Susan Korn has a failproof prescription for positivity and good vibes. Her jewelry collection Susan Alexandra has picked up steam for its enamel-painted designs featuring whimsical symbols and messages. What started as her designing cuffs for friends and family has grown into an enthusiastic lineup of stockists, including Net-a-Porter. Susan makes all her pieces by hand in her Chinatown studio, ensuring that each is equipped with a personal twist. The fashion set has embraced her lush designs: she counts Anna Dello Russo as a fan and her jewelry has popped up in the pages of Elle, Teen Vogue, and other top publications. With her trademark sunny disposition, Susan welcomed us into her studio for a conversation about her path to becoming a jewelry designer. -Jenna Fain for The Stone Set
It’s so funny: when I was 9 years old I wrote a story about how one day I would be a jewelry designer living in NYC. I would wear red lipstick and black Donna Karan drapey clothing. One of those things hasn’t quite come to fruition but everything else has. I went to school in Chicago and quickly landed a job with an amazing and whimsical Dutch company called Oilily (their kooky, colorful textiles still inform and inspire my work) and then eventually for Ikram, who is the most unbelievably inspiring business woman on the planet. She also has wild and exceptional taste. Eventually I began styling photo shoots in Chicago, very small scale. Soon the lifelong itch I had felt for NYC kicked in.
I moved to New York with no connections, friends or place to stay. I can’t believe I did it actually. I’m a super Scorpio, super fixed water sign; I cant stand change or lack of stability. Anyways, I came to NYC and was totally terrified. I started styling and it was fun at first but then it became exhausting and draining. I realized something wasn’t right. Creative work should inspire and energize! I didn’t know what to do with my life and I went through the whole quarter life crisis and it was really excruciating. One day I had a huge epiphany. I could devote my life work to helping people like me, in the exact same position. I could pool all my resources and create a business that would enable people to find their true life mission. Through this epiphany, I was able to find my mission too.
My number one rule is to ignore negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are incredibly disabling to me and completely squash creativity. I am conscious not to compare myself or my work to others. I am on my own path. I also feel that because I have some a strong mission of creating good in my work, that only good things can come my way. By putting that out in the world, I am receiving it back. Karma! I grew up with an extremely spiritual mother and aunt. Their metaphysical outlook became absorbed into my psyche. It’s so beautiful that I have begun to build a really amazing community around me who have the same feelings and beliefs. You attract what you put out in the world, that’s another reason I always try to be as positive and supportive to others.
My signature style really happened by accident. Jewelry is all about precision, which is not something I can (or want to) master. To cover up wonky edges and seams from my first metal work class, I began to paint my pieces. And people really responded. In a way, I celebrated the flaws by adorning them. My other objective is that I make pieces that make the wearer feel safe, secure and happy. Like my Fortune Teller necklace, it’s a hand that you wear around your neck. I find myself holding it when I’m feeling stressed or scared. It’s so soothing and re-assuring to me and other people have said the same. I love that. That’s what jewelry should be, beautiful but also protective. I make a whole range of pieces but I think the handpainted bracelets are my signature. Either the thinner painted bangles or thicker cuffs, this is what I make and sell the most of. Another piece is the Fortune Teller necklace. It was my first experiment in wax carving and the palm has a hand inscribed palm reading guide. I paint the nails of hand according to the wearer.
I have been so lucky to be surrounded by a spectacular crew of artists. I’ve only taken two jewelry classes, I don’t really know what I’m doing. How fortunate am I to have generous friends who happen to be jewelers! I can call them and say “help! I want to make a bangle in the shape of a star, what do I do!?” and they will patiently guide and support me. I’m totally figuring it out as I go. I have also realized that lots of people, even the most together looking people are all just playing it by ear! This is very reassuring.
Positive thinking and manifestation are so important. Leaning away from comparing myself to others. Hard work—I know when I am spending time locked into my studio and working so hard that it will pay off. And also, giving love and support to others. I am such a staunch admirer and supporter of other designer contemporaries, and I have seen how the same love and support has reflected back to me so many times. I have been told time and time again that my pieces are so purely me. Like, un-diluted Susan. People like authenticity. So in putting your true essence into whatever you do, people respond.
Whatever I am processing emotionally inspires me. A lot of my pieces are rich in symbolism: hands, eyes, angels. Images that represent hope, intuition, comfort, stability. I am sure I was Frida Kahlo in a past life, so Frida and Mexican culture are huge inspirations. Dollhouses, tzotchkes, milagros, flowers, bodega signs, fruit, traditional Indian art too, it runs the gamut. And Instagram. I am constantly discovering genius artists and creators through Instagram.” -Susan Korn of Susan Alexandra
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set.