An Evening with CFDA Jewelry

The Council for Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) recently hosted the second CFDA Jewelry Showcase in the heart of SoHo. As a category, jewelry is steadfastly growing in popularity and significance: an impressive 79 of the 500 designers with CFDA membership are jewelry designers. The showcase gives jewelers retail and editorial visibility to nurture their brands. The CFDA also recently established an official Jewelry Committee to provide thought power to the industry as a whole and each designer’s exposure, business development, and best practices.

While attending, we were struck by each designer’s dedication to their craft and the scope of materials. Meeting so many vibrant and driven jewelers in one room inspired us to ask…When and why did you decide to become a jewelry designer? -Jenna Fain for The Stone Set

Sharon Khazzam
CFDA (28 of 36)
“I fell into jewelry by accident. I was going to be a fashion designer and switched routes when I experienced a bit of this world. Here I am 32 years later. You fall in love. It’s not a business, it’s a passion. All my pieces are one of a kind. Every single piece is a new birth.” -Sharon Khazzam

Mish New York
CFDA (3 of 36)
“I started designing jewelry as a boy. Friends of my family had an amazing business that I had been around as a child. I learned jewelry by osmosis and have never been formally trained or gone to school for it. What I love about jewelry design is it’s the closest to combining art and fashion. Jewelry is so sculptural and you can think about what looks great on a wearer and what will make them feel happy and great.” -Mish Tworkowski

Sidney Garber
“I was born into it. My father was a jeweler for three years before I was born. From the time I was a little girl, I was in the store. We had one big safe and I remember sitting on the floor playing with the charms. A big moment was when I could use the Windex on the glass cases! The first jewelry I was allowed to put out was the watches. They were so linear—I couldn’t mess it up. It was part of my childhood: I never wasn’t in the jewelry business.” -Brooke Garber Neidich

Paige Novick
CFDA paige)
“I started my business with costume jewelry in 2008. I’d always been an accessories designer and developed a gut feeling that jewelry was going to make a comeback in a different way. Be less fussy, less precious, more about lifestyle and everyday versatile jewelry. That inspired me to create day-to-night pieces I wanted to wear personally.” –Paige Novick

Nicholas Varney Jewels
CFDA (14 of 36)
“I went into fine jewelry because it seemed like the logical next step after a baseball career! As an 11 year old, I went with my parents on a trip to Switzerland. They were interested in a ring at a show in Gstaad; my mother loved it. I went back with my father almost 15 times to see the ring. I was proud of my father that he could afford it. I was excited about the adventure of travel…the Swiss mountains are so beautiful. When my father gave it to my mother, the loving environment that it engendered was a strong thing for a young boy. Even when I was playing baseball, I always knew I wanted to be a jewelry designer. I was familiar with fabric and interior design because my parents did those things, but I wanted more freedom. I don’t think anything is more free in design than jewelry. There’s no fire codes or weight-bearing walls. You do what you want to do and people enjoy it. And it is about travel – all of these stones are from different places in the world and the techniques are from different cultures.” -Nicholas Varney

Ex Ovo
CFDA (6 of 36)
I became a jewelry designer by accident when in ’91, I came to New York. I decided I wanted to stay, but I didn’t have a visa, so I decided to do another degree. My background is as a Chinese art historian and I used to work in London. I thought, “worse comes to worse, I can go back and have another degree.” Out of a hat seemingly, I picked FIT to study jewelry design. Later I realized, my entire life had been about jewelry but it had not become obvious to me. -Katrin Zimmerman

Angela Cummings for Assael
CFDA (27 of 36)
“I don’t know when it started but I was about 18 when I knew I’d be a jewelry designer. I went to school in Germany to learn how to make jewelry and then I decided I wanted to work for Tiffany. I came back to New York, knocked on the door, and got a job as assistant to the head designer. I always knew what I wanted to do.” -Angela Cummings

Ashley Pittman
CFDA (30 of 36)
“I was living and working in Africa and wanted to start a business because I started believing in the model of trade not aid. I started it as income generation because I believe people need stable income to pull themselves out of poverty. The natural resources in Kenya are so incredible and inspired my line.” -Ashley Pittman

Dean Harris
CFDA (10 of 36)
“I became a jewelry designer because I liked the immediate gratification of my craft. I liked being able to create something that changed peoples’ lives for the better. People form an emotional attachment to jewelry much like a beautiful picture or a perfume, and it uplifts them. When someone says I’ve helped them have that emotion, it’s the biggest compliment of all time. I also love gold. It works well with how I make jewelry, which is to diffuse it, melt it, and shape it by hand. My jewelry starts out as wire which is manipulated. Very little is cast. To have that immediate gratification of sculpting a piece of jewelry gives me great joy.” -Dean Harris

VSA Designs
“I got into jewelry design 15 years ago. It was an accident. I made handbags and needed a keychain, and I started selling more keychains. It eventually became a belt buckle, and a rosary. It was not intentional and I wouldn’t do it any other way. I love waking up every morning to go to work.” -Cheryl Finnegan

Simon Alcantara
CFDA (32 of 36)
“I was a classical ballet dancer. I was on scholarship as a teenager and my friend made earrings. She taught me how to do it, and we’d go to vintage stores and take pieces apart and remake them. I sold to people at the New York City Ballet. I danced professionally and didn’t make jewelry for a long time. Fast forward ten years and I had a bad injury and was on crutches for six months. I started making jewelry again just for fun. A friend wore something to a party and Patricia Fields saw it. She asked me to make a collection for her store, and it sold out in three days! It went from there. Three years later, I worked for Oscar de la Renta in Paris and J. Mendel. I’m not traditionally trained but figured out my own way of doing it.” -Simon Alcantara

CFDA (15 of 36)
“We walked down the jewelry path because it makes people feel good. Everyone smiles when they put it on. No one has a bad feeling about eating too many burritos the week before. We work in precious materials because they really do last for a lifetime. We start that price point at a welcoming $44 because we want anyone who’s interested to have access to that piece to last forever.” -Rony Vardi & Leigh Batnick Plessner

Stella Valle
“We started six years ago when I was medically retired from the army. I really wanted to get into the fashion industry, but with a military background I thought it would be a challenge. So my sister Ashley encouraged me to start Stella Valle with her. We incorporated our story into the line: the geometric shapes are straight lines that represent being strong women in the army. We incorporate crystals, pearls, and stones to represent our femininity and love for fashion.” -Paige Dellavalle & Ashley Jung

CFDA (24 of 36)
“Jewelry designing was always a part of me. From my earliest memory, I was breaking apart my mother’s costume and precious jewelry and making them into new pieces. You can only image the trouble that I got in for that, but in 1975 I moved to the US and worked in construction with my husband while designing jewelry privately for my friends. It was actually when my eldest son graduated from college that he convinced me to design jewelry full time.” -Coomi Bhasin

John Brevard
CFDA (22 of 36)
“I was an architect for trade and worked in high-end interior design. That transitioned into smaller scale furniture and art pieces and I opened galleries in Miami. I moved up to New York and we opened our first flagship at 138 Ludlow. The jewelry, furniture, art, shoes, and bags are all inspired by sacred geometric and patterns in nature. Also, an experience when I was fifteen when I was immersed in these patterns. I wanted to find a way to articulate that at different scales and convey different existential experiences. We have a customization platform that just launched and takes astrological algorithms and modeling tools to create pieces based on your date of birth. You go into the retail store, you type in your birthdate, location, and time of birth and the design prints in the store.” -John Brevard

CFDA (36 of 36)
“It wasn’t a choice to become a jewelry designer – it found me. I was a fine artist and did painting and sculpture. I left Australia in 2000 and backpacked around the world for four years. I was always prolific and making things. It was natural to discover found materials and make jewelry. People would want to buy what I wore on my wrist and I would trade along the way. Eventually, I landed in New York and someone saw a piece and showed it to someone, and it was like a domino effect through word of mouth. I still was planning to keep traveling to Africa and then I met my husband. I wanted to do sculpture and couldn’t quickly accept I was a jewelry designer. It was hard to come to terms with the fact I just made jewelry. People would ask about what I did and I’d say, “I make stuff.” I even saw a speech therapist to best articulate it. I got to a point where I accepted that jewelry was my path and opened my store, grew a team, and everything came together once it became a business.” -Scosha Woolridge

Stephen Dweck
“As a child, I always picked stones up off the ground, took my mother’s diamond ring, and scratched glass. The time I wanted to be a jeweler, I was a sculptor at the School of Visual Arts in the 80s. I was leafing through the fashion magazines and was loving how fashion collided with jewels and gems. Geoffrey Beene was a big user of gems and bold, important jewelry, and I thought I needed to leave art school behind to follow this glorious dream and editorialized world. I went to Vogue and said, “Look, I just started a jewelry company. How do I get in the magazines?” They told me to go to the stores I admired and pitch my jewelry. I sold my first collection to Bergdorf Goodman in 1981. He was walking through the hallway and told me, “I have a fashion show in two weeks, can I borrow your jewelry?” It was history. When I started, everything was black onyx, malachite, and over-the-counter beads. He pulled out references from 50s and 60s of things made from plastic, but I told him I was a stone guy and had to do it my way. He told me, “As long as it stays on the runway, you can do whatever you want.” I was fortunate enough to show and sell my jewelry in the early days of Vogue, Bazaar, and other icons. Back then, you could adjust along the way. You could taste the industry early enough, catch it, and make something of it. I like to work with the most exotic and unusual stones because I like to live vicariously through them. I leave no stone unturned and I love romancing the living daylights out of things I find more quirky and neglected.” -Stephen Dweck

Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set

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