written by Chelsy Whittington
Hi Erica! Can we start with you telling us a little bit about yourself? Where are you based? How do you spend your days?
I'm based in the Hudson Valley. After over 20 years in NYC, working out of various studios and eventually two small shops, I decided to move upstate to the woods. My kids and family love it here (usually. Not so much in the winter.) My business partner, Lindsay, moved back to Portland, Oregon around the same time (beginning of Covid) to be close to her family. The jewelry lives there and ships out from our showroom on the top floor of a Victorian mansion. Three days a week I am usually on my computer doing things communication-related: writing about antiques, putting together email newsletters, scheming for the future. No antique mall within 30 miles is safe from me - I am always hunting for jewelry. And always I am trying to run the business in the smartest way I know how. I try to keep a 25 hour workweek, max. My daughter is so little - one and a half - and I am aware of how precious my time is with her.
What's inspiring you and your work at the moment?
I watched the trailer for Napoleon many times this week - I am suddenly really interested in that era in France. Also, I just did a screening and Q&A at the Roxy Cinema of "Bram Stoker's Dracula": the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola version with Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman. Those costumes were incredible - so weird, so arty and campy. I also am involved in a super creative project that I'm not allowed to talk about (!!!) but let's just say MOVIES and movie costuming is getting me going right now.
What was the first piece of jewelry you remember absolutely needing to have?
It was the early 1980's - I may have been in second grade. There were these plastic chain necklaces where you could clip on little plastic charms. A skateboard, a hair dryer, all kinds of cheapies. I still wear a (more grown-up) chain with lots of charms on it. See pic below!
Your Instagram stories have it all: Cursed jewels! Tales of Prince Albert's sexual prowess! Jewelry picks for Sigourney Weaver's many roles! How does storytelling fit into your work?
I think I learned the art of storytelling from my dad. He's a real eccentric and just lets the craziest things fly out of his mouth. I found, at one point in the life of the business, that if I do the same thing, people really connect with what I'm saying. I pretend that nobody's watching or listening, even though I have like 150k followers on IG and a huge mailing list. There is so much bland, boring branding out there - lots of companies have absolutely no character or personality. Self-expression recharges my batteries, so when a thought pops into my head - "Sigourney Weaver would wear this in Ghostbusters" - I follow the thread. Similarly, when I'm researching a historical thing for a piece of jewelry and find a quirky anecdote, or even a strange rumor, I'll dive deeper and spin a tale from it. If I make myself laugh, or if I make Lindsay laugh, I'm pretty sure I've touched on something that people will relate to somehow. The more I let myself do this, the more fun work is. And the more people feel like they know me. And in theory, the more jewelry we will sell.
What piece of jewelry that you've sourced has had the strangest backstory?
One is this elaborate necklace from the 1880's with 5 lockets. All have different decorations outside, and inside there are photos and bits of hair from 5 different people. It would have been commissioned by a family member to commemorate loved ones who had died. In the 19th century, mourning jewelry like this was wildly popular. It was part of the grieving process. Yes, people had more ways to die before antibiotics, but it was never easy to lose someone. I think if we had more rituals/traditions like this surrounding death today, we might find some comfort there. I am about to commission a locket with a piece of my dog's fur braided inside it. He passed away a few years ago and I want to keep him close.
Any advice for finding or evolving one's jewelry vibe? I get nervous if I try to put on more than one thing. Help.
Mix the metals, don't stick to one time period, and when you find a thing that makes you feel a *special* I-have-to-have-this-in-my-life feeling, that's the better choice for you than the most popular or best-quality thing out there. Don't be afraid of a little wear, a missing stone. If it creates an emotion within you and you can find a way to afford it, make it yours and wear it often. Life is short. If it's too precious to wear, wear it anyway. Put on more than one thing, then put on a few more things. Mix old and new. Try to balance rings on your fingers by color, heaviness, and shape. Move 'em around till they look right. For me, a little *high vibration feeling* will ping and I'll know the look is "done". Just don't take it too seriously and pile it on.
You worked on Broadway in costume design early in your career, does that experience inform the way you dress and the clothing you are drawn to?
I do love a costume-y piece of clothing AND jewelry. I used to wear a lot of antique clothes, like dresses and pants from the 1920s and 30s. I also regularly wore silk bras from that era from a French antique lingerie dealer.
What outfits make you feel most like yourself?
I have stuck by Rachel Comey over the years - her shoes and jeans really work for me. Eva Masaki's glasses make me feel powerful, untouchable, like I've put armor on. When I have to be social with a lot of people I'll wear them. I just went shopping at Bode and found two pieces that I am wearing constantly - a skeleton-print tshirt and men's shoes. Androgyny is part of the look most of the time, but I've never been really into dressing in a "sexy" way. I like linen oversized pieces or anything with a nice drape. Black Crane, Lauren Manoogian, vintage Eileen Fisher and Liz Claiborne have been in rotation for years. I own a grey and a dark charcoal Capote Coat from Lauren Manoogian, both a decade old, both patched and repaired many times. I collect pieces from Issey Miyake's "Plantation" brand which was launched in 1981. It's incredibly well-designed. I like As Ever's tie-waist Tanker pants. The English brand TOAST has nice textiles. Carleen is an all-time favorite brand.
It's your day off! What are you:
I haven't watched a TV show for myself in a long time. When the TV is on, my 5-year-old is in charge 💀. When I was in London last for an antique jewelry sourcing trip there was an English show called "Naked Attraction" that my biz partner and I really liked. It was a "love at first sight" kinda dating show but contestants would pick their date based on five nude bodies (faces were revealed at the end.) Unflattering lighting, total close-ups. It was shocking that such a thing exists, at first, but then after the first few moments the shock wore off and it's just naked people. A refreshing, weirdly body-positive show.
Xochitl Gonzalez, who wrote Olga Dies Dreaming, has a new book coming out called Anita De Monte Laughs Last. She's an old friend from like 15 years ago, and she sent me an advance copy of the new novel with a WEINER watermark on every page, which delights me. Also there's a kids' book called Fossils From Lost Worlds which my son loves - it is a picture book about dinosaurs but really it's about the history of Paleontology, which has a lot of 19th century culture stuff in it. That's been read dozens of times aloud.
La Lom is a current favorite. Sparks, Siouxie and the Banshees, and Roxy Music always. And there's this ItaloDisco spotify playlist that I like, especially the song La Dolce Vita from 1983. Gets me going.
Chasing my two children. Trying to be around friends. Probably watching cartoons. Tomorrow I'm taking the fam to the Natural History Museum. On the rare "work" day when I have child care and there's nothing urgent on my work-related list, I'll visit one of the many, many antique shops upstate or over the border in Massachussets or Connecticut. This very moment I'm typing from the Tagkanic Diner, halfway between my house and Hudson, getting ready to see what's new at Red Chair on Warren. Long ago I realized there are no deals to be had in NYC. Up here, antiques are flowing fast and not much of it makes it online. You have to visit in person and schmooooooooze with the dealers, which I love.