Jewelry artist Jené DeSpain lives and works out of New York City, but her roots in the Pacific Northwest go deep. Next week, she returns to Portland to introduce her new line, Black Honey, with a possible appearance at the Up in the Air fashion and retail event, and a definite trunk show at Pin Me from 4-7 pm on Friday, July 9 (her work can also be found at Radish Underground). We took some time to ask Jene a few questions about her line as a whole, her relationship to Portland, and why Black Honey is worth getting excited about.
Can you give a brief explanation of your connection to Portland and what led you to New York?
Born in Portland, I am the middle daughter of three girls, and the third generation of my family to be raised in Portland, Oregon. Both of my parents are teachers, artists, and activists who raised me with a strong appreciation for all things creative and visually intriguing. Some of my earliest memories are of Sunday afternoons in the Rose Gardens, twilight strolls through the Pearl District's First Thursday exhibits, and listening to Portland Philharmonic Orchestra performances at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Throughout my upbringing, I was encouraged to be active in a variety of Portland's artistic youth outlets, such as music/dance, theater, and sculpture. At home, I was taught to draw, knit, sew, design, build, garden/cook, and to be all-around creative in everything I did. This artistic foundation led me to seek out the diverse, limitless environment of NYC as a young adult. With fashion photography as the base of my creative desires, I moved to the Lower East Side in 1997 to pursue my dreams of becoming the next Cindy Sherman. After working within the industry for a few years, photography allowed me to incorporate my love of clothing design into my work. It was styling and the art of sewing that eventually brought jewelry into my world.
A lot of designers in Portland struggle with whether they have to move to a bigger city to succeed. Can you give your perspective on that?
I believe I have the rhythm of NYC intrinsically pulsing through my veins. With the drive of NYC in my blood, even as a young child, I knew that New York was where I needed to be during the developmental stages of my adulthood. I talked about moving to NYC during the 1990s, when it was highly frowned upon, and any mention of my eastbound intentions to adults would induce concerned looks of confusion on their faces. Over the last eight to 10 years, I've seen a cultural shift in our society's opinion about urban living. It's more popular now to live in large cities. In fact, I would argue that it's become quite hip to dwell in America's metropolitan environments.
Simultaneously occurring with the increase in urban popularity, this last decade has seen a strong development in appreciation for individually made goods. I see my generation valuing handmade, sustainably created products at a level that was lost during the prior 40 years. We see the immediate benefit of purchasing from small boutiques and farmers' markets, and we are willing to spend a little bit more money to have a "one of a kind" item knowing that our extra money is supporting the family who owns the boutique and the artist who handcrafted our new item. With this newly fostered culture of buying local, I believe the pressure to move away from our hometowns to bigger cities is diminishing. There will always be certain cities that have larger communities centered around fashion, music, literature, and other artistic industries, but this doesn't detract from the incredible talent and the local support of that talent blooming all across America. Growing up in Portland gives me a first hand perspective of the city, but I think it can be nationally agreed upon that Portland is and always has been a strongly art-focused city with a rich population of diverse artists from all mediums. As I get older, I myself dream of a time I can return to the Rose City and continue my success as a nationally recognized jewelry designer while deepening my involvement in Portland's immediate art scene.
You've intimated that you still keep in active contact with people in Portland's design community, can you explain how that plays out?
Of the many beloved elements of my work as a jewelry designer, an ultimate favorite of mine are the relationships I build with other creative people. There are so many wonderful, beautiful people in Portland that came into my life through my jewelry that I am so lucky to have in my community. Sally Schwartz, the owner of Pin Me Apparel, is an amazing friend and has carried Jené DeSpain jewelry at her stunning boutique for years. Through Sally I met clothing designer Alyson Clair at a trunk show we co-hosted in 2008. We have stayed close since then, designing work for one another. Alyson created a gorgeous dress for me to wear at an event I recently attended, and I had the pleasure of my jewelry collection, The Roaring 10's, chosen to be the exclusive accessories for her models in her current lookbook. Alyson introduced me to Janeane Marie, whose clothes are a constant source of inspiration to me, as well as some of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe. Janeane wore Jené DeSpain jewelry while she was on the latest season of Project Runway. Other amazing Portland designers that I have had the joy of working with for many years are Kate Towers and Holly Stalder. Like Alyson and Janeane, Kate and Holly have been active founders of independent design in Portland's ever-growing, popular fashion scene. These women bring me inspiration, support, and friendship as we evolve each year with new ideas to discuss and new pieces to wear.
Jewelry also brought Portland's infamous band Horse Feathers into my life, and although they aren't members of Portland's fashion scene, their music is very much a part of my artistic experience. A few years ago, I had the honor of designing a custom necklace for Heather Broderick, an original member of this incredible band. She needed some pieces to wear during their first international tour, and sought out my jewelry to complete her look. Since meeting her and first discovering their beautiful music, Horse Feathers has become a constant creative outlet in my world, from listening to their songs while sitting at my jewelry bench to the multiple live shows I have enjoyed.
Tell me about the new collection.
My new jewelry collection for Fall 2010 is a rare balance of novelty and everyday wearability. Confident, versatile, and defying traditional forms, this collection brings bold edge and classic style together to create jewelry that every woman will want for her own. Its raw shapes and feminine touches stand out in contrast to jewelry's current limited trends. Shiny, dark gunmetal combined with bright 14k gold visually pop to create a striking response. Hand cut strands of leather wrap around raw brass rods to achieve an entirely fresh take on popular mixed-metal styles. It is for women who embrace rebellious sexiness and demand jewelry that captures individual expression as well as provocative elegance.
The launch of this fall 2010 jewelry line will be celebrated in specifically chosen cities across the country. I will be hosting events in Portland and Seattle to personally initiate this new collection's national debut with my beloved Pacific Northwest clientele that has been wonderfully supportive of my work over the years. After these launch parties, the collection will become available nationwide in August. It's incredibly special for me to personally bring this brand new collection of jewelry to the women of Portland. Giving the fashionable ladies of my hometown a first look at my latest work is a great kick-start to this amazing jewelry celebration.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!