LONDON — The fashion jewelry category is ripe for change: No longer seen as fine jewelry’s poor cousin, new designers are popping in the space and revitalizing it with one-of-a-kind, fashion-forward designs.
Stylist Nausheen Shah has been at the heart of the shift with her sculptural, handmade collection of earrings created in partnership with Monica Sordo.
Shah — a true 21st-century polymath with a legal background, a stint as Zac Posen’s collection director, a wide-ranging styling and writing portfolio and sizeable Instagram following — came up with the idea as she was styling a shoot. She happened to be looking for big, statement earrings in bright, saturated colors, and Sordo’s hammered metal jewels came to mind. A firm believer in following her gut, Shah called Sordo right away.
The result was a collection of sculptural pieces made using textured or hand-painted brass and referencing surrealist and modernist artists like Brancusi.
A season later, and the project has evolved beyond a one-off collaboration. Indeed, it’s taking on a life of its own. Following a successful launch on Net-a-porter, Shah and Sordo are now growing the range’s distribution with other key partners including Browns, Farfetch and Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées.
With all of the fashion jewelry lines on the market right now, what made Shah’s idea stand apart? Apart from the striking nature of their designs, the two women also stand out for their slow, sustainable approach and the thoughtful, handmade touches they lend to their accessibly priced collections.
“We number every single product and each piece is only produced once. We don’t reproduce it unless it’s in a different color,” Shah said in an interview, explaining that the jewelry is handcrafted in Peru with electrostatic paint, which is mostly used for cars.
“It’s basically a car in an earring. We wanted to achieve a very sculptural look and ensure it was very light at the same time. One thing I noticed by constantly being out and around and seeing women wear jewelry is that their ears start to hurt half way through a dinner. So I wanted to make sure the pieces respect the woman. You should know that you can wear a statement earring without ripping out your ear or feeling pain.”
Pieces are usually named after an artist’s muse, such as Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s ex-wife, and come packaged in an artist’s brush kit together with a note signed by Sordo and Shah.
“We don’t produce or present on schedule, so we are able to limit the amount we create and stay exclusive,” said Shah, pointing to the importance of this slower approach. “Seeing brands who are constantly producing and putting out product, it sometimes can lose that feeling of being special. When you constantly have the option of having it, then people almost take the pieces for granted. And the way we design is not trendy, the pieces are artistic and timeless.”
Shah sees the project as “constantly evolving” and hinted at the possibility of playing with other categories in the near future, but she is keen to keep growth slow and gradual, with everything still being produced by hand in Peru.
For their second season, Sordo and Shah just focused on reworking their signature style in new sizes and colors — including a neon green and pink version made exclusively for Browns.
By staying agile, Shah said she’s not constrained to strict seasonal deliveries, and instead can plan new drops around the holiday period or fashion month where there’s an opportunity to show off the pieces and style them in creative ways.
In fact, attending fashion shows was the best, albeit unintentional, marketing strategy that Shah could employ, given her popularity with street-style photographers, industry insiders and Instagram users. By wearing the earrings at shows, she caught the attention of celebrity stylists who in turn put the pieces on clients like Beyoncé, Drew Barrymore, Anne Hathaway and Katy Perry.
By becoming their own ambassadors, styling and modeling in their own campaigns, and keeping all operations in-house, Shah explained that they were able to become profitable from the get-go and allow themselves the luxury of being selective and creating limited-editions.
Despite the buzzy response and the limited-edition approach, Shah is also keen on keeping price points accessible: “They’re meant to be collectible art pieces, but not just for people who can afford them but for people who respect and appreciate them. I wanted people to be able to obtain the piece and know that it’s special and that they’re the only ones who have that particular style.”