meet the women printing 3-d jewelry for fka twigs and bernie sanders

Blending fantasy and hacking culture, hip-hop and history, Holy Faya is the union of two best friends and a myriad of global cultures. i-D talks magic and diversity with the women behind Brooklyn's most exciting jewelry brand.

by Hannah Ongley
30 December 2016, 10:13pm

Standing inside Holy Faya's Sunset Park studio is like being in two worlds at once. Outside, trucks rattle along the Gowanus Expressway and construction workers flick cigarette buts into puddles of something. Inside, a line of whirring 3D printers are surrounded by beaded gold grills, hand-sequined costumes with sparkly nipple tassles, donut-shaped cushions, a table of cookies and orange juice, two fluffy cats, and a psychedelic wall draping of Bernie Sanders. One of the printers is slowly molding a neon green knuckle duster emblazoned with the hashtag #BLACKLIVESMATTER. Holy Faya's co-creators Nelly Zagury and Célia Elmasu came up with the design after meeting the BLM group at an Everyday People party and collaborating on a special piece for Afropunk. They have also worked on custom pieces for FKA twigs, Rashaad Newsome, and, yes, Bernie Sanders.

Holy Faya occupies a realm somewhere between fantasy and reality. Their pieces blend theater with hacking culture, hip-hop with history, and old-school craftsmanship with modern technology. Their latest project is a series of ornamental, genderless earbuds riffing off Beats by Dre. ("What happens when women disrupt the brand they adore?" Nelly and Célia ask.) The two met 10 years ago at a prep class for art school in Paris before going into their respective fields — Nelly drawing jewelry for Chanel and Lanvin, and Célia product-designing Cîroc bottles for P. Diddy. Célia moved to Silicon Valley, fell in love with an American, and followed him to New York. Nelly visited her in Brooklyn, fell in love with the city, and landed a job with the artist Matthew Barney. Eventually, Hola Faya was born. We talked to Nelly and Célia about creating fantasies, encouraging diversity, and why Brooklyn breeds magic. 

Tell me about the moment you two decided to start working together.
Célia: Eventually Nelly and I both quit our jobs and started making stuff together, because we knew the production process from A to Z and wanted to try it ourselves. We love musicals and fairy tales, so we shut ourselves in a bedroom for two weeks and drew all the jewelry that characters were going to wear. It was just two weeks of creativity. At one point we were like, "Okay let's just make it happen." We found 3D printers at a tech space next to my house in Park Slope. Those specific machines were not available at school because they were a little slower. But because of the range of colors available, I was like, "Woah, wait a second, this is so cool." So we started making chains with different colors.

How did you come to collaborate with FKA twigs?
Nelly: We just went to her concert. She inspired the first collection — the first drawing we made for that first character in the musical. We were trying to make an exotic Virgin Mary, and we were looking for the right sexual woman. She was perfect because she was like a doll in a cage — you know her music video for "Water Me"? Her sensuality inspired us so much that we drew on her face. We literally printed her face and drew the rope and the holy heart of the Virgin Mary — the fire and the sacred weapon. That was the first drawing, and it stayed on the wall of the bedroom for six months or so. Then we found out she was performing at The Brooklyn Hangar. We went and found her and told her that she had inspired the whole collection. She was so sweet, she hugged us and was like, "Oh my God, I love it," then she wore it on stage. She was taking a risk. She's a real artist. She's free from anyone else telling her what to wear. 

You've collaborated with Black Lives Matter and created pieces for many artists of color. How does being French influence your perspective on race relations in America?
Célia: We grew up in such a diverse place where there was no black and white — everyone was just French. There was never "black French" or "white French." Here it's a whole different world and we are still adapting.

Nelly: We have our troubles in France too — I'm not saying it's better. But the whole history of segregation is very different. We really try to make it clear that our work is never about cultural appropriation but rather about giving a shout-out to people because we love them and what we want is bringing people together. We are very careful with our subjects, to be aware of where our inspiration is from, and to dedicate the work to the culture that we are inspired by. The whole idea of Holy Faya is bringing two worlds together. You have the "Holy" western culture — the fairy tale side — and the "Faya" is like Jamaican patois. Every time we create something we mix cultures. It could be an Egyptian necklace and a pimp, or Frankenstein slash Missy Elliott. We want to have different layers of understanding. The celebration of people's differences is most important to us.

You're clearly big Bernie Sanders fans. Is the wall hanging part of another collaboration?
Célia: Yes, we made a jewelry design reading "Bernie for Democracy." It was for a party we helped organize at Flash Factory called "Bern NY Bern." Some big actors turned up — Susan Sarandon, Gaby Hoffmann, Zoë Kravitz. We did the installations — there were printers on-site, and a photobooth. Bernie was the first political event we did, and we want to keep doing more. We're in contact with the Apache Stronghold about supporting the Standing Rock water protesters. We're trying to have a mix — we still love the fairytale aspect, but also want to be involved in real issues.

Who would be your dream artist to create a piece for?
Nelly: Beyoncé. We love Beyoncé. We love a lot of more alternative artists too but I grew up with Destiny's Child, so we have a deep love for her. Every time you feel down in your life, she's with you. She's always saying, "Girl, don't cry over this motherfucker." We would also love to work with Missy Elliott.

The Beats by Dre pieces are a lot more tech-focused than some of your previous work. Was that intentional?
Célia: Yes, we wanted to bring a little more technology into Holy Faya. That's where I come from, so I was like, "What if we do a piece that's still jewelry, but has a little tech in it?" It's a unique brand with iconography that everyone knows. Every time you take the subway you see Beats. So we just thought how cool it would be to make a fantasy about a big, crazy, mainstream brand. We analyzed the brand and we talked a lot about it and thought, "Let's hack the brand." We gave ourselves four weeks and we made a product and a story — the video. The whole identity of Beats is so manly, so we thought, "What about something a little bit more girly?" Even when the creators talk to women, it still feels like there are men doing the design. You feel it right away. In the video it's more about magic and sensuality. I met the girl [in the accompanying video] at House of Yes in Bushwick and she was doing aerial dancing for a show — her name is Lola. I just fell in love. But it was also about trying to get into the man's mind.

There is a more masculine pair and a more feminine design of the earrings/earbuds. Do you often design with specific genders in mind?
Célia: When we created our first piece we had a lot of transgender people coming to us and wanting to wear it. I think Holy Faya is about role. We do something that is feminine and something that is masculine, but you can be who you want to be while wearing it. We like to keep the roles, but people can do anything they want. If a man wants to wear the piece the girl is wearing in the film then who cares. Do you know Rashaad Newsome?

Yes, he's the best. I visited his own studio not long ago.
Célia: He does the King of Arms ball every year. We participated in the one last year. We made a special piece of bling for him and little crowns for the bottles. We had so many people from the vogueing community who were really into it. We were so honored. There was so much love and it was such a great event to be part of. The communities that struggle are always the most creative. To me that was a key point. Why would you want to design for just one gender? That's so boring.


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Stainslaw Boniecki 

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