Bejewelled – an interview with Simon Alcantara

On November 6, 2013 by Jessica Quillin
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Puns aside, Simon Alcantara is a rare jewel. He is a down-to-earth visionary. It sounds dramatic but five minutes into conversation with Simon, it is very clear that he is both a lovely person and a bit of a creative genius. Celebrities and magazines alike love his red-carpet worthy jewellery. Yet, all Simon can talk about is how he and Talya Cousins, a jewellery consultant and former W editor, urged the CFDA to set up its first-ever jewellery showcase, which took place 16 October in New York and featured the work of 19 independent jewellery designers.
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A native of New York, Simon grew up in a Dominican family and spent the early part of his life as a professional ballet dancer. He developed jewellery as a hobby until a sidelining injury forced him to refocus his career. Simon soon focused on designing fine jewellery full time and soon found a large international clientele, officially launching his line at Bergdorf Goodman in 2002.
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It is no understatement to say that Simon Alcantara’s jewellery is designed for a modern woman who is unafraid to be noticed. Utilising a variety of natural materials and precious and semi-precious stones, his pieces are alluring and memorable.
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Glass had the chance to chat with Simon about his unusual career path, his love of jewellery and what defines a true design family.
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Your jewellery is exotic, dramatic yet consummately wearable. You are clearly afraid of neither color nor bold materials like feathers. How do you balance art with wear ability when creating jewellery?
I think it’s a combination of elements that add up to create that balance. Growing up in a Dominican family that encouraged that we only speak Spanish at home and that we study Spanish literature I learned of the magic in the expression that comes from a Latin based language. The way you combine words or in the case of jewellery; stones, metals and other media can create a magical, exotic or dramatic effect.
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Being a classical dancer developed my eye for balance and movement with the body and how to visually create the sense of  “lightness” even with a very bold piece and the impact of focused theatricality. Being born and raised in New York City I developed a sense of practicality and the importance of comfort of movement in a modern fast paced life, which is where the wear-ability comes in.  Finally not being a traditionally trained jeweler there were no learned limitations as to what I could use or not use as far as materials and I have always been interested in the original, talismanic use of adornment.  All those elements combined are the vocabulary I use to create my collections.
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Your latest collection, Alpha Pavonis, as part of your Dream Phase collection, pulls influence from cosmic phenomena as well as the proud peacock. From where did you get inspiration for this collection? How does it fit in to your broader Dream Phase collection? 

All my collections are infused with meaning and messages for those that choose to explore. The Dream Phase series is about our evolution from spirit connected to the cosmos, the evolution of mankind and the return to spirit and the connection to all that is.
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The Alpha Pavonis Collection (the brightest star in the peacock constellation) is about celebrating and allowing our innate brilliance to come through.  The peacock is viewed by some as arrogant for announcing it’s majesty but in my view the peacock is just displaying its innate brilliance, no more no less.  I always tell my friends “shine bright” because by doing that you allow others to do so. Asking people to be “humble” most times falsely is a system of indoctrination and control that I am totally against. Arrogance is about insecurity, shining brightly is about being who you were born to be.
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Your designs make heavy use of natural rather than synthetic materials to achieve a very modern look. From where do you source materials? How long does it take to make one of your pieces? 
There is no better design than what you find in nature and that energy that natural materials carry within them helps one’s communication as a creative flow “naturally” to the wearer or the observer. My pieces are very labor intensive as most pieces are hand woven an artisanal technique that goes back to the beginning of time. To weave by hand takes a lot of time, but I find it to be very peaceful and meditative. My materials come from all over the world.
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You have an unusual background for a designer, including many years as a professional dancer. How did your experience in the arts shape your work as a jewellery designer? Many of your pieces have an almost balletic flair in form and presentation, if such a thing is possible in jewellery.  
Being a classical dancer informs my jewellery and my life in a very deep way.  Firstly, it developed my eye for proportion, balance and visual lightness.  It also taught me the importance of repetition and time to master your craft so that technique becomes second nature and then you can truly be artistic and sublime. I also learned the power of a gesture to communicate emotion and narrative. Learning to pick up choreography and to be able to reverse it trained my mind to mentally look at anything three dimensionally and twist and turn it around in my head.
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From where did you learn the craft of jewellery making?
 
I am a self-taught designer.
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You have been a member of the CFDA since 2004 and have done an impressive number of collaborations, including with Oscar de la Renta, Balmain Haute Couture Paris, J Mendel Paris and Mary McFadden. What did you learn from these collaborations? 
I have been very fortunate to work with “masters of their crafts” at a very high level with the best materials, craftsmen, models and petit mains in the industry and I am still absorbing all I have learned.  The most important thing I learned is the importance of working on your craft repeatedly, every single day with respect and integrity.
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You seem to have a close bond with the members of your design studio. Who are they and how did they fit into your brand and/or family?
I have a close bond with anyone significant in my life. My friendships and relationships are very deep and meaningful.  To collaborate creatively is a powerful exploration that anyone who has experienced knows there are not any accurate words to convey those feelings. The closest word would be Love.
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Finally, a lot of your collection photography and your recent collection films were produced by Creative Collective Collab. How did you come to be a part of this organisation?

I realised that over the years I’ve been fortunate to meet so many talented people and that together we could explore and produce projects for one another without having to come up with huge funds. I pondered what could happen if we joined forces in the spirit of collaboration
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The first person I approached about the idea was my dear friend Talya Cousins. I met Talya when she was a senior editor at W and WWD. She is now a creative director, jewellery consultant and freelance journalist and my intuition told me this could be something she would also get excited about. Talya’s eyes lit up as I shared with her and she quickly agreed to come on board.
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We began exploring how this could work and started reaching out to a select group of colleagues. The reaction was wonderful; lots of excitement, a stream of ideas started flowing and everyone was enthusiastic for the opportunity to create together in a new setting.
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Our goal is to discover, expand and create in a collaborative and somewhat unusual work-frame. We’re interested in exploring both commercial and more conceptual projects and approaching them in ways we’ve never experienced before. The Alpha Pavonis campaign consisting of photographs, poetry and video and upcoming art by Creative Collective Collab member Silas Stoddard was our first project.
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Alpha Pavonis image credits: Production, Simon Alcantara; Cinematography, Anna Lee Campbell; Creative direction, Talya Cousins; Model, Mengly Hernandez; Wardrobe styling, Kendall Farr; Design direction, Nathalie Kersheh; Makeup, Karlo Karlo; Photography, Henry Lopez; Set design, Jesse Mercado; Hair, Eddie Parra; Set design, Silas Stoddard; Writer, Riji Suh
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by Jessica Quillin
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Follow Simon Alcantara on twitter here and on tumblr
Jessica Quillin

Jessica Quillin

Fashion Editor of Glass online at Glass Magazine
Glass Online fashion editor
Jessica Quillin

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