Whether she's writing about Anne Boleyn or feline camouflage, jewelry designer and blogger Wendy Brandes is a dynamic force of beauty and intellect. Her luxurious designs are irreverent yet historically inspired. Not only stylish, Wendy is also very funny and approachable; she always has a smile and a response for her readers. I'm honored to be able to feature an interview with her. (all images used with permission courtesy of Wendy's store and blog.)
You worked in journalism and online communications for 15 years before designing jewelry professionally. How does your first career impact your blog now?
My journalism experience -- especially my online journalism experience at the Wall Street Journal and People magazine -- inspired me to start the blog in the first place. By 2007, when I'd been in the jewelry business for two years, I was missing the written word. I was commenting so much on a bunch of fashion blogs that the bloggers were saying, "Why don't you start your own blog?" I thought, "I guess I should!"
You're well known for being responsive to your readership. How do you remain so attentive and why is this important to you?
I've always enjoyed the interaction. I appreciate it when people take the time to read what I've written and look at my jewelry. It doesn't matter if people are customers or not. I like to let them know they matter to me.
Your first jewelry design was your own wedding bands in 2001. Did you ever craft or design prior to that? Are you generally a craft person?
I'm not really a DIY person. My rare craft projects tend to turn out badly. When I was a kid, I did successfully make a polar-bear hook rug. It was supposed to look like a bear skin lying on the floor, with the four paws and the head, but in white yarn. It took me forever. I still dream about it every once in a while.
What is your design process like? Do you sketch?
I do rough sketches for complicated pieces like my recent Frog and Prince Maneater ring. I then hire a specialist to carve the figures out of hard wax (which is used in the lost-wax casting process of jewelry making). I talk through the details with that person. One of the advantages of doing my manufacturing in New York is getting to monitor every step of the production process that closely. I'm always dropping in on people to check on the work in progress.
What is your zodiac sign? What is your opinion of astrology?
I'm a Capricorn. I totally believe in astrology … when it's promising me good things. When I read my Chinese horoscope for this year, it said something terrible, so I was like, "This is a bunch of malarkey!"
|Anne Boleyn inspired necklace|
Your work has many influences from history and nature. What is your academic background like? How do you manage to have so many different inspirations yet still have maintain a cohesive brand? I got a B.A. in English from Columbia University. I was also the arts and entertainment editor of the university's undergraduate newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator (now I'm the chairman of the board of alumni trustees for the paper). So history and design weren't significant parts of my studies, just outside interests. What I see as the consistent thread between my past and my present is my interest in story-telling, whether that's expressed through literature, newspaper articles or jewelry. [If] you read my blog so you know there's a big story for every piece of jewelry I make. The story is what guides my design. I appreciate a beautiful ocean or sky as much as anyone but I don't look at either and think, "I will do a collection with blue gems!" For my signature Wendy Brandes line, I'm always researching the biographies of interesting women. For my WENDYB by Wendy Brandes diffusion line, I'm looking at what the today's big story in social media is.
How do you bring historical influences to your work without creating reproductions?
I often like the concept of antique jewelry more than the reality. Many antiques are too lightweight for me, for instance. I like to use a lot of metal. We also have better gem-cutting and setting techniques now. When I look at an antique, I'm thinking, "How can I express that concept in a way that reflects my taste?" My Hathor ring and earrings are good examples. They were inspired by ancient Egyptian swivel rings, but look totally different because I wouldn't actually want to wear anything that looked like the ancient rings.
You use many beautiful gemstones in your pieces. Do you believe in any of the new age spiritual associations with various stones?
Me? Nah. But I'm happy for wearers of my jewelry to interpret my designs for themselves. If you want to wear my amethyst Queen Min ring because you think it protects you from witchcraft, that's fine with me.
You love a red lip! Do you have any favorite lipsticks?
What I like is a long-wearing liquid lipstick that doesn't feather or transfer. None of this "lipstick on the collar" shit for me! I've been wearing MAC’s Pro Longwear Lipcolor in Lasting Lust for about six years now. Earlier this year, I got Chanel’s Rouge Double Intensité Ultra Wear Lip Color in Ruby Lite. It's a deeper red. I don't love the texture quite as much as the MAC but the color is beautiful and it stays on forever. I can fall asleep with either one of those on and wake up eight hours later with perfect lips!
How would you describe your personal style? How has it evolved over various points in your life? Boldly feminine. I think my crazy, bright-blue, cropped, ruffled motorcycle jacket by Junya Watanabe personifies my style.
How has blogging affected your business?
When I started blogging in 2007, a lot of experts in luxury goods and/or public relations told me that social media would ruin my business. They said I was being too accessible and that high-end goods needed to seem out of reach or they'd lose their cachet. I ignored that, fortunately, because after the economic crash in 2008 put the brakes on people's spending at the private sales I used to rely on, it was the blog that kept me in business. And, of course, all the luxury-goods companies have since decided that relating to their customers is a good thing.
In 2012 you won the Fashion Group International Rising Star award. Some of your other proudest accomplishments?
I'm most proud of my persistence. I've kept going with my jewelry business despite the death of my original business partner, the global economic crash and the tripling of gold prices. Not to mention near-constant rejection from stores and media. My mother always says, "If you knew you were going to be rejected this much, you might as well have been an actress." You know how actors can hear in the same day that they're too short and too tall, or too beautiful or not beautiful enough? I've had stores tell me that my pieces are really different yet too similar to what they already have. With mainstream media, I've pitched trend stories about my jewelry or business only to be told that those "aren't stories." Then, later, the same writers will do that identical story but featuring other designers. My customers and blog readers will see the story and email me and say, "OMG! You've been doing that kind of design since 2008." The support of my customers and readers is a big part of what bolsters my confidence and keeps me going forward. I've come to believe that the reactions of "real" people -- their genuine, happy, emotional response to designs -- are so much more meaningful than the jaded responses of fashion-industry people who are often terrified of making a mistake. It's not just my jewelry I'm talking about. I can't go anywhere in my Stacy Lomman faux-ostrich-feather jacket without people running up to me and asking me about it. But was that design ever picked up by a store? No. The stores and media eventually do catch up to what the real people know but it takes a while. My trademarked blog motto is "Never Is the Next New Thing™." All of the ideas that are originally rejected catch on. I'm determined to stick around long enough to have my moment in the sun!
Any favorite beauty tricks or secrets?
Speaking of the sun … stay out of it! That's easy for me to say, of course. I'm not an outdoorsy person. I'm not even really a daytime person. I might be part vampire because I'm really at my best after about 10 p.m. I wouldn't actually tell anyone to give up gardening or tennis or jogging or any other sunshine-y activity she loves just to protect her skin. But if you're going to be outside for a long time, you should be reapplying that sunscreen every hour. Once in the morning doesn't count!
I'm really impressed by Wendy's intellect, wit, style and generosity of spirit. I hope you've all enjoyed her answers as much as I did.