When Carole Perez moved from Paris to New York on a whim (following her heart and a young French man), she says it was the skyline, the height of the buildings, the pace of the city, and the electric energy in the streets that first swept her off her feet. “The roughness of the New Yorkers was less appealing, but I guess you get used to it,” she jokes.
Years later, Perez, who first started making jewelry during her days studying communications and sociology at university (“Girls would buy them out of my hands, or I would just gift them for birthdays,” she recalls), is using that initial architectural love-at-first-sight to create a mesmerizing collection of fine jewelry inspired by Manhattan’s skyline. “I wanted to design jewelry that I wanted to wear: sharper, cleaner, with diamonds…” she explains, adding that her love of art also plays a big part in the new collection. “Living with art everyday, looking at my husband’s paintings, the art we collect and swap, it has inspired me so much. I live and breath art; art and jewelry are my life.”
Indeed, Perez is married to Enoc Perez — not the Frenchman she fled Paris for, but rather a renowned abstract artist born in Puerto Rico — and it is his paintings that can be found in the crooked lines, the jagged edges and organic silhouettes of Perez’s jewelry. “I have been my husband’s muse for many years, and now he is mine,” she admits. A little bit of Jean Michel Basquiat — specifically, his signature crowns — can be found in there, too: ”I always loved Basquiat’s raw and almost childish aesthetic,” she adds.
Here, the effortlessly chic jewelry designer reveals what goes into making such innovative jewelry — or “wearable sculpture,” as she likes to call it — and how she set about bringing her husband’s paintings to life.
What made you want to start a jewelry label?
I first decided to start my jewelry label in New York when I couldn’t find what I wanted in stores. So I decided to make my own fine jewelry. Something different, fun, and luxurious at the same time. Artsy chic!
Where did you learn to make jewelry? All your rings are hand-carved in wax, do you do those yourself?
I have been making jewelry since I was a little girl. My grandmother had huge chests filled with jewelry. I was mesmerized by it, covering myself in jewels was my favorite thing to do. At first I was self taught, in Paris I made jewelry from metal scraps, candies or any material that I found. I would give those pieces to my friends for their birthdays.
In New York I learned sculpture at the Art Student League. This is probably why the jewelry is sculptural. After this experience I decided to concentrate on fine jewelry, rather than sculpture, so I studied jewelry-making. When I was taught how to melt gold, I knew I was in the right place. When the gold melts it looks like a huge ball of fire, like a small sun burning on your charcoal block. I have a real fascination for soldering, it is just magical!
I was taught how to set stones, polish, make chains from wires. It was just the most Incredible time. I do hand carve my waxes for certain collections, when the design commands it. Like in my next line inspired by the work of Alexander Calder. Some other waxes are assisted by computer, I make the drawings by hand and we scan it to the computer, then a 3D wax comes out. It’s preferable, especially when I do pave settings.
This collection, which features a lot of polished and sharp — though organic — lines, is a departure from your earlier work, which felt a lot more earthy. What inspired the development in aesthetic?
I designed a tough edgy collection to speak about art and New York architecture, as well as New Yorkers who are tough and sharp. I wanted to make jewelry that represented the world I live in. And of course, jewelry I want to wear.
What is it about Jean Michel Basquiat that appeals to you specifically?
He was the épidémy of New York cool in the 1980’s, a symbol of edgy New York. The crown was his signature, an icon (I love crowns, maybe because of my French education), so I decided to make an iconic Basquiat-inspired crown collection.
Your new pieces are also inspired by two of your husband’s paintings — one of the New York City skyline, and the other a Picasso-like portrait. You are, quite literally, bringing his artworks to life. Was that always the idea?
My husband [Enoc Perez] is a painter and he made some “Picassos” in his manner. I take fragments of his PEREZ/Picasso paintings and translate them into jewels. Enoc also made a portrait of our friend Stephanie Seymour Brant in his Picasso style and I lifted the Picasso eyes to make pave diamond pendants and earrings with baguettes diamonds. It’s so much fun!