This week, from February 5 to February 10, Brazil begins ‘The Carnival’ celebrations. The annual festival is recognized as a stamped trademark for the Brazilian nation across the international scope of the globe, for its costumes, Samba music and festivities in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to signify the celebration prior to the fasting season of Lent. You see, Friday afternoon the 5th of February marks 51 days before Easter and Wednesday February 10th is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the religious observance marked by the forty-day period before Easter, where Christians abstain from consuming certain meats and certain luxuries as a religious act of preparation and pentience.
In honor of celebrating Brazil, what could be better than introducing The Y Life to Brazilian designer, Mary Esses, who happens to create some of the most breathtaking one-of-a-kind fine jewelry designs I have ever seen. A São Paulo transplant to New York City, Esses brings quite a unique twist to the metals she uses to create her jewelry, almost in an homage to the artisanal resume she curates close to her heart, which helps inspire her whimsical ideas penned on paper into stunning masterpieces, which have even been done’d by First Lady Michelle Obama.
From special silvers and golds to leather and brass, intertwined with the most stunning white and grey diamonds.. perfectly seduce emeralds, rubies and garnets imported from her homeland into her desigs. Esses has a talent for blending the modern look of luxury, with the elegance of classic vintage and hence the result is a uniquely uncomplicated contemporary jewel.
We sat down for a phone chat with Mary, just last week to get to know the woman behind the jewels…
Mary, thank you for joining us on The Y Life. First and foremost, let’s talk Brazil, because I know when Millennials think Brazil, instantly Carnival, dancing, colors and beautiful people pop into our minds.. How has the Brazilian culture and your upbringing influenced the way you design your jewelry?
“Well I think in the beginning of my work, things were a little more obvious because I was working primarily with the stones that I used to work in Brazil. Brazil is a huge source of natural stones and we have beautiful colors and amazing quality and because of that, I was doing a lot of my designs with colored stones, so that would reflect the Brazilian spirit more than anything.
Then moving here (New York), I think I shifted a little bit, for different reasons, for the design influence that you get when you are in New York, it’s pretty much a land of nobody, because it has a little bit of everything and also because the way of life in New York, was a little different than the one I had in Brazil. So instead of using so much stone, I started using more metal and also it became a better canvas for me to express my trademark, which is the fabric texture.
The texture that I bring to the metal, mimics fabric. Now, if you look at my latest collection, you are going to see more and more colored stones again, the name is ‘UNA’ collection; I think it’s me going back to the Brazilian roots, but overall if you look at the designs I think you are always going to see something a little more ‘happy’. The work itself, the design itself is not so constricted, it’s a little more experimental, it’s a little more fun…”
It’s interesting and 100% true designers are very much like every one of us, phases of their lives are the inspiration they use to create their art and that is precisely how you will see Mary’s art evolve throughout her journey from Brazil to The United States.One interesting aspect of her background has to do with her creative eye being trained not only in painting, but ceramics. We wondered if when she is designing her jewelry and melting her metals or even adding stones in… Does she ever find herself tapping into that knowledge she accrued from other forms of art?
“I think so. When I moved here fourteen years ago, I was just doing big pieces, with big colored stones, but it was difficult to move this type of jewelry here (United States) and I myself didn’t have a lot of occasions where I could wear those jewelry. Slowly I started doing things that you could wear more on a day-to-day. Also I could not rely anymore into my contractors, because I used to produce in Brazil, and send everything to Brazil (the drawings the stones), and the contractors in Brazil would make the jewelry. But, I couldn’t do that anymore, it was just not practical, so I started sitting on the bench and doing it myself. I think once you have your hands in it, it started to have less and less space for those big stones, because I was putting a lot more information into the metal, it is my trademark.
If you look at my collection that Michelle Obama wore from, it was so important and expensive and very dramatic and like I said, I didn’t have a lot of places where to use them or sell them. The first collection that came after that, are the ‘Knot’, the ‘Bead’ and the ‘Wrap’.. so if you look at those collections you are still going to see the big stones, but you are going to see a lot more happening in the metal. Something a little more artistic, which was the wrapping, and you can see the silk texture. From there, I moved to the ‘Eyes Shut’, the ‘Zebra’ and the ‘Diving Board’, which don’t even have big colored stones, they have Diamonds and colorless stones, which you can wear on the day-to-day, much easier to navigate from day to night, it’s easy, more neat.”
Simpler I agree, yet just as stunning as the big stones…Then, I just had to know what her favorite metal and stone to work with were?
“There isn’t. To be honest with you, I’m at the moment in my life that I am reviving everything again and I am committing myself to play a little more with all of the things that I wanted to do and I didn’t, because I had to work inside the collections. Once you start selling to stores, the stores want you to continue with a DNA and they want to recognize you in the next collection and the next and the next… So you need to be different, but still the same…
But, for the designer it’s a little difficult, because you kind of have to put boundaries in your creativity and because of that I decided now this year, that I was going to do a lot of small collections, just to turn reality and some ideas that I wouldn’t in the past… I want to design and make my drawings my way, I don’t want to have so many rules, so right now as we speak, a little before you called me I was working on two new collections that I am finalizing some details.”
I was looking at some of your most recent pieces and they look almost vintage inspired, from the ‘Birds’ .. ‘Passaros’ collection… It’s beautiful, is there some sort of Middle Eastern inspiration in it?
“It could be, you know because I am. My Father is from Syria, my whole Father’s side is Arab and I am Jewish and I grew up in that Middle Eastern environment. The truth is, this collection was inspired by the work of a scientist, Ernst Haeckel. He was a Scientist and Marine Biologist, and he was a very good drawer, he was a categorizer so he would find different species and make drawings about those species and then he would categorize them. Turns out, later on, people found out he was lying about some species he found, had never existed. He was a very talented person who was also a scientist, so if you look at some of his images you are going to see birds for example, because he wasn’t just from the ocean.. if you pay attention, you are going to see some relationship between the ‘Una’ collection and those birds.”
The second I looked up Haeckel’s designs I saw exactly what Esses meant, by the Scientist’s drawings having inspired her. What I actually thought of when I saw one of her pieces, was in an ‘avanico’ like an old fashioned fan, like the ones my Grandmas’ used to use in the heat of Summer, when I was a little girl. When I first saw it, it looked just like those fans, hueing with those brilliant bursts of bright and beautiful designs on them, transformed by the beauty of perfectly cut stones…
“It’s so amazing that you are getting that sense, because the truth is although those pieces came from the birds collection, the new generation of those pieces, which is the collection that I am probably going to release by the end of February, the name of that collection is ‘Fan’.”
‘Really?’ I giggled on the line, with childlike excitement, had I just had a premonition foretelling Mary’s future yet to be released designs?!…
“Really! Just because of that, I am going to e-mail you the image of the first piece, that just became ready yesterday from the ‘Fan’ collection. It’s an iPhone picture, but just so you can see what that collection is evolving into, because it is actually giving life to a new collection, the ‘Sand’ collection does not have color… Because you were the first one to say the word ‘Fan’ and this collection is just getting out of the oven, I think it is more than fair that you be the first one to see it!”
My anticipation fueled further excitement and the second I opened the photograph I was enthralled by the simplicity and beauty of the ‘Fan’ Collection! I had noticed a certain essence of ‘Vintage-ness’ in her designs, there is a sense of authenticity to Jewels of the past and what they used be, and I found Esses translates that classical truth behind the beauty of a carved stone effortlessly into the jewelry. I am not sure if this was her prerogative…
“Well I don’t think it’s something that I wanted to, but I think it is part of my design, because you are not the first person to use the word ‘Vintage’ when talking about my work. There is probably something there that is my classical influence!”
I asked Esses about that moment when she first saw the First Lady wearing her jewelry, because in America First Families are our Royalty, it’s not just this First Lady, but First Ladies throughout history from Jackie Kennedy to The Bush’s and Mrs. Reagan all of these women have worn the finest of fashions, from Oscar De La Renta and Carolina Herrera and our modern First Lady is wearing Mary Esses… How did that make her feel, was it a sense of honor, for this designer to have her jewels worn by a First Lady?
“That’s a tricky question, because my feeling about that does not come from the First Lady is wearing my jewelry, ‘Wow, I am so cool’. She (Mrs. Obama) is an icon, of a new way of thinking, of a new way of making decisions in front of everyone, we are now in an era where everybody gets to see what we are doing, because of social media. We create a persona, we create an identity, so she is a public figure, who has great ideas. I think she came forward with a proposal with the way kids… move forward with their decisions in life from early on and I don’t remember another First Wife being like that. I like her, because of her way of being, and because of that, it was an honor that she was wearing my jewels.”
Because Mrs. Obama is making such strides in being unique and making her difference for future generations, that was the most special aspect to Esses. So I wondered where she wanted to see your collections in the future?
With a giggle elapsing her thoughts, Esses said…
I can imagine she would love to see the world wearing her jewels, to be able to experience seeing her imagination spreading its joy, since wearing jewels makes women feel so special…
“Yes, that is exactly what I meant when I said YOU, because you sound excited about what you have seen and what you have gotten to know about me and my process and that is what I want. I want people that see my jewelry and know a little more about me, that they get inspired and want to have it, because it is something that brings them joy… I want to be able to do that more often and have more people, from all over getting the chance to have them on.”
I love that… It’s exactly what I wished she would respond. I too agree, I think that seeing Millennials, embrace the beauty of jewelry and fashion is so thrilling… Sometimes we get lost in wearing hoodies and skinny jeans and we lose a bit of, je ne sais quoi… I am a bit nostalgic when it comes to fashion and jewelry, I just love it so I embrace it, as a part of who I am! But we have lost that esteem, via this generation, we must remember how important it is to curate the timelessness regarded by jewelry and fashion, and when we embrace it, it makes us feel special and empowered!
“It does, it totally does. It’s almost as though, when you go for a trip and you are walking, let’s say on the beach and the weather is perfect, you are feeling so glad to be there and you say I am going to grab this conch (shell) here, I am going to take it home and then when you take it back to your room, you don’t want that conch (shell) anymore, but at that moment that conch (shell) could represent so much, that you wanted to take it with you from the beach… That is what I want, I want people to feel something is special when they are seeing, or trying, or wearing one of my pieces.”
I think we have to end on that quote, because that is perfect… Next time I am in THE City I hope to connect in person with Mary, for afternoon tea, because I just loved the effervescence that eluded her spirit during our phone chat…and I promise to share that picture of us the second we take it!
Mary Esses resides in New York City and her collections can be found at select Jewelry stores across our great nation, to get to know Mary and her Jewels better, Click HERE.