anna santangelo takes travel memories and turns them into jewellery
Years of making jewellery for friends eventually lead to designing pieces for Preen's SS19 runway and a new path as a jewellery maker.
Left by Halle Chapman-Tayler, Right by Danielle Alprin
This year's New York Fashion Week was all about the new. With a few big name designers opting to show in Paris instead, the week was best spent focusing on the next generation. Australian-American stylist Anna Santangelo was one of those new talents — except it wasn't for her well-established styling work as you’d expect, but a new jewellery making venture.
Anna moved to New York over three years ago and hasn’t looked back. She's worked as a stylist and creative director across titles like Museum Magazine and brands such as Helmut Lang. Over the last two years she's been working with international stylist and director Celestine Cooney who Anna now notes as a "mentor and legendary mate". It was Celestine's role as stylist for Preen's SS19 show that lead to Anna's jewellery scoring a lucrative runway debut. Now, with the craziness of NYFW a few weeks behind her, we spoke to Anna to reflect on the show, her jewellery designs and her changing relationship with the fashion industry.
How did you meet Celestine Cooney? And how did that lead to the Preen show?
I met Celestine after saying no to a big opportunity with another stylist. I've worked with her over the last two years in NY and Europe and in that time she's become more than just someone I work for but also a mentor and legendary mate. I had been making jewellery for friends casually over the last couple of years and I ended up making Celestine some for her birthday. I got a message from her not long after that asking if I'd be keen to make some for the Preen show. Essentially I got thrown in the deep end, and was like, "OK, let's do it!"
Can you explain a little the inspiration behind your designs?
I think a lot of the inspiration comes is an evolution of things I was already naturally drawn to. I have always been a collector of things from wherever I am living or traveling. Currently it's been a lot of natural elements like shells and baroque pearls, charms and pendants from travels.
What was the design process in creating each individual piece?
The process felt really spontaneous and natural. I was on holiday in Europe when I made the pieces and at times, things felt a little makeshift — smashing crimps with my teeth and cutting fishing line with a kitchen knife in Portugal — until I could replace the tools airport security had confiscated from me. I made necklaces, earrings, anklets with very few pieces alike. I made pieces as I felt that day. There's something that felt really special to me about making the jewellery over a month-long journey through different countries. I like that the jewellery feels real and personal like it could be a found relic from this trip away.
Did your interest in designing develop over the years you were styling? Or was that desire always there?
I don't think I ever set out on designing but I think I've always been interested in the creative process. Working as a stylist is bringing different elements together; customising, altering etc. Designing seems to just be an extension of this.
How do you feel about your jewellery designs post-NYFW?
Making jewellery for the show was a really beautiful and spontaneous opportunity. The positivity and good feedback I've had post-show makes me feel that making jewellery is right for me at the moment. I'm gonna roll with that feeling and see where it takes me.
The pull of overseas opportunities for Australian creatives is well documented. Have you had moments in the US that made your move feel like the right choice?
Making jewellery for the Preen show has definitely been a highlight. But it's sometimes the work experiences that didn't happen that made the move feel right. I said no to some big opportunities (like full-time positions with big stylists, certain publications etc) early on which led to other opportunities like making jewellery for Preen. I feel really happy about how things are revealing themselves.
Has living and working in NYC made you feel differently about the fashion industry?
Even though my environment has changed and I've been in the industry longer, my thoughts on the industry have remained relatively constant. I've always considered myself an outsider to the fashion industry. I didn't study fashion and I began in the industry with small expectations, if any. My first shoot was in the back of Warriewood with a friend, my sister and a bunch of my own clothes.
Fashion has never been the be-all and end-all for me, like it can sometimes feel in NYC. For me, I try to put my energy into a lot of other places. Right now it's making jewellery, learning how to build sustainable homes, listening to podcasts about urban farming, hosting elaborate home-cooked dinners with friends and starting a furniture and found-objects business. I am actively a part of the fashion industry and care immensely about the work that I create but I like to remind myself where fashion sits in relation to other things. I'm not saving lives or curing any disease with what I do. I think it's important to maintain this lightness and perspective especially in this city.
With that perspective, what do you think is the most important of your goals?
Working with those that you love and respect, finding the truth in what you do, feeling good and honest about it. And also not forgetting to have heaps of laughs along the way.