ARTICLE CHRISTOPHER BARNARD
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY TOMTOM
LA based designer Elena Howell made the leap from a successful career in architecture to jewelry a few years ago with striking results. The pieces have a rough, satisfyingly aggressive look that sets them apart while honoring her previous profession and life in California.
What was the story for Spring 2013?
The Spring 2013 collection, Grand Prix, was inspired by auto racing. Using water jet technology, I cut raw sheets of brass into sleek lines and shapes to create the feeling of speed and motion. Heavier bronze pieces were cast into similarly sleek angles and lines using repetitive motifs like chevrons and racing stripes.
How does working in LA inform your pieces?
I love the expansive space in Los Angeles, the art deco architecture, the heat, and the car culture (which would explain this collection in particular). I am forever designing jewelry with pyramids. Symmetrical pyramids, short pyramids, tall, oblong… it has become an obsession. There are a lot of Aztec influenced murals dotting the LA landscape, especially on my drive downtown to my manufacturer. Pyramids must be infiltrating my subconscious.
Explain the transition from architecture to jewelry.
I approach jewelry design with a similar design process as I did architecture. I start with a strong concept and then begin to explore shapes and their connections as well as materials and their properties. I use the same computer software that I used for architecture design. For 3-dimensional castings I use a software program called Rhino and for 2-dimensional water jet and laser cut pieces I use Autocad. What I like about designing jewelry is that the initial sketch to the final product can take as little as two weeks. Architecture, that’s another story.
Do you design with a certain person in mind, or do you concentrate on the individual pieces?
I do design with a certain type of woman in mind. She is modern, minimalist and chic, edgy and a little avant-garde.
What is the most important thing for TOMTOM to communicate?
I feel like I find myself explaining over and over again that a lot of thought and process goes into minimal and sculptural jewelry design. I think that this concept is very well understood in the architecture world, but in fashion jewelry, value is often associated with maximalism—i.e. how many Swarovski crystals can you throw on one necklace.
Handbags and fine jewelry. In fact, I just debuted a small collection of black lambskin envelope clutches with art deco influenced bronze hardware. These will be available in the spring online and at Satine Boutique in Los Angeles.