Collette Ishiyama, Stingray Skin Jewelry Designer, Talks Shop

Alex Chapman

You may not have heard of her yet, but the blog buzz surrounding New York-based jewelry designer Collette Ishiyama is, well, buzzing. With a unique style inspired by "Egyptian burial jewels and samurai warriors," Ishiyama's  certainly proving her hand-made pieces -- which combine off-beat materials like durable stingray skin (!) with brass alloys -- are wonderfully different. We sat down with the designer to talk style, influence, bunnies and the like.

When did you arrive in New York?
I moved to New York in 2005 to study painting at Pratt.  I took a break from painting and began assisting a jewelry designer, and discovered that I really love working with metal. I also love the idea of adornment and the transformation that occurs when you're getting ready. Those things made jewelry a natural fit.

What's the first thing you ever made?
That's a tough one... I have a distinct memory of making a seashell bracelet at the beach with my dad, but there's probably primitive drawings of bunnies that predate the bracelet. I was really into bunnies.

Tell me a little about your design process. Where do you find inspiration?

I draw a lot. When I find  an idea I want to develop, I perfect the drawing and then carve it in wax, which is time consuming but really fun. think milling machines are conceptually amazing, but there's something so gratifying about making things completely from scratch.  I'm pretty low-tech. I'm inspired by all things deco and I spend a lot of time staring at the Chrysler Building in awe. I also love Egon Schiele, Marcel Dzama, Giorgio Di Chirico, and Jeff Koons.

Who do you visualize wearing your jewelry?
I like people who have 'uniforms'-- like they've decided what works for them and they just wear variations of that look every day.  I had a really amazing landlord when I lived on the LES who wore the same hard-hat, work boots, and carried the same briefcase everyday and they were all spray-painted gold.  I would be really flattered if he incorporated  a piece of my jewelry into his look. Celebrity wise, I'd be so excited to see Karen O, Kim Deal or Lou Doillon wearing my pieces. They all have such great style. Their looks are cultivated, but without any pretense.  There's always an element of playfulness. A friend of mine was next to Chloe Sevigny at a bar and randomly gave my necklace to her as a gift. Apparently she liked it, so that's pretty cool!

What aesthetic are you most drawn to?
My mom was an antique dealer, so I grew up around vintage things.  I think that shows up in a lot in the things I make. I like things with a cartoonish type of glamor. I like to cook in high heels.  I think the jewelry has some of that contrast, because while some of the shapes are very feminine, I use stingray skin, which is a tough material. Samurais used to use it on the hilts of their swords.

What's your favorite thing to wear?
I wear the Emerald City necklace from my collection almost  everyday.  I also wear a leopard ring that I got in Bangkok for about three dolllars pretty often.  It looks a lot like the Cartier one, but theirs probably doesn't turn your finger green.

Her jewelry is available at A Man and A Woman, 14 Christopher St.

Photo by Acacia Falzone

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