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“For my jewelry, it’s about the connection to the person wearing it.”

Getting that connection between the body and the piece is the design ethos that Brazilian-born and New York-based jeweler Ana Khouri aims for in her line of cutting-edge fine jewelry.

This story first appeared in the December 11, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In her recent spring presentation in Paris, where Khouri painted a bevy of seminude models dove gray and drenched them in her jewels, she demonstrated this notion clearly — the jewelry should be noticed, not the models.

 

Originally trained as a painter and sculptor, Khouri’s path to jewelry was somewhat accidental. While trying to find new ways to display a student art project, she created sculptures that hung off the bodies of naked art models at the suggestion of friend who happened to be a metalsmith and who was helping hang her show in São Paulo. Those sculptures planted the seeds for her jewelry line, which made its debut in 2001. Word-of-mouth demand sprung up and early support for the pieces came from high-end Brazilian retailer Daslu. Then Madonna and daughter Lourdes saw the jewelry on a friend, and the pop icon started wearing it.

But as Khouri never formally studied jewelry, she decided if she was going to proceed, she should get some formal training, so she set off to New York and London to study gemology and jewelry design, respectively, before returning to Brazil to launch her business.

Approaching jewelry design from the perspective of an artist — and admittedly not a commercial jeweler — has allowed Khouri to reimagine traditional jewelry with a modern touch. She works in traditional materials — yellow gold, pavé diamonds and pearls — and she recently added colored gemstones like garnets and emeralds to her designs, but interprets them for today’s woman.

She liberates the notion of how to wear fine jewelry, and has continually tried to expand traditional shapes, for instance, she pioneered early versions of the ear cuffs that according to the designer, “didn’t sell” when she introduced them 10 years ago; modernized jeweled hair pieces, and championed knuckle rings and the hand-bracelet movement.

Next up: a new interpretation of the collar necklace.

She credits her father, who is an engineer, with helping her figure out how to work around the ear and body to make pieces that look good and function properly.

According to Khouri, today’s women don’t spend hours getting ready to transition from day to night. Where jewelry is concerned, this should be a seamless process.

“Don’t you want something that is precious and gold but can actually work from morning to night?” she asks. “Today we don’t wear it all paired and matched, as in the past.”

Her designs can work as easily with the jeans, T-shirt and Céline slip-ons she sported for this interview as with an LBD or gala gown. Hollywood A-listers like Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o wore Khouri’s pieces with Dior to light up recent red carpets — Lawrence wore the pieces several times during her press tour promoting the second “Hunger Games” as well as during the Cannes film festival. Nyong’o wore Khouri to last year’s BAFTA awards.

“These girls want to look current,” she said, explaining that, what Raf Simons does for Dior works well with her aesthetic.

 

In 2012, Khouri moved back to New York. Fellow Brazilian and commercial salesman Daniel Urzedo was instrumental in introducing her to the American press and navigating the wholesale market when she arrived. She called home 25 Columbus Circle, the Steve Ross-designed skyscraper residence overlooking Central Park, filling her 57th-floor apartment with her beloved troves of art and antiques. An avid collector of both, Khouri looks for the story behind the piece and the connection she makes to it, much like she approaches her jewelry.

This year, she moved back to Greenwich Village, where she lived when she was studying gemology in 2005, for a quieter apartment with a neighborhood feel. It also features an amazing view looking out onto the Hudson River.

Both views — each a classic New York vista in its own sense — are also changing as the landscape around them evolves, similar to the way she approaches her designs.

“It’s like a liberation of customs — keeping them, and at the same time, making them for today.  Not saying we should throw it all in the garbage but reinterpreting it for today. And to be free, that’s what I think is tomorrow.”

 

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