Thursday, December 5, 2013

INTERVIEW: I Chat with Kristen Dorsey About Her Unique Chickasaw-Inspired Jewelry Collection!

(Kristen's jewelry was displayed beautifully.)

(Guests included Peter Drivas, Founder and President of and Marc Littlejohn, fashion photographer, stylist, and fashion designer,

(Cocktails and conversations amongst Kristen's inspiring collection!)

I was introduced to Kristen Dorsey Designs last April, when I had the opportunity to wear a pair of her beautiful earrings on the red carpet at a Project Ethos event. Her delicately crafted "Turtle Song Earrings" were so amazing that I, naturally, kept in touch with Kristen. I definitely wanted to stay up to date with the happenings and developments of her collection. So, the minute I got her personal invite to an intimate showcase in her downtown LA live/work loft, my RSVP was an immediate...YES. 

During the gathering, I was able to view and touch several one-of-a-kind pieces, spend time watching Kristen explain the tools that exist in her workspace, meet some great people, take photos of her artistic collection, and chit-chat in a one-on-one interview with the jewelry designer. Hope you enjoy our conversation as I much as I did! 

(A proud jewelry designer giving us the ins on her processes!)

(A glimpse into Kristen's world...)

(Tools galore!)

So, Kristen, tell me about the collection you have on display here...

My goal is to do one collection per year. And the collections kind of build on each other, so I started with “Earth, Sky, Water” collection, and there are different designs that embody each of those elements. That was my first collection. So for my second collection, it’s called the “Shokmalli” collection, which means, “Lightening.” This represents the Sky.  And some of my pieces from the first collection, I use that as inspiration and build off of it. So then each piece in this whole collection [Shokmalli] has a different aspect of different Sky beings from the Chickasaw culture.

And then the collection after this one is going to be about the Water. And then the one after that will be about the Earth...

(An eye-catching statement piece!)
Do you find yourself getting inspired, thinking ahead and wanting to design for, say, the Water or the Earth collection? 

Sometimes…I have a limited window of time to design a prototype of everything, so I try to stay focused. But sometimes the best designs happen when I’m just being creative…Playing around with the materials. Like, I’ll just want to make a pair of earrings ‘cause I think they’ll be cool and fun to wear like these [Kristen then points to the unique earrings she’s wearing, which she light-heartedly refers to as “antlers.”]

What is it about the Chickasaw culture that inspires you?

It’s a Native American tribe that’s originally from the southeast of the United States…And I’m Chickasaw. When I went to school, all of my studies focused on Native American Studies…history, cultural preservation, race and identity. Then I focused on my own tribe and my own family’s history, and then looked specifically at our jewelry-making practices and how those have changed or how they’ve stayed the same over time...and the various themes that we use and the materials that we use, and how jewelry and adornment can be a form of cultural expression and cultural preservation and revitalization. Because it’s a visual language.

Is designing something you’ve always wanted to do?

Yes. I knew my whole life…I was always an artist. I was always making things. Painting, drawing…from when I was tiny. My mom said it was amazing, that I would just sit and draw.

(Another statement piece to be worn proudly!)
So this is no surprise to your family that you are a jewelry designer!

[giggle] No, not at all. And then in high school, I thought I wanted to be a fashion designer. And I actually produced a few fashion shows for charity with my high school, and got my friends to model and made all the clothes. Then I went to an art school in Boston, and I took a beginner jewelry design class. It was my first time working with metal and worked with sautering, and it was a whole new world. It was so challenging at first, and so frustrating. But nothing had ever challenged me that much before, because everything always came so natural to me. And then as I learned more, the more I realized what I could do with it and the possibilities were just endless. And I got totally hooked! It was exciting. I mean, I could wear it after it was done, and I was so proud that I made it. Learning metal-working was a huge challenge…

How long did it take you to feel like you mastered it? Like “OK, I got this.”

I don’t think you ever master it. I think you’re always learning, especially with metal work. There’s always something, some skill that I can improve on…And I’m always getting better with every piece I make. 
(Some of my favorites. Ready to wear!)

I can understand that. Like as I writer, I never felt like I mastered an article. So when did you think, at least, “OK, I can do this”…?

I feel like now I’m a pro, and I do know that I’m good at what I do. I have a start-to-finish perspective on the pieces, and I know the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into them. And I’m proud of the pieces. But I’m also a perfectionist…I won’t show a piece I’m not happy with. Or, I’ll sell it really cheap to somebody. [giggles] I have a high standard of perfection. 

That’s great – You keep raising the bar on yourself! What are you goals with the Lightning collection?

I’d really love to get into more boutiques, grow the company, and expand my name – the awareness of my name. It’s [Kristen Dorsey Designs] me and my production manager, and we outsource different things to certain people. This includes stone setting and casting.

Who do you design for? Is there any ideal type of client?

I actually design things that I want to wear! [giggle] But I think someone who is strong and powerful, and at the same time, embraces her femininity and her unique beauty…And just who loves jewelry. Someone who loves statement pieces, someone who doesn’t shy away from anything.

Connect with Kristen Dorsey Designs:

Photo Credits: Moi! Please credit my Good Girl Gone Shopping if you use them.

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