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Welcome to Open Studio, a Racked feature where we explore the workspaces and showrooms of some of the city's most talented designers.
Leather jewelry usually comes in one of three forms: studded cuff, boho wrap bracelet, or bolo tie. But put some stingray leather into the hands of jewelry designer Collette Ishiyama and she'll turn it into an Art-Deco-inspired pendant, or a pair of angular, brass-trimmed earrings.
Ishiyama, who started her line back in 2011 after dropping out of Pratt's painting program, first spotted her signature material on a pair of cowboy boots and fell in love with its "otherworldly" look. "There's some duality in the way the stingray reads—some people think it looks like gems, while others see it as a leather," the designer told Racked on a recent visit to her Chelsea studio, adding, "Samurais also used it in their armor and on the hilts of their swords."
Samurai weaponry is a recurring theme in Ishiyama's work ("It's so beautiful and villainous."), as is Art Deco architecture—but both influences are filtered through her minimalist lens. "I value blankness and like things to have a more graphic, cartoonish quality," she says. See her latest creations—and shop them at 25% off on her site with the code RACKED25 (valid through midnight on Saturday, April 25th)—this way.
"This is my best seller, the Emerald City necklace," Collette says. "I have fond memories of making this. I was just getting in to wax carving, and I visited my best friend in LA who was also learning, and we just hung out at her apartment in Echo Park for a week and drinking too much coffee and making things."
Emerald City necklace, $200
Collette Ishiyama strikes a pose in her NYC studio. "It was a photography studio in the '70s," she says of the space. "So it's super open, which is nice."
"Here I'm sawing the sprue off of a casting," the designer says. "All of my jewelry is made in NYC; the castings are done in the diamond district. The casting process, called lost wax casting or investment casting, was used in ancient Egypt and is essentially unchanged. Each metal casting starts as a wax. The wax has a little stem attached (the sprue), and its submerged in a plaster-like mixture with the sprue sticking out. This goes into a kiln where the plaster hardens and the wax melts out. Now you have a cavity in the shape of the wax that metal gets poured into, making your casting. And then you cut the sprue off and polish it to make the finished piece. It's insanely labor intensive."
"The latest collection was my first to use stones and pearls, which was a nice change. I'm obsessed with labradorite. It has this lovely murky water look to it, and each stone is different."
"The wall of kabutos that lives over my bench. I think its important to keep beautiful things around to (hopefully) seep in to your work. Like when Garfield ties a book to his head and takes a nap."
"There's one end of my customers that likes the references to Art Deco, while others are drawn to the toughness of the stingray and the sharpness of a lot of the designs."
Right Tray: Falcon collar, $350
The jeweler organizes her materials in seashells. As one does.
"This is the Ponyo Ring, named and modeled after my cat. It's my take on the cat ring that was popular in Egyptian jewelry."
Ponyo ring, $145
A selection of Collette Ishiyama's earrings.
The designer's "Falcon" and "Owl" necklaces, laid out on a piece of stingray leather.
"This is a painting of Ponyo that I made during hurricane Sandy," Ishiyama says. "I was living in the East Village, and we lost power, so most of it was done by candle light, with my roommate making fun of me for my priorities during a state of emergency. I used to paint more—it's calming if you're just doing something fun like this."
"This is the Labradorite Owl Ring. The shape is from my first collection, and is also my logo."
Labradorite Owl ring, $165