Video by Lina Plioplyte.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in the case of jewelry designer Pamela Love that edict has been born out tenfold. After studying film production and painting at NYU, Pamela was working as an art director and stylist but couldn’t find jewelry she liked—for herself or her shoots. So she began crafting her own heavy metal talismans (hearts, claws, skulls) that managed to feel both incredibly personal and instantly iconic. Pamela’s totemic jewelry quickly became a hit with fashion insiders and her labor of love became a full-time job.
Since launching her collection in 2006, the wild-maned artist has collaborated with designers from Marchesa and Zac Poen to Frank Tell and Rogan Gregory, worked with Opening Ceremony on a capsule collection inspired by the Spike Jonze film Where the Wild Things Are and crafted custom pieces for True Blood.
Pamela was named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2010, and earlier this year she was nominated for a CFDA/Swarovski Award and won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation prize. This past spring she became the first American designer to create a collection for Topshop—resulting in gypsy rock pieces inspired by South American and Native American design—and her jewelry was just featured in NAHM’s Spring 2012 runway show (Pamela’s own presentation was held at Milk Studio). This month, she was in the City of Lights as one of ten past CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominees featured in the “Americans in Paris” showroom, which was aimed at introducing emerging US designers to a broader audience.
Lauren David Peden: So are you from Florida or New York?
Pamela Love: I’m originally from New York but I grew up in South Florida, a town called Coral Springs.
Lauren: Oh, okay. And I know you started your career working for Francesco Clemente after college…
Pamela: I did some stuff in between then, but yeah.
Lauren: What did you do in between?
Pamela: I worked a lot of different jobs. I ran a vintage clothing store. I did window displays for retailers, worked at Barneys for a little while as the trunk show coordinator for women’s designs…all kinds of things.
Lauren: So how do you go from studying film to designing jewelry?
Pamela: Well, I was mostly interested in set design and art direction, and I was also minoring in painting—I was a painter. So it all just went together, it was all sort of visual. After I graduated, I was really interested in doing set design and production design and, for me, the concept of doing that for film was more difficult than doing it for a store or window display or installation. So I became interested in that idea but not so much the moving image, not doing it for film.
Lauren: And how did you segue into jewelry?
Pamela: The jewelry started as a hobby with a friend of mine. We were both doing merchandising and display and she was interested in jewelry and I was interested in jewelry so we started making pieces together. She ended up getting a job that was pretty time consuming and didn’t really have the time to do it anymore, but I was hooked. I started apprenticing with a couple of jewelers in the Diamond District and just learning as much as I could about it. I started my own line and it was pretty simple at first, just a few pieces. I didn’t really have that many stores and it just slowly picked up.
Lauren: How do you go about apprenticing? Do you just knock on doors until you find people to apprentice for?
Pamela: I was in the Jewelry District with my mom looking for chain and she just asked these guys—it was really embarrassing: “Can my daughter work for you?” So I ended up working with them for free and learning from them. I didn’t learn everything but I learned a lot; enough to sort of get started. Every day I’m learning new things.
Lauren: What was the first piece that you made?
Pamela: I think the first piece that I made entirely from scratch was a human heart necklace. It wasn’t the human heart locket that we sell now. It was a very different version of it that I don’t think we actually sell anymore, but it came out nice. I carved it in a blackout in my apartment and it was pretty funny because I carved it in the dark entirely from feel and not from actually being able to see it.
Lauren: So not even candlelight?
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Pamela: Well a candle, but you know when the lights came back on I was like, “Wow, this actually looks pretty good!” (Laughs) Obviously I cleaned it up more from there. It was something to kill the time in the pitch black—that was in 2006.
Lauren: Many of your pieces seem like talismans to me; they use a lot of symbolism, whether it’s a claw or a heart. What about those things speak to you?
Pamela: I think jewelry is something really powerful and very symbolic. For me, it was about taking these things that have really strong meaning or are iconic and creating things that can last forever. It’s a funny question to answer because I’ve kind of been moving away from that sort of representation a little, so it’s kind of going back in time and answering a question as I would have three or four years ago. Now I’m trying to focus on things that are less representational just because that’s the direction I’m moving in. I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason behind it; it’s just what I’m feeling.
Lauren: So how would you say that your line has evolved aesthetically from the start until now?
Pamela: I think it was a lot more representational in the beginning. It was a lot of symbols and things found in nature—animals, claws—and now the shapes are a lot more abstract. I’ll reference things, but it’s not as literal. The size is a lot bigger. There area lot of other materials incorporated: resin, leather. I’ve been working with a lot of color, which I never did before. I think it’s just evolving to be a little more abstract, a little bit more fun maybe and just not so morbid. I never met for it to be morbid in the first place, but that’s just sort of how it was interpreted.
Lauren: I was going to ask you that; was it a life and death thing or was it not really conscious?
Pamela: I don’t think it was meant to be morbid. These are things I was interested in at the time. They were very iconic and very beautiful. I think it just came out that way. Now it’s still tough and it definitely can be edgy and dark, but I think it’s also fun and whimsical and it’s definitely evolving into something else. I don’t know that I can really explain it.
Lauren: I love the fall collection with the iridescent shards that kind of look like a cityscape.
Pamela: Yeah, a lot of people said that—they look like little cities.
Lauren: So what was the inspiration for that collection?
Pamela: I had taken a trip with my friend Skye [Parrott] to Texas. We drove across the entire state and we went to these crystal caves that were a couple miles long underground. The colors were just amazing and the shapes were so incredible. You slowly run out of oxygen while you’re down there; they tell you to walk really slow and take breaks. That was a huge inspiration for me—the trip and just the idea of playing with color. I really wanted to take the girl that I had created for the previous season, which had a tribal, dark, sort of tough kind of feeling—I wanted to take that girl into the future and spin it on its head. She’s still tough and dark and magical, but taking her from the past and bringing her into the future.
Lauren: I know you’ve done a lot of collaborations with different designers and artists. Is there one that stands out as a favorite?
Pamela: I love all the different collaborations that I’ve done. I really loved doing the Opening Ceremony Where the Wild Things Are collaboration, just because it wasn’t a traditional fashion collaboration, it was something totally different and to be able to reinterpret that book and the movie and create jewelry out of it was pretty amazing. It was really childlike in a lot of ways and I love that. It was super fun to do and just to work with Opening Ceremony is always great, and to support Spike Jonze and that film was really nice. We’ve done a lot of different projects. I loved working with Zac Posen. It was one of my first collaborations and the first time someone really gave me the freedom to just go crazy. The collection was just so out there and it was a lot of work and was really stressful, but I really love how it came out. So I think that was definitely something I was really proud of. And we just did a lower priced line for Topshop. It’s inspired by ideas from my main line but more feminine, maybe more mainstream. I think it’s a little bit of a younger girl but it’s definitely something that I’ve been wanting to do, so I’m pretty proud of it.
Lauren: Were there any challenges in designing for a more mass audience?
Pamela: Oh sure—just to have to design at a lower price point. You know we make everything here in New York City, so everything tends to be a little pricey. We definitely had some challenges in trying to manufacture things the way I would want to manufacture them and staying true to my beliefs but still being able to cut the costs enough to be able to sell at a price point that everybody can afford.
Lauren: Now would you walk me through your creative process?
Pamela: There’s no real typical creative process. It’s different every season. It’s about just gathering images that I’m interested in at any particular time and then putting them all together on a board and saying, “What’s the common thread here?” These things are totally unrelated to each other but for some reason I’m responding to this. Sometimes it comes from a book I read or a film I saw or a photographer I really like—it’s always different. For me it’s about telling a story about a person. It’s not just like, ‘I’m going to make jewelry!’ It’s very much about telling a story of the person who’s wearing the jewelry and kind of creating their world. It’s different every season but definitely starts with gathering images and sorting through the material and sketching and carving.
Lauren: Do you still do all your own carving?
Pamela: I do as much of it as I can. We’ve definitely gotten a lot busier and we make a lot more pieces now—I have a wonderful team of jewelers who work for me. Also, not everything is wax carved anymore. When I first started everything was carved out of wax, but I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different techniques.
Lauren: Like what?
Pamela: Just different ways of fabricating jewelry. Carving wax is only one way to do jewelry. We do a lot of direct fabrication, directly out of the metal now and just working with different materials—wood, resin. It’s not so black and white anymore.
Lauren: How did you achieve that iridescent metal?
Pamela: Oh, it’s a special plating.
Lauren: What other artists or designers are you feeling right now?
Pamela: I’m always kind of focused on painters and sculptors. I love this painter Kristin Calabrese; she’s really amazing. Obviously Francesco Clemente. His work is always evolving and it’s always inspiring to me. Lee Bontecou is one of my favorite artists in the whole world. Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson…a lot of sculptors, a lot of female sculptors. Georgia O’Keeffe is always really inspiring to me, not just her work but her style and the way she lived and her philosophies. As far as designers go, you know, there are just so many amazing young designers right now…amazing jewelry and accessories designers. It’s so hard to say, but one of my really good girlfriends Yara Flinn has a line called Nomia that I really love. I love what the girls from The Lake & Stars do. I love lingerie and I really think they take it to the next level and do something artistic with it. I love Lindsay Thornburg and I have so much respect for her. I love that jewelry line ManiaMania out of Australia, and Philip Crangi I always continue to be inspired by and love. I [also] find so much inspiration in some of the older, more established designers—like I’m constantly looking at Robert Lee Morris’ work.
Lauren: I’m old enough to remember when he had his first store.
Pamela: When he had Artwear, which wasn’t just him. It was collective [with Cara Croninger and Ted Muehling]. I loved it because it was about art; it wasn’t just about fashion. It was an art space and it was all these jewelry designers coming together and having a space like a gallery. It’s that feeling of New York at that time that is so wonderful and I wish that we could recreate that now. I think things like that are happening but you really have to travel outside of the box to find them. That idea was always really inspiring to me and he continues to be a huge inspiration. I also love [Alexander] McQueen and [Jean Paul] Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood… All things you would expect me to like (laughs). I’ve been watching a lot of Jan Švankmajer. He’s a Czech animator—his animations are really amazing and inspiring. Alejandro Jodorowsky is always inspiring to me, I think he’s really great.
Lauren: And you still drum?
Lauren: How did you get into that?
Pamela: I started drumming in high school. I was singing—I wanted to sing in a punk band and be a rock star, I guess. But I was singing in a hardcore band and hurt my vocal cords and couldn’t sing anymore, so I picked up the drums because for me that was the instrument that I responded to the most. I was like, ‘Well, if I cant sing anymore I should learn how to do something else.’ So I started playing the drums but stopped for a really long time, then started again much, much later and actually just started a band with a couple of my friends.
Lauren: What’s it called?
Pamela: We don’t have a name yet.
Lauren: How many people?
Pamela: Well right now it’s four—guitar, bass and drums—but we’re thinking of adding a fifth. It’s a guitar hippie band, I guess.
Lauren: So who’s singing?
Lauren: So do you think you’ll play out or…?
Pamela: Oh, why else would we do it? It just takes some time to write everything and get everything together. We’ve only been doing this for a few months, but it’s nice. My other band broke up just because we were all so busy so it’s nice to finally get back into it. It’s been like a year and half or two years since we broke up. I haven’t actually played drums in a year and a half—it was kind of depressing.
Lauren: So do you have a drum kit at home?
Pamela: Yeah, the practice space is at my house.
Lauren: And I know you’ve talked about traveling to the Southwest. What do you think is different about the energy there—or do you think it is different?
Pamela: I don’t know if the energy is different for everyone. It is for a lot of people, definitely for me. I grew up in Florida surrounded by the ocean and surrounded by borders and suburban sprawl. There’s no empty space in South Florida at all, except for maybe the ocean. So there’s something so magical to me about the opposite. It’s about this expansive land that goes on forever and the landscapes and the canvases, the kind of sonography you start to have when you get into Sedona. I don’t even know why or what it is about it, but to me that’s like magic. That’s where I feel the most comfortable. A lot of people that grow up in New York or in the middle of the country want to go to the beach on a vacation, but for me it’s just the opposite. I grew up on a beach. I want to be in the middle of the desert. I don’t know if there’s an energy there or something there that’s really real that makes it feel so different or if it’s just me; but I know a lot of other people who feel that way too, so… They talk about vortexes, but I don’t want to get weird and kooky and say I believe in that but I do a little… There are those vortexes in Sedona.
Lauren: I think if you’ve been there it’s hard not to believe it.
Pamela: Well, I spent some time in Sedona and it definitely feels special. The land in New Mexico is amazing. The emptiness is really nice and the Native American culture and the Mexican culture and people who are so much more connected to their roots and to their spirituality and to the history of their culture and to the crafts and artwork that go along with that.
Lauren: Would you tell me about the jewelry that you’re wearing?
Pamela: I’m not really wearing that much. This is one of my rings; it’s an Obsidian arrowhead. This is a turquoise ring that I actually got in Sedona. And this is a little vegetable ivory skull—it’s not real. My friend Allison [Nowlin Ward] made it. She has a line called Madame Fortuna and she makes these really beautiful vegetable ivory skulls.
Lauren: What is vegetable ivory?
Pamela: It’s a nut called tangua nut. You can carve it like ivory and it looks like ivory. It gets dirty and old the way ivory does but it’s not ivory, which is great because I certainly don’t believe in utilizing something like that. Then this is just a little antique snake ring; I’ve had it forever. This is a little arrow ring I’ve had for…God knows how long—just a lot of vintage stuff. And then this is a piece from my Spring 2011 collection. It’s the smallest of the tribal spike necklaces. And then this was a necklace that my grandmother wore everyday. It says, “mazel,” which means “luck” in Hebrew. When she passed away, I inherited it. This is a little tiny ring that my dad got me when I was a little kid. I used to wear it on my pinky and I kept losing it. It kept flying off my pinky and I kept freaking out because my father passed away and it’s one of the only things I really keep on me from him, so I just put it on a necklace and have them together. It’s important to me.
Lauren: How important is it to you that people who buy or wear your jewelry feel that way about it?
Pamela: I want the jewelry to be important to the people who buy it, but I don’t want to dictate anything. I feel like the people who buy it feel that way about it, and I think jewelry is important in that way. It makes you feel special… It has a feeling to it, it has a weight and a significance to it, and that’s why I do it. I think the people who are interested in my stuff would say the same and if not then maybe I need to do my job a little better.
Lauren David Peden is editor of The Fashion Informer and contributing editor at Rue La La. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Surface, Time Out, SHOWstudio, Plastique, Vogue.com UK and many other publications.