MadeClose recently sat down with Catherine Angiel, the most badass punk rock jewelry designer in New York (and probably the country), to learn about what it takes to make it in this town. What we found was a determined woman who has been pushing boundaries for over 20 years and fighting the good fight so that other female designers could have a place at the table. We really enjoyed hearing what she had to say and know that you will too.
MadeClose: How did you become a jewelry designer?
Catherine Angiel: I was always an artist and a musician. At 15 years old, I was drumming in the underground rock scene at places like CBGB. With drumming came expenses, like equipment and rehearsal space, and my mother told me to get a job. I started working at a friend’s family jeweler and I just fell in love with it while watching him make jewelry. That’s when it started for me, almost by accident.
MC: Where did you learn to design jewelry?
CA: I would watch the jeweler every chance I could, but I was working in sales. I told my boss I really wanted to learn how to make jewelry and he told me that ‘women aren’t strong enough to be jewelry designers and you should just stick to sales.’ That made me want to do it even more, so I kept watching him and wound up getting jobs at various factories where I could keep observing different parts of the process to get the experience I needed. It was hard back then because years ago women weren’t jewelry designers. I really had to prove myself tenfold to even get the opportunity to have someone give me the chance.
MC: How did you get your business started?
My guitar player built me a bench so I could start creating my own line. I’d come home after work and make jewelry in my mom's living room until one o’clock in the morning. One day, I decided I should sell it. I went to Bloomingdale’s and the woman looked and asked me if I could afford to do an order for them because it’s net 90 days. I asked her what that meant and she said that they wouldn’t be able to pay me for 90 days, so I went next door into a boutique and sold everything for cash. From there, I started selling to little boutiques and built enough capital to open a booth on 47th street. One day, I saw this little store for rent on Greenwich Ave. in Greenwich Village and I’ll have been here twenty years this October.
MC: What sort of obstacles did you encounter in starting your business?
CA: Well being told I wasn’t strong enough to make jewelry, I was basically like, 'watch me,' because it was something I really wanted to do. The bottom line is that I’m an artist; I love getting my hands dirty and working with my hands. He felt that the strenuous work of bending pieces into place would be too hard. But he didn’t tell me about running a business, which is a different story. That’s where the real strength comes in (laughs).
MC: How do you feel being a New York native informs your aesthetic?
CA: All of my experiences have inspired me in what I do today. I was hanging around people like Deborah Harry before she was known as Blondie, and playing shows at CBGB at fifteen. I’ve been around such incredibly talented people who were renegades, and that made me a renegade and made me want to do jewelry that had character. People weren’t using black diamonds ten and fifteen years ago, but we were. People weren’t taking skulls or spiders and using them in delicate, gorgeous pieces of jewelry. Even though we have this handcrafted bridal collection, we also have our couture brand that is really expressive and really shows my New York influences. You can kind of feel a little New York in each piece.
MC: How involved are you in the actual production?
CA: Most of the production is done here at my store and I oversee everything. We make our castings and waxes by hand, which is very important. It’s what gives my work its signature feel. Everything is carved by hand, and finished by hand. It’s a lost art.
MC: How many people work for you?
CA: In production it’s just me and an assistant, and then I have my store manager and a sales manager.
MC: You must be incredibly busy.
CA: I am, and I also do trunk shows because now we’re hosting a line at Neiman Marcus. They would probably be shocked to know that not only are we designing and producing the jewelry, but we’re also the bookkeeper, shipping, and packaging department.
MC: Many artists and craftspeople have trouble finding success. What do you think helped you in your business?
CA: As an artist, I know it’s difficult for young designers and artists to get started. I just had a lot of guts. I was probably nineteen and I just walked into Bloomingdale’s and showed them my jewelry - I had no fear. I just thought I was going to walk in and sell it. 'Who cares if they say no?' I thought, and I knew that If I didn’t try I would never know. It gave me the inspiration to continue, and being able to walk next door and sell everything helped me to continue to grow and to have the confidence that my work desired.