the company’s six-person office in Brooklyn. The pair made an uncanny match: two thirtysomething brunettes with twinning sets of bangs. Johnson waited no time in pointing out their likeness, explaining that she’d just got a fresh haircut after wrapping a “pretty intense” shoot last month for The Lost Daughter, the forthcoming Elena Ferrante adaptation directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal.
“I’m just trying to look more and more like Eva,” Johnson quipped.
In the small-world way, the two have friends in common. There’s also an unlikely industry connection: “When I was five and DJ was a star in the sky, the only movie I was in, her mom was in,” Goicochea said of 1988’s The Milagro Beanfield War, with Melanie Griffith. The formal business partnership came easily, like a best-case scenario for pandemic-era matchmaking: Johnson scoping out Maude by way of Instagram and its products, followed by a Zoom meeting that highlighted their shared outlook and design sensibility.
“It’s not like I’m like, ‘I love Shabby Chic’ and she’s like, ‘I love Danish modern.’ We both love Danish modern,’” Johnson joked of their aesthetic kinship. They also have a fondness for green, as the actor professed in her recent Architectural Digest home tour, while standing in her moss-painted kitchen. Goicochea originally chose forest green as an accent for Maude (and, later, a second colorway for the Vibe) because it represented the brand’s gender-neutral intention. “It is reminiscent of nature,” Johnson agreed. “The whole basis of Maude is to try to remind people that sexuality is such a fundamental part of being a human being—that it should be taken care of as such.”
That core conception of Maude has been slow to take root. “I am perpetually having to correct people that just because I am a female founder doesn’t mean it’s a for-women company, which I find to be subtly sexist,” said Goicochea, who previously worked as a legislative aide in California (with health care a focus) and was an early employee at Everlane. “For me, it made no sense that this industry was gendered because you have sex with a partner, whoever that partner is; or partners; or yourself.” (Not since the AIDS era has that last option seen such public-health attention. “You are your safest sex partner,” the New York City health department advised residents in the early weeks of the pandemic.)
Still, it’s hard to ignore the recent cultural shifts that have largely been ushered in by women, from #MeToo revelations that swirled as Maude came into being, to the role of intimacy coordinators on set, as embraced by Gyllenhaal (a producer and star of HBO’s The Deuce) and Olivia Wilde (Booksmart). “I’ve actually never worked with an intimacy coordinator!” Johnson said. “That didn’t exist when I did my big naked franchise. I was kind of just thrown to the wolves on that one.” The level of care that’s now brought to such vulnerable moments—as one expects with fight scenes, Johnson pointed out—is “extremely smart and definitely kind of parallel with what the global conversation [around sex] is. Well, maybe not global,” she stopped herself, acknowledging room for progress. “But we’ll get there.”
Johnson’s creative stamp on Maude will take some time to emerge, but there is a new “device” on the way. “That’s where it gets, like, ‘What are we supposed to call the damn thing?’” Goicochea said after we’d discussed the inadequacies of the term “sex toy.” It’s safe to say it’ll be fit for the MoMA Design Store, which picked up Maude’s original Vibe this summer.
“You don’t always want a goofy sexual product,” nodded Johnson, describing a hypothetical “giant, hot pink, crazy-looking dildo” that no one on our Zoom call could live with. Given the breadth of sexual expression—from playful to emotionally weighted—“it’s nice for things to be kind of malleable in that way, aesthetically,” she continued.
Before we signed off, I asked about the cello sitting in Johnson’s office. “Actually, [I got] a new cello for my birthday this year—a really nice one. This is, like, my first piece-of-shit cello, and it’s broken,” Johnson said, explaining that she plays, though not very well. “I’ve been obsessed with the cello forever.” It was a non sequitur, this momentary digression into music, but also, in a way, a parallel pursuit. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake—and, now, new-and-improved means to enjoy it.
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