“My father changed his name when he was 18 because his given name was too boring. He gave me a name that I wouldn’t need to change, and wanted to name me after a designer. I was due on Valentine’s Day, so I was going to be named Valentino, but since I was born late I was named Yves Laurence Spinelli.”
Not everyone arrives into the world quite this way, tied from the outset to the ideals set forth by one of one of fashion’s greatest icons. But it seems, at least to those who believe in such things, that the stars might have conspired to shape Yves Spinelli into the mold of a designer. Which is funny, because Spinelli, a Hawaiian native and founder of the luxury LA-based jewelry line Spinelli Kilcollin, finds himself frequently mesmerized by the stars himself. “I’ve always been obsessed with astrology,” Spinelli explains, “and have a photographic memory for birthdays–even people I’ve just met. I am fascinated with the energy that connects us all.”
Spinelli’s work plays with rings that are layered together and connected by smaller circles for a look that is absolutely cosmic. It’s something frequently nodded to in the naming of each piece, including the extremely popular Galaxy ring series, lauded by Vogue and oft sported by perennial It Girl Emily Ratajkowski. “We thought of the rings as connected star constellations in space,” Spinelli says of the collection. It seems an apt comparison, as the rings do, in fact, seem as tied to one another as the Orion’s Belt or Ursa Minor–and they glitter just the same.
If Spinelli seems often consumed by the realms above, he’s equally concerned with his company’s impact on the world below. The brand makes its pieces with strong ethics in mind, ensuring that the beauty of its collection does not come at the expense of anyone or anything else. “Ethical manufacturing is of absolute importance,” Spinelli says. “Ethical diamonds are a must.” Again, it comes down to this idea of connectivity–in this instance, a less esoteric one. When choosing a piece of jewelry to wear, the wearer is then connected to all of the people who went into making that item. For Spinelli Kilcollin, it’s about conscientious supply leading conscientious demand.
Spinelli’s efforts in both ethics and design have been readily embraced by the fashion crowd. The designer, who spent his childhood soaking up the fashions his Italian parents brought back from New York City, now finds himself an adult well entrenched and respected in that same world. Spinelli Kilcollin appears frequently within the pages of Glamour, Vogue and InStyle; Elle and Bazaar are clearly fans. Even Hollywood is in on the action. Spinelli’s pieces have made cameos throughout awards season, appearing on Sarah Paulson and the incomparable Meryl Streep.
We spoke with Spinelli to get a broader sense of his background and his process, from his blacksmith heritage to design as solving for a mathematical equation.
Let’s start at the beginning. Are there any design principles of your namesake, Yves Saint Laurent, that you have taken into your own work?
My dad’s closet was full of YSL when I was a kid, and he has always been my favorite designer. That might not be a surprise. Yves Saint Laurent’s designs will always symbolize luxury that is chic, sophisticated, and timeless. And I do aspire to that kind of balance.
Your background is so unique. What brought your Italian parents to Honolulu?
They were born in Italy during World War II and moved to Canada as teenagers. My dad moved to Chicago to be a hairstylist and was drafted into the Vietnam War. He went to war and became a U.S. citizen, but my mom refused to move to America unless they went to Hawaii. So they moved there in 1970 and have been there ever since.
Did living in Hawaii shape your design sensibilities at all?
Hawaii was a beautiful place to grow up. The pace is slow and there is a lot of time to reflect and work on creative ideas. It has more of a beach/vacation culture, though. I got most of my design sensibilities from my parents who would travel frequently to NYC.
You mentioned once your dad bringing back pieces of clothing from New York City when you were young. Was there one in particular that has stayed with you the most?
He had a Yohji Yamamoto suit that was just one size: enormous. It was a heavy, gray, sack-like material, and the jacket buttoned in different ways to offer various silhouettes. It was very utilitarian and thoughtfully designed, and it blew my mind as a kid.
Is there a piece of jewelry that your mother owned that you remember most clearly?
My mother didn’t wear a lot of jewelry. She accessorized with hats and silk flowers when I was a kid–think of Stevie Nicks. Because this was the early ‘80s, I remember that she had some Chanel costume chains with charms that I liked.
How did you learn that your Italian relatives were blacksmiths?
My dad told me stories about working with my grandfather to make horseshoes and iron gates. I always heard this growing up, and just took for granted that the Spinelli men were all blacksmiths. It literally just occurred to me this past year that I was carrying on the heritage in a contemporary way.
You worked for a time in luxury retail at Maxfield in Los Angeles. Was there one particular brand that you worked with during that time that made you think: “I can do this”?
I started in 1997 and there were so many amazing designers there. Each season I would get a new education and just marvel at the work. I related well to Margiela–it was mysterious and there was a small group of fanatical collectors who would call in from around the country to purchase. The collections were always so smart, and deceptively straightforward. I thought this would be the kind of brand that I would want to have.
You are carried in some of the most prestigious stores across the globe–Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, Colette in Paris, Dover Street Market in NYC. Do you notice different buying trends for each?
There are a lot of crossovers. Certain styles are the same best-sellers across the globe. New York and Los Angeles are our biggest markets, and our clients tend to be more forward and bold in these cities as compared to say, London or Paris.
How can consumers push to make more designers refuse to use blood diamonds?
This is an excellent question. Consumers have learned the term well, and there needs to be a constant education. Most consumers would never support blood diamonds, but they slowly creep into the marketplace. Most of the great designers I know have a zero tolerance for blood diamonds, and consumers need to continue to enquire and demand transparency in the marketplace.
Is it difficult to develop diamond settings that are so seamless and flush to the piece?
We spent several years perfecting the diamond settings so that they pave the surfaces and enhance the design. We play with new setting ideas, but they need to work seamlessly with our designs.
Many of your pieces can be worn different ways. How important is versatility in design?
Some of my favorite designs in fashion and architecture are not versatile at all, so I won’t say that it is an absolute. I love to focus on versatility when I design. I have clothing that can worn reversed and inside out; it’s like two or three pieces in one. That’s the way I like to design. Like solving a math equation.
How do you hope a woman feels when wearing your work?
Confident, alluring, sophisticated.