Jeweler and ceramicist Kathleen Whitaker has built an admirable cult following since launching her namesake jewelry brand in Los Angeles. We first noticed her streamlined and modern designs when her Stick Studs began popping up on friends and tastemakers from coast to coast. It becomes like a game: people start out with the smaller size earrings, and then work their way up to the oversized version. It’s hard to stop once you start acquiring her jewelry. Kathleen’s pieces have an incredible versatility: they can be mixed and matched to compliment virtually anyone’s style. Her minimalist, elegant aesthetic stems from a nuanced career path, passion for interior design, and honed sense of color play. On a recent trip to Los Angeles, we visited Kathleen at her turn-of-the-century home and studio, perched in the Echo Park hillside, to meet the woman behind the new classics. -Jenna Fain for The Stone Set
“I studied ceramics undergrad at Newcomb College, part of Tulane University. Shaping, forming, sometimes casting clay is not dissimilar to the wax forms used for jewelry casting. Working with clay can translate to metal work, in that they’re both three-dimensional mediums that require a balance of form and function. I spent some time after college working in Public Relations in the arts and later in Financial Services for small business. While that period of time was clearly a digression away from design and creativity, what I learned has served me well in running my own business.
Long ago, the transition from New York to LA brought a liberation. I am from New York City. So, a certain amount of ambition and drive will always be in me. But take the freneticism out of your life and you’re left with the freedom to create at your own pace. And there’s magic in that. There is magic that comes from contemplation and thoughtfulness and time. LA has afforded me that for the 12 years I’ve lived here. But that landscape is changing now too. And we’ll see what impact that has on its creative community.
The line is synonymous with linear, geometric, simple forms. Many of the pieces are fabricated by hand (rather than cast), so they retain a delicate, fine quality. I like that the simple aesthetic conforms to the style of the wearer—they can be at once street, trendy or classic and timeless. I am fortunate that Los Angeles has such a thriving jewelry district—a robust labor force and industry supply chain. So, there is an abundance of materials available and resources to tap into. For many of the pieces in the classic KW collection, I work with a carefully-selected caster and fabricator in downtown Los Angeles. When using gemstones, I select either vintage stones (from a special supplier) or work with my lapidary.
The Cuff Earring is a design I developed in the fall of 2012 and it still resonates as at-once fresh and classic. I am drawn to pieces that can be concurrently substantial and minimal. The Cuff is a lasting favorite that does that. Newer to the collection is the Strand Stud, an elongated version of the angular Stick Stud. It’s dramatic and chic.
Just like everyone, I’ve dipped my toes in different approaches to personal style but I always return to classic pieces (read: boring). I’ve had the same pair of Gucci loafers since high school, making it an untruth to label my closet “daring” or “flamboyant.” I’m more likely to experiment stylistically in interior design. To be successful, it takes the right balance of color, proportion, textures, and function. You could say that about almost every design endeavor—graphic, product, jewelry design. But interior design is especially demanding and gratifying. It shapes the way you live and is malleable, changing and deeply personal.
Jewelry design, if done right, can be lasting and enduring. And that resonates with me. I don’t have the imagination or personality to work in the areas of fashion that run on a seasonal market schedule which can be trend-driven. I have so much admiration for those who do it. But jewelry suits me because it plays outside those rules and the fruit of your design efforts can be a little longer lasting.
In college, I thought I might have a life as a studio artist but that quickly pivoted to a stint at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a few years in public relations for museums and corporate philanthropy. Another non-linear step took me into financial services before, currently, a livelihood in jewelry. So, if anything, I’ve learned you can have success in many different disciplines and why be pigeon-holed to one? I hope there are a few more unexpected chapters in my career.” –Kathleen Whitaker
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set