In Conversation with Anna Sheffield, Dossier StylePosted by jenni.avins on Jul 18, 2009 in Fashion, Uncategorized | Comments Off
Dossier in Conversation with Anna Sheffield
Anna: I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was crazy. But it was nice. It was like creating your whole world from scratch, you know?
In 2002, jewelry designer Anna Sheffield moved Bing Bang, her then fledgling jewelry line, to New York City, where she renovated and ran a gallery out of a Williamsburg warehouse. Maybe she didn’t know better at the time, but today Bing Bang is one of Anna’s four distinct jewelry collections, and she seems to be on her way to establishing her brand as the tough girls’ Tiffany’s. As Anna’s star continues to rise (with some pretty astronomical collaborations on the horizon), Dossier was curious to know what fuels her fire, so Jenni Avins sat down with the designer for an afternoon chat over French fries and cream soda. Here’s a look at the people, places and things that continue to color her comet’s tale.
Jenni Avins: When did you feel like Bing Bang was really happening?
Anna Sheffield: I think it was the first time I got an order from Barney’s and I realized I was gonna have to make 97 of the same thing. That was real wake-up call for me. 97 earrings! That’s 97 times 2. I can’t even do that math. (Laughs) That’s way too many things for me to make myself! And then you start to see your name on the wall when you go into Barney’s and it’s like, ‘Oh my God. I wanna cry!’ And then, press and things like that started happening.
I got a lot of love from a lot of really amazing people, and it’s definitely not all been about anything near talent. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, having really amazing love and support from the people that you meet. It’s been such a crazy journey, almost like a roller coaster, but sleepwalking (laughs). But also, you know, wonderful surprises happen when you leap. And doing the jewelry for Marc Jacobs (Spring 2006 show) was definitely one of those. I did everything in ten days. I made jewelry for 40 or 50 runway looks. I sat at their offices and hung out with them and made stuff. It was crazy. I’d never seen anything like it.
Jenni: How did that happen?
Anna: My friend Shelly introduced me to him. She was and still is his fit model, friend and muse. I met her through friends—Max Fish and the whole Lower East Side kind of situation—and she’s like, ‘I’ll model for your lookbook!” So, she would always wear my jewelry and talk about me to everyone. And that’s such an amazing person to have in your court, especially when they’re just doing it for the sake of being awesome and openhearted. So yeah, she introduced me to him and that’s where that whole thing went.
Jenni: So now driving the business, everyday, it’s you and your brother Kevin?
Anna: Yeah, he’s my CEO, my CMO. When it’s so few people, you kind of have the multi-tasking.
Jenni: And how long ago did he come on?
Anna: He started working with me a little over three years ago. It was right after I did the Marc Jacobs collaboration. That sort of catapulted my whole existence into a new realm and I really needed business help. I’m very entrepreneurial but I’m not really a numbers person. I pass out when I have to read things that are fine print. (Laughs) It’s just not my area of expertise. And you really need to be able to do that to go from stage to stage in a company like ours—especially an independently owned company like ours.
Jenni: Does it feel like you guys are building at a slower, step-by-step pace now?
Anna: We kind of have to, because we’re limited by the capital that we have access to. And it’s definitely been really hard for the last year. But I feel like it’s a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race thing. I think a lot of people will go out of business during this time. A lot of people already have. And it’s unfortunate, but it opens up space in the marketplace if we can stick it out and stay true to ourselves and our product.
Jenni: It seems like although you might have limited access to capital, you have incredible access to intellectual capital.
Anna: We have an insanely awesome community. People have really stepped up in the last few months. I’m actually really psyched about that because we all have the capacity to share resources and trade in one way or another. And the community is so vast and there are so many different parts of it, so many necessary gears in the fashion machine, or the creative machine in general. So it’s really been awesome watching people rise to the occasion and really taking the friendships that they’ve formed and being innovative. Kevin says it’s about—what’s that proverb about trying to eat the cow? The piranhas always win. Little bites. (Laughs.) I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good visual; I’m down for that.’
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Anna: (Tries a sip of my pear tea.) Oh wow, that’s really good. I love those juices. Do you remember that company Looza? They sell them in Puerto Rican bodegas. They have pear juice and apricot juice. I used to get them when we lived in Saudi Arabia.
Jenni: You lived in Saudi Arabia?
Anna: For a little while, in Riyadh, when I was 12 or 13. I lived there for a little over a year. It was amazing—probably one of the most influential things I ever did.
Jenni: How did you end up there?
Anna: My dad ended up working there for McDonnell Douglas. He was basically the doctor for the people who worked for the company. He’s an E.R. doctor, and he wanted to get out of E.R. for a little while and go live somewhere else. I have no idea how he picked Saudi Arabia, but the whole deal came with family vacations, so I went on a couple vacations with him before I moved over there—to Paris, and then several times to London, which was super-formative for me, cause that was when punk rock was going really steady, like mid to late-80s. I went to London a bunch. It was rad. I loved every minute of it.
Jenni: How old were you? You must have been going crazy!
Anna: Between eight and 13, we went there several times. I came home from the first time going over there and literally chopped my hair all crazy and started putting safety pins in my clothes. My mom was just like, ‘Oohh no. What happened?’
Jenni: And what was Saudi Arabia like?
Anna: Really magnificent. Their culture is so formed—who they are and how they live. It goes beyond religion, though obviously their religion is a tremendous part of who they are as a people. But from Bedouins to oil magnates, you have the biggest, craziest difference of scale and spectrum. You have these people who live with the desert and literally still wander from oasis to town to oasis and live in tents and stuff like that. And then you have oil magnates, princes and princesses—tons of royal family, and they all live in these crazy—almost like in Mexico—villas. All the houses have walls around them.
Jenni: And you lived in the desert in New Mexico, too. Didn’t you?
Anna: Yeah, I love the desert. I’m totally a desert-dwelling being. It’s my happy place. People really underestimate it. I guess you have to understand that the emptiness is never empty. It’s not about it being populated. There’s something really sacred about the vastness. It’s like the feeling of when something’s really quiet; it’s almost deafening. That’s how I feel about this space. To see absolutely nothing feels like the most amazingly full thing in the world to me. I’m not a water person, so I look at the ocean, and I’m like, ‘That’s a beautiful vista, but that’s off-limits to me.’ But when you look out over the desert, you’re like, ‘Anything is possible.’ It’s like Paris, Texas. I just want to start walking and be like, ‘Where is my life gonna end up?’ I still have fantasies of doing that, even now. I’m like, ‘How long would it take for them to catch me?’ (Laughs)
Jenni: I started thinking about that when we saw the Yard Dogs.
Anna: I like that culture. That’s another thing about the Southwest. The railroad was prominent there. I love seeing hobos and Santa Fe rails. I used to take the train when I was a kid—from where I lived in Durango through the mountains to Telluride. It is the most magical place in the world. And to think that people built those trestles! And you’re literally snaking through the Rocky Mountains; it’s sheer rock faces and giant 80-foot waterfalls! I literally thought the Tooth Fairy lived up there for most of my childhood. I was like, ‘I wonder where she keeps my teeth. Probably somewhere up here.’ (Laughs)
Jenni: I feel like Telluride’s the opposite of the desert. I feel so safe there, cause it’s a box canyon—it’s like you’re nestled in.
Anna: That’s the thing that’s so spectacular about northern New Mexico. They call it high desert, and basically you’re at an altitude much higher than some deserts—obviously, cause they’re at sea level—but you’re up in altitude, so you’re really warmed by the sun, but it gets really cold at night, and then you have this beautiful combination of tremendous peaks and mesas and gorges. Things are so affected by wind and water. It’s so profound—walking into a canyon and being like, ‘Oh my god, a rivulet of water did this. Wow.’ It just feels so humbling.
Jenni: What about cities?
Anna: Well, the sky part kinda bums me out—the Tetris-y shapes of sky that you get. I always forget about the moon and the sun and clouds. You just don’t look up very often, and that sort of bums me out. There’s a different sort of vitality and I like to be stimulated this way—all the different sound and sights and art and people and food and culture. That’s the really amazing thing about New York. It’s the capital of the world. It’s so divergent and, at the same time, all one thing. I love that about it. But yeah, it drives me crazy sometimes. It’s so fucking loud here!
Jenni: Is it sentimental when you make jewelry?
Anna: Some things, when I make them. I think that all objects that are handmade have the energy—there’s gotta be a non-hokey word for that. The grit, the sentiment, the feeling of that person goes into it, and that’s why I love objects, romantically, in general. But when you’re making something, it does become kind of like a voodoo object or a sacred object because you’ve put your energy into it. There’s times when I’ve cut myself or burned myself and I’m filing through my thumbnail and I’m like, ‘I’m not stopping ‘til I’ve finished this piece,’ and those are some of the most amazing moments. I think a pure act of creation is when you lose yourself in it and it doesn’t really matter. I did that a lot when I made fine art, but it’s definitely rare for jewelry. But I do, when I have those moments, really really enjoy it. Those are the times when you look at it and think someone will go, “Oooo, that one!”
Jenni: Do you still make fine art?
Anna: I haven’t done it at all lately. I’m definitely still a chronic arranger and collector of things, which is kind of how I made my art. It was just that I made all the objects and sort of created the relationships between the objects and tried to curate and tell a story. So, that part I still sort of do, making little vignettes in my apartment or my studio, or even on those little trays where I’m making jewelry. I’m like, ‘A little feather came down from the sky and then this little hand came down and swooped it up! And then we’ll have the little feather and the little hand together!’ It’s just sort of…a fetish. Like in Southwestern art or culture they use those fetishes.
Jenni: Like little Milagros.
Anna: Yeah. I’m definitely into the sacredness of objects. And the talismanic nature of objects—the storytelling.
Jenni: And what about this season? What were the stones sparkling under the window in the showroom?
Anna: Those are blue topaz and aquamarine. They’re gorgeous colors, right? We use a lot of semi-precious stones. Topaz comes in so many different colors, which I love. Green amethyst is that pale sort of mossy color, not even mossy; it’s like a fairy green. That’s kind of been our focus with the fine jewelry lately, keeping the collections classic and just varying the stone usage, or the materials—like mixing in copper or different tones of metal or stone colors. I think it makes for a much more cohesive brand view, and that’s what we’re really doing with the Anna Sheffield jewelry—it’s more about the overall thought process. And stylistically, my aesthetic is so pervasive that I can’t not make things that look a certain way. So, even though there are different collections and sub-collections, they’re all sort of tied together.
Jenni: What’s your favorite thing you’ve done lately?
Anna: I think that adding the turquoise was kind of a big thing for me, because having grown up in the Southwest, I kind of left there thinking all that stuff was so hokey. And when I went back last August for my birthday, I had a little moment where I was like, ‘I love these rainbow-dyed corn necklaces! And I fucking love these Moccasins! And I love Pendleton blankets!’ I had this moment of clarity about no longer hating all that stuff, cause I, usually, am just so turned off by it. And I don’t know if it’s cause the Native American/Southwestern thing is having a fashion moment right now. But I also felt like, for some reason, it was the first time I was kind of at peace with having grown up in that shit. So I came back and made all that jewelry and we’ve been continuing to find new ways to incorporate turquoise into the line.
Jenni: Do you have a favorite gemstone?
Anna: Mmmm…I’d have to say the Champagne Diamond. And I wouldn’t have ever thought that I would ever say that—especially if you would have asked me ten years ago. Or maybe even five! But yeah, they’re bee-autiful. There’s something so special about those stones. Diamonds are really amazing. You start to understand the more you look at them. Cause they’re the clearest, purest and most light refractive of all stones. So like, what you see in a quartz, like when you have that shit hanging in your window that makes rainbows, that happens when things are faceted and clear and have brilliance. It separates the light. But diamonds have—because of the way they’re made and all that, basically coming from the center of the earth and all that craziness and being compressed inside a lump of something black—a way of turning out perfectly clear, or perfectly brilliant. The champagne ones are so pretty because they have that sort of off-white. It’s kind of hard to describe as a color. They’re not really champagne cause they’re not yellow. They’re more of an almond or a beige-y color. (She takes a sip of her cream soda.)
Jenni: Cream soda.
Anna: Cream soda! Word. Cream soda diamonds. They’re totally not Champagne anymore, we’ve changed the name to Cream Soda. It’s totally true. Dream soda. Yeah, they still have the rainbow in them, but they’re not perfectly white. They’re like the more downplayed, punk-rock, sort of imperfect diamond.