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Walking into Chris Habana's studio-slash-apartment, you'll notice a few things—it's small ("studio" not only refers to his place of work, but also the apartment layout), though evidence of a life well-lived is everywhere. There's the white wall covered in permanent-markered messages from visitors past; there's a particularly magnificent armchair he rescued by reupholstering it with fabric from African artisans and Oscar de la Renta; and there's the collection of obscure art books so heavy and numerous that they nearly topple the shelves they sit on. Mostly, though, you'll notice the giant portrait of a naked and shockingly well-endowed Jesus, hanging right next to an embroidered depiction of the Talmud he found on the street.
Chris Habana, a fashion degree dropout who started his own jewelry line in 2008, is just as subversive as his apartment would suggest. "For the most part, my aesthetic is goth and punk iconography, translated into a minimalist statement," he says. Inspired by the medieval religious motifs he discovered as a Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing Catholic school student in the Philippines, Habana's pieces have garnered the attention of everyone from Prabal Gurung and Asos to FKA twigs, who's named Chris has her go-to jewelry dresser. (He, in turn, calls her "the modern-day Sade.")
We spent an afternoon at Chris' Alphabet City apartment, where he talked to us about finding success after dropping out of college, designing custom pieces for RuPaul's Drag Race, and the danger of holding in-apartment sample sales (hint: it involves a runaway who took advantage of his bathroom for maybe-shady activities).
"When I moved first into this apartment, I would have sales here—I still do—but I'd have people coming in and out of my apartment, since my apartment and my studio are one. I had to make a decision on whether or not I was going to be ashamed of my living space or to show it off, and eventually I decided that both just had to exist at the same time, and I'd just deal with it."
"I guess I've always been designing. When I was five or six, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with my brother a lot, and I would design the kind of armor that the characters would wear in my head. The fantastical imagery has stuck with me in all my work-my new campaign reflects more of a medieval look."
"We've been doing brass jewelry for a while now, and as of last year, I decided I kind of wanted to elevate that a little bit. This is our sterling silver collection. I see it as bits and pieces of old collections being combined into one—there's still that punk and goth iconography with the spikes, but it's all done in a super refined way. I wanted to make sure it was really forward and futuristic. Opening Ceremony just bought a lot of the nose cuffs, so I feel like the line is going to go more and more in that direction."
Pieces from the CHRISHABANA Silver collection, prices available upon request
The Tremor Ring, $350; The Beast Ring, $325
"My aesthetic has been changing, but for the most part it's gothic and punk iconography, translated into a minimalist statement. I've been getting into more tribal stuff, but I think what I gravitate towards is the aggression of all these things, the subversive element."
The Blink Ring, $140
"This is the jewelry line that we collaborated with Zana Bayne on for her Moonbathers collection. She's a really great leather and harness maker. She asked us to create some hardware for her collection. The hands actually become a handle for a bag, or used to connect corsets and straps. The leather stars connect to each other. The moons are center points in her corsets and harnesses."
CHRISHABANA for Zana Bayne Moonbathers collaboration, Crescent Moon ear cuff, $190; Crescent Moon Pave ear cuff, $215
"We also created a jewelry line to enhance the runway show that she did, so we came up with six-pointed stars."
CHRISHABANA for Zana Bayne Moonbathers collaboration, prices available upon request
Tusk ring and Horn Knuckleduster, prices available upon request
"I'm an avid believer in sketching my designs first. I was asked to teach a class for about a week in Copenhagen on jewelry design. The funny thing was, I started teaching the class and I was telling the kids, 'The first thing I want you to do is to sketch what you want your pieces to look like.' And they were like, 'What do you mean? How do I do that? I usually work off of seeing the material and playing with it!' I was trying to explain to them that whenever you do that, you're not really letting your mind go as much as you can. If you just fuck with the pencil, you have to try and figure out a way to create a more compelling design. Afterwards, you can figure out how to make it happen."
Tribal Spike neck cuff, $1,880
"This is from a collection I'd done in collaboration with LaGanja Estranga, one of the drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race. Unfortunately, she wasn't the most favored queen out of the bunch, but when they approached me, the show hadn't aired yet, and all they said was that she was a weed-themed drag queen, so of course I jumped on it. She did a lot of death drops—which, I don't know if you're familiar, but it's a dance move that a lot of Voguers do where you just bend back and your body literally collapses onto the floor, so that it looks like you just broke your leg. It's really an awesome move. Anyway, I thought for her I'd try to do a death drop ring, but when you see it, it's actually a lady dropping on her fingers."
The Death Drop Ring, price available upon request
"So many people have come in and out of my apartment that one of my good friends who shoots my campaigns said, 'Your place is like the subway, you might as well just graffiti on it.' So he actually planted the first signature, and he did something that was like, a foot long, and I just said, 'Fuck it. I guess I'll just have to let this keep going.' It's probably been going since about 2009."
"For the most part, these tears on this wall are elements of subculture and youth of some sort. Lately though, I've been getting into a Nepalese thing—I'm not sure if it's because of all the work I've done with Prabal Gurung, who is Nepalese, but I'm so fascinated by it."
"These are part of my diffusion line, My Enemy. We sell it to Asos, Urban Outfitters, and Karmaloop, so it's a bit more mass. It takes those same elements of aggressiveness and subversion and does slightly more literal translations. Though I feel like it's been looking a lot more feminine these days. We have septum cuffs in there as well, but it's almost like we would take certain things like wedding rings and engagement rings and turn them into ear cuffs or septum cuffs."
Clockwise: Cross Your Legs nose cuff, $70; Engagement single earring, $55; The Craving stud earrings, $15; The Louis stud earrings, $85
"A lot of the My Enemy line is collage. I stumbled upon a company that had these existing waxes from 1969. Prior to that, everyone around me was talking about 'so-and-so copied me there'—the whole industry is full of people either copying or talking about getting copied. I wanted to make a commentary on it, so when I found this company, I was like, 'This is amazing.' I got all their waxes, then started melting them together, changing them, bending them, and like, taking engagement ring and turning them into a septum cuffs, or taking a razor blade charm and bending it into a ring. This is about six charms that I melted into one, then cast the whole thing."
The Pillage Necklace, $140
"This one was a finger rosary that became a septum cuff. Again, I'm playing with the idea of religion. I think my fascination with religion comes from a lot of things. My parents didn't always like me playing Dungeons and Dragons so much, because I grew up heavily in Catholicism. I went to Catholic school in the Philippines for years, and I think between the Dungeons and Dragons and religion, what really stuck out for me was not necessarily the beliefs, but the imagery and the icons. A cross, by nature, is really beautiful as a graphic piece. I tend to look at it more as an icon and not something that you have to revere. At this point, it's all up for grabs. I play with everything."
Clockwise: Nicopanda nose cuff, price available upon request; The Binding Pearl nose cuff, $45; The Oracle ring, $95; The Binding Diamond nose cuff, $45; For Chrissake nose cuff, $50
"These are part of my Strange Fruit collection, one that I had done with Swarovski Elements, using their crystals."
Rings from the Strange Fruit collection, prices available upon request
Shape Shift bangle, $990
"The penis with all the rhinestones was actually a job that we'd done for a friend of mine, who has a line called BCALLA. We made it for one of his runway presentations."
Penis Pearl necklace, price available upon request
"I'm a dropout, so when I started out I didn't really know how to make anything. I would just collage existing elements—vintage jewelry, cake toys, little plastic pieces, and models of weapons, and then I'd make that into jewelry."
The Tusk necklace, price available upon request
"A lot of our septum cuffs have been popular as of late. VFiles was the first to carry them, and now other people have been catching on. I design things that don't have to be limited to the ring finger or the bottom lobe of your ear—jewelry that can go anywhere on the body. That's what I'm most interested in—trying to adorn parts of the body outside of the traditional ones."
The Extended Spear nose cuff, price available upon request
"We've been dressing FKA Twigs for a couple of years now, since before she got big. I saw her "Water Me" video and emailed her immediately and was like, 'Anytime you want anything, or if you ever go on tour, let me know.' Since then, we've been dressing her. We got a pull from Vogue that we didn't even know about, and then all of a sudden the issue comes out and it's Twigs wearing it. She had requested us specifically. I love her music, I love her look. I think she's like a modern-day Sade."
The Louis Septum Ring, $45
The Tremor Ring, $350; The Beast Ring, $325
"I designed that ceiling fixture for one of my visual display gigs. They wanted a 'business-looking window,' so I started thinking about what you do in an office, and I thought about twisting paper clips, so I designed chandeliers out of that shape. The idea never made it to the stores, but this was the only piece that they had prototyped in pure brass, so I was like, 'I'm taking that home!'"
"I'm a pretty regular weed smoker, so at around 6pm during one of my sales, I was like, 'Okay, let's start smoking.' Then, this mother and daughter come in, who are definitely not a part of the crowd that usually come to my sales. They'd heard about it through Daily Candy, and they had all this luggage with them. They'd just gotten off the plane. They were tourists! I was like, 'This is your first New York stop? Wanna smoke?'"
The Floral Spike Cuff, $340
"The sketchiest that an apartment sale has ever gotten was this one guy that came in about a minute before the sale was ending, who maybe looked like he could be a runaway or something. He ended up going into my bathroom for 20 or 30 minutes while we were all out here. He eventually came out, and we talked for a little bit. He even smoked with us. But after he came out I was going through the bathroom to make sure everything was still there. Thankfully, everything was."
"Everything in this apartment has been either found through my travels or given to me—very minimally bought. I feel kind of lucky that way. The rug is from Istanbul, the bag in the corner is from Morocco, and the couch is made from German grain stacks, though I found it in Hudson, New York."
"All the paintings and photographs are just stuff I've collected. I love John Derian's work—he does all the plates—and some of these black-and-white photographs I found on the street. The good thing about living in my neighborhood is when people throw stuff out, it's worth looking at. The Jesus and Mary is from a friend of mind in L.A.—he goes by Jesus Silverlake. And then you combine the Jewish needlepoint, and I think there might be a page from the Qu'ran somewhere."
"What's been picking up a lot with us is people ordering things specifically for them-wanting our aesthetic, but tailored to them. When I first started, I did what everyone else does and I designed by the season. I'd come up with 50-piece collections every season, twice a year. When you're doing clothing, that's fine, but then I was like, 'fuck that.' A lot of jewelers make three or four things a year, if anything. So I decided to slow things down and not do the seasons anymore. These days I design little by little, and then I filter them into a collection."