“When it’s carved into a tree it’s sentimental, when it’s carved into gold with stones it’s #4ever.” This simple but powerful sentiment is Alison Chemla’s description of her new 14k gold U + Me Tree Carving Ring, exclusive to Latest Revival, which symbolizes love and infinity with rubies and diamonds.
The 26-year-old jewelry designer behind Alison Lou, who confessed that she made her boyfriend buy an iPhone just so he could “emoji talk” to her, is famous for her cheeky pieces inspired by how we express our feelings in today’s technology-saturated world – namely, through the language of emoticons. These symbolic gestures are translated into Chemla’s work literally, using the various faces (smiling, frowning, blowing a kiss) and eyes (heart-shaped, cool sunglasses, flirty eyelashes) that we have all lovingly come to use in our everyday lives – whether it be through text message, email or Instagram. “I tell stories in emojis,” said Chemla. “Starting with Blackberry, emoticons became such an important part of language, or at least mine. When texting became more important than speaking over the phone, I think that it was a new way for people to express themselves, so I think that my pieces allow people to either express themselves or send someone a message when giving a gift.”
Her fascination with a more futuristic – if you could call it that – approach to communication started at Bard College, where she majored in Art History. “I spent a lot of time in Cybergraphics, so I was able to balance both art as well as advancing my Photoshop skills,” she said, adding that she puts her hand-drawn ideas into Photoshop or Illustrator herself so she can “get a better idea of how it’s going to look” before having the jewelry produced using 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) or creating them by hand – depending on how “organic” she wants each piece to look.
For Chemla’s second collection, irreverent iconography is equally as important with a trio of monkey rings representing the proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” as well as mix-and-match Queen Bee/Apple of My Eye studs and a statement snake-shaped Forbidden Fruit necklace — a favorite of Chemla’s because “it’s one of the only pieces in any of my collections that needs to be worn alone”.
To celebrate the new Alison Lou collection – and the launch of Latest Revival’s Designer Takeover Series – we asked New York born-and-bred Chemla what makes her tick, what keeps her inspired and how she got into the jewelry-making business. Just don’t ask her what her favorite emjoi is: “That’s like asking who my favorite child is. I love them all the same but differently!”
Can you tell us a little bit about your design background?
I started designing when I came up with the idea for my Emoticore Collection. I always knew I wanted to design jewelry, I just wasn’t going to start anything until I had a very clear concept.
Do you come from a creative family? Have you always wanted to make jewelry?
My mother is extremely creative while also being a perfectionist — so no matter what she does it’s always meticulous and beautiful, just like her daughters :), but when it comes to business, I’ve learned everything I know from my father. I speak to him on the phone at least five times a day.
What jewelry do you wear day-to-day yourself?
So much, and only Alison Lou. I’m always wearing at least five earrings (my Blood Drop and Tear Drop earrings are never not in my ears) and then I alternate my selection day-to-day. I’m at least wearing eight to ten pieces aside from earrings.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your wood carving pieces?
Tree carvings are such an old and amazing way to tell people that you love them so that’s where my inspiration started for the whole second collection. I love jewelry that sends a message (obviously) so I used nature as my inspiration while also including messaging (Apple of My Eye, Queen Bee, Three Monkeys). It made sense and worked perfectly with my core collection.
And the Forbidden Fruit pieces, how did they come about?
I had the Apple of My Eye and I have always loved snakes, so I thought I would incorporate them with the apples to tell a little Adam and Eve story.
How would you define the Alison Lou customer? Quirky?
All ages! I recently had a 90-year-old woman buy my Bar Rings!
What is one emoticon you would never incorporate into your jewelry?
I never want to say never.