I make necklaces from vintage pieces I find in flea markets all over the world because I love materials that are entirely unique. My obsession with vintage started years ago when I spent hours sitting at my mom’s vanity, trying on star-shaped rhinestone Yves Saint Laurent earrings the size of my 9 year-old hand, and piling on 1960s gold leopard broaches and armfuls of 1930s ivory and enamel bangles.
Now, wherever I am, my absolute favorite thing to do is wake up early, get a coffee, find a flea market and discover something I can’t find anywhere else. It makes me feel as if anything is possible.
One of the most amazing flea markets is Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, just outside of the 18th arrondissement in Paris. I always feel as if I’m in a dream city among the sprawling rows of vintage Jean-Luc Godard film posters, Serge Gainsbourg vinyls (playing on antique phonographs) and grainy black and white photos of really cool French girls that make me feel less cool for not knowing their names. Then I turn down another alley and there’s a tiny shop with a glittering web of chandeliers, a lost corner of Versaille, all gilded chairs and ornate clocks. Under some wisteria, a woman embroiders ancient linens by hand.
This is why it’s always a good idea to wear sneakers – there is so much to explore.
For some reason these places are always hidden and seemingly only found when I’m ready to put on my comfy hotel robe and take a nap. I’ll pass by a little street that I missed before, that I’m sure to never find again, and on it is a window full of 1960s printed caftans and sleek crocodile bags a la Grace Kelly and sometimes, even one of these crowns:
I immediately forget about the nap. As always, it’s hushed inside (I wonder how I could possibly be the only person to discover this place) and almost always, the proprietor and I start talking about vintage fashion. Even though we share about ten words, our French-English clutter doesn’t inhibit our ‘oh my gods’ over a 1940s Dior wedding gown that she makes me try on.
She asks if I would like a Moroccan mint tea and then a man appears with cups and, somehow, I’m even more worlds away than before. I start looking through a museum’s-worth of color and texture and sparkly bits when I see it… an array of antique cameos, a vibrant broach, a perfectly distressed antique chain…a treasure that just makes my heart stop. And that is how a new necklace begins.
When I leave, I’m smiling because what is more exciting than beginning a new design? Now, the only thing left to do is visit the cheese man.
I travel home with my newfound necklace parts, put it in my jewelry box, and then it’s time to find more materials for this new necklace. Sometimes the search takes a day, sometimes it takes months (I have a brilliant turquoise and gold Egyptian pendant still waiting for that something special). I always seem to find pieces when I’m not looking for them: I’ll be in Florence rummaging through piles of antique silk in search of fabric for the pouches I make for my necklaces, or chatting with a pearl collector at a market in Chelsea, looking for something else entirely, when a strangely shaped iridescent stone or some very 80s neon yellow bead will catch my eye, and I’ll think “wait, that will look amazing with (insert object here).”
Sourcing it not just a matter of crossing items off a list. I’ve learned that sourcing is an unpredictable journey and that this uncertainty is actually the best part. I never know how or where I’m going to find a certain piece, or even what that piece will be. I always make discoveries when I’m least expecting it, when I’m ready to give up and desperately need that spark of inspiration. Last year, my flight back from London was cancelled due to a snowstorm and on that extra day, I found an entire box of gold tassels from the 1970s.
A few months ago, I was in Providence visiting a jewelry museum, and the curator mentioned that the building next door was an abandoned ring workshop from the 1920s, and would I like to explore? It was the most exciting question anyone has ever asked me. The next few hours were heaven as I looked through boxes of intricate silver dies, and then I opened up a carefully folded piece of tissue-thin paper, complete with a hand-drawn design from 1927…
and found these…
Austrian glass stones that had been crafted nearly 100 years ago and hadn’t been touched since. I took all of these home because when you find something truly unbelievable, don’t be practical. If you don’t have a use for it now, you will soon.
But my new necklace, the Iris, named after the wonderful Iris Apfel, was still missing something.
A few weeks later, I was in the Garment District after a horrible week, feeling as if my line was about a hundred years away from complete. Just as I was walking to the subway, daydreaming of home and food, the heavy July heat gave way to a heavy July downpour. I was without an umbrella and ducked under the closest scaffolding. I looked into the window of the store behind me – it was full of Indian beads and bright gemstones, the same as so many other places I’d searched for with no luck. But it kept raining, so I went inside.
There are rows and rows of jade, lapis, all hues of agate, and then I saw the most incredible deep orange stone, tinted with turquoise. I forgot about my stressful day and my worries about actually constructing this intricate necklace, because this stone was it. It was the one (this sounds cheesy, I know, but this idiom is so applicable to sourcing). If you’re not in love with a material, don’t settle. Be patient – it’s always so worth the wait.
I don’t believe there is a formula to perfect the sourcing process, except for this: be an explorer.
If you keep your eyes open, whether you’re looking for vintage beads or brand new textiles or exotic leather, you will see that what’s out there in the world is far more magical than anything you could have ever envisioned in your head. Go to unexpected places, not just the typical suppliers for your niche, and be willing to update your design when you find something truly spectacular. Gorgeous materials can make your product.
And always be on the lookout, even when you’re not working.