We often spot unusual pieces from Brooklyn-based jewelry brand, AESA, on the shelves of our favorite downtown boutiques. They're not easy to miss: quirky in design but pure luxury in execution, designer Randi Mates, who, we discovered, had trained in Greek and Roman metalworking techniques before launching her own business, incorporates everything from shiny red rubies to diamonds and silver in her peculiar creations, which often take on a sculptural, salvaged-artifact effect. Now approaching five years in the business, we caught up with Randi to gain a little more insight into what attracted her to jewelry in the first place, and how she keeps coming up with concepts for her hypnotically gorgeous necklaces.
Thread NY: What first brought you to jewelry? Do you come from a design background?
Randi Mates: I was working as a historian of design when I went to the Jewelry Arts Institute, a school that teaches only Greek and Roman metalworking techniques, to learn about ancient metallurgy for an academic project. I was intrigued with what I saw, began taking classes and became entranced, literally, by the molten metals, which are pure magic! This was in late 2006 and within a year I was focusing on jewelry making in earnest.
The brand has a distinct luxury look, often featuring a single statement stone or motif. Tell us about the process of selecting materials for the collection.
I like to mix materials liberally, caring more about the overall effect than some notion of a hierarchy of value or worth in materials. The interplay of all of the elements brings it own value, making each piece like a small sculpture or piece of art for the body. We use gold with silver and rough stones; brass with diamonds and rubies and pearls. The mixing of materials creates a feeling of warmth, texture and surprise which resonates with me and, in my estimation, creates a sense of sensuality, luxury and mystery in each piece. That said, I source all the materials personally, choosing each stone by hand, determining the cut of the rough stone with the stone cutters to highlight what I think is the most interesting or beautiful part of the raw material.
Are there any other jewelers or designers whose work you particularly admire?
I constantly wear Electric Feathers and A Detacher, two local NY designers. Each of these designers create both an ease and sophistication in each piece that is interesting and subtle. And you always feel beautiful, comfortable and chic when wearing their clothes.
Who do you see wearing Aesa jewelry?
Any one who wants something unique, that is not going to seen on every other person walking down the street! The pieces are simple and strong while being very distinct, so someone who is confident and can appreciate subtlety and nuance. Women who love fashion but are not only following trends! I am attracted to jewelry that feels like it is a reflection of something deeper and thus can be worn outside of the trends of fashion, that can be worn for a long time, not simply a season.
We have a lot of women in the arts, musicians, artists, gallery directors, curators, fashion designers, etc, who seek out our pieces, which is flattering because they are in the business of looking at art and design all day long; if they are drawn to the pieces, it feels like the best vote of confidence! And Nikki Minaj!
Where do you look for inspiration before starting a new jewelry collection?
Inspiration can come from anywhere. I do begin a collection with a certain idea or inspirational framework but I allow myself to 'follow my nose' as it were, never knowing where I will end up. There is no accounting for true moments of inspiration. The unexpected, which is born through making itself, is for me where the magic of a piece happens.
What's next for Randi Mates?
This spring I am working on a number of larger scale objects for Totokaelo, one of our favorite boutiques that we work with. They are expanding into art and objects later this summer and we are making a few special pieces for them. Oh, and we are doing beautiful hairpieces!