In 160 characters, Simon Alcantara jeweler’s twitter bio states:
“Human, Designer, Photographer. CFDA MEMBER, FGI Rising Star award winner. NYC”
If it was up to me I would only use Human to describe myself as I have done in the past. But people want to know what you do, where you have been, who you know, what tribe you belong to etc. and so we need to still use those labels.
Human is what we truly are, everything else is what we do. I’m always more interested in the “who” of someone rather than the “what they do” and I think it’s one of the reasons many people feel very at ease with me. I always aim to connect on a Human level, I find it to be very powerful and uplifting.
“Alcantara” means bridge.
How does this define you and your creativity?
It’s interesting because I remember when you first told me that. I guess I am a bridge, I am constantly connecting people that I feel should know each other or can help each other. For people that don’t really know me, it’s confusing at first because most are not used to someone choosing to help them or connect them with someone that can help them and not have any ulterior motives.
The only thing I ask of those people I help is to promise to help someone else at some point when they deem it appropriate. I have had several key industry and non industry persons help me and guide me along the way. I am very grateful for that.
Creatively, I suppose I bridged my experiences as a professional dancer, a native New Yorker from Dominican parents, creating and selling art as a child but also being a science and math nerd that was really into fashion and was sneaking out of the house at 12 years old to go to clubs. I also started to meditate at 12 years old. I never went to school for jewelry design and had to figure out my own way of putting things together and all those experiences some how come together in what I create.
Your joaillerie runway-ed chez Balmain Haute Couture & Oscar De La Renta …
I was scouted by someone at Oscar de la Renta and they set up an appointment to meet Oscar. I had been working on some pieces for my own creative project and those were the pieces I showed him and Andre Leon Talley who was also at the meeting. They both loved it and then I had 4 days to create a collection of necklaces, belts, pins and earrings. 4 days later it went on the runway and it was a huge success. At the time Oscar was also doing Balmain Haute Couture and invited me to design the jewelry for those collections as well. It was an amazing time creatively and personally and I will always be grateful to Oscar and to Andre for believing in me, encouraging me and guiding me.
…Then the CFDA?
I was invited to apply to the CFDA by Katrin Zimmerman of EX Ovo and went through the application process. I was fortunate enough to have had amazing letters of recommendations from Oscar and several other CFDA designers as well as Accessories Directors of Vogue, Elle and several other major magazines as well Bergdorf Goodman and other high end retailers. It all came together very easily and I was accepted. In my group of new members were Zac Posen, Proenza Schouler, Francisco Costa, the boys (Anthony Camargo and Nak Armstrong, winners of the 2005 Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Accessory Design) of Anthony Nak, Brian Atwood, Yigal Azrouel and a few others. It was really a strong group.
I was just as surprised as anyone else when I saw her wearing my hoops on her show. Later I found out she had bought several pairs at Bergdorf Goodman. She wore them frequently on the show. I also had the honor of meeting her at the CFDA awards, my good friend Dr. Lisa Airan introduced us. Oprah was so kind and gracious and said some very beautiful things to me that I will always carry with me.
How do you handle success and working with celebrities?
I work everyday on staying grounded and balanced and remembering what’s real and what’s hype. As far as working with celebrities it goes back to that human connection, I am not a star struck kind of person. It may come from taking classes with big ballet stars when I was in ballet school when I was a kid. They were always kind and nurturing to me so when I meet a celebrity it’s like meeting anyone else.
How do you keep improving your craftsmanship?
I think the only way to improve on your craftsmanship is to work, work work. It takes a certain amount of hours to master anything. It’s one of the key elements missing in our industry today, young designers sometimes are not allowed or don’t take the time to master their craft and they may not be able to build a solid foundation.
You always seem to inject earthy emotions for a message that goes beyond aesthetics in your collections..why is this so important to you like in your previous collections? How a designer becomes a .. messenger?
I realized a few years back that each collection reflected a spiritual evolution for me and that my customers and supporters were interested in what led me to each collection. Previously the collections where named for the seasons- spring, fall etc. and I didn’t really explain how I got there partly because I thought people might think I was crazy. But as my ego got more out of the way (which was a very deliberate path for me to get my ego as out of the way as I could) I was able to be more open to share my creative process. Starting with the Balance collection in which at that point in my life I felt very out of balance creatively, personally and spiritually that’s what I was seeking.
With Cosmic Samurai I was in a very “spiritual warrior” place and that collection reflects that. Before creating New World and had traveled to 4 places I had never been before: Egypt, South Africa, Amsterdam and Berlin. Each place expanded me so powerfully that it was literally becoming a New World for me. The Joy collection was a reflection of the realization that even with all the madness that was going on in the world we needed to take the time to have some fun, dress up and go dancing.
With Nuntius, it was a very deep process I was in a very reclusive place so much so that I developed a vitamin D deficiency for not being out during day light. But in that time I began to see how everyone that has had a great impact in art, literature, music, films were messengers of either, how to overcome adversity, to be creative sometimes against all odds, the possible traps of fame and success everything we need to know they have shown us we just don’t always notice the message. Then I began to think about what message I wanted to send. So I went back to my roots of when I studied Native American medicine way and was really into talismanic adornment. Frankly I was a bit scared of how it would be received. Then I went to Japan for my yearly trunk shows and it was received so well. It was our best trunk shows ever. In the US it took a year it’s now that it’s being well received.
Finally with Dream Phase 1&2 it was the other side of how I had been designing. It was the first time ever where I did not experience and ounce of stress or anxiety and it just completely flowed.
What makes the Dream Phase collection Rock Star Chic? The feathers?
With Dream Phase1&2 it was not my intention to make it Rock Star Chic, that happened on it’s own. But I was listening to Grimes, Little Dragon, Diiv, Bob Marley, Lana del Rey, Beyonce and Madonna so it must have influenced me. All those artists are great dreamers with big dreams by the way. But the one who influenced me the most was Grimes. To me she is otherworldly, with elements of rock, electronica, SciFi, R&B, punk and tribal indigenous sounds and I feel all those elements are reflected in the collection as I am also interested and affected by all those genres.
Today the jewelery field is strongly connected with the world of fashion. Why do you think Retro is so popular in today’s jewelery market?
I think the jewelry field is so connected to the world of fashion because it’s all adornment and a part of individual expression. Because I did not study jewelry design I always felt more in sync with what was happening in fashion so for me it was always the case.
I have been fortunate to have very wonderful relationships with Editors and retailers and so after my first appointment at Bergdorf Goodman to talk about introducing my collection (they were already successfully selling Simon Alcantara for Oscar de la Renta and Simon Alcantara for J. Mendel) I went straight to several major Magazines and showed them the collection. Everyone shot several pieces. So when my collection hit the sales floor the March issues came out and it looked like a campaign. All the forces of the Universe came together and we could not keep the collection in the cases it was unbelievable how many pieces Bergdorf’s would sell in one day. They were as shocked as I was.
Now the retail landscape has changed dramatically and retailers are scrambling trying to figure out what to do next. One store that is way ahead of the game is Story in NYC. It’s a store that acts like a magazine, it is the brain child of Rachel Shechtman. The store changes every 6-8 weeks it’s a different theme and everything from architecture to merchandise changes, it becomes a new issue and customers flock to see what happening. It’s brilliant though not an easy task.
Tokyo adopted your créativité. How so?
The Japanese are appreciative and are obsessed with quality and how things are made. The are very receptive to intricacy and detail and they notice everything, Working with the Japanese has made me a better designer and craftsman. I am so grateful that they understand, appreciate and support my work.
If you could take home one piece from the Dream Phase collection what would it be?
If I was a woman and could onlt take home one piece from the Dream Phase collection it would be the BLACK SOUTH SEA MOTHER OR PEARL, STERLING SILVER AND DETACHABLE FEATHER NECKLACE. It has all the elements, Modernism, Sci fi, Punk, Artisanal and Indigenous references. The meaning of the name of the collection is Dream Phase 1 is the dreamers and Dream Phase 2 is the manifestation of the dreams.
Who is your favorite jewelery designer?
I have two favorites first Robert Lee Morris. Who to me is a visionary who has continued to evolve and influence more that others are willing to credit. Also Ted Meuhling who’s designs are so pure and perfect that more than 20 years later the same designs sell over and over. It’s that good and that pure. He’s also about the work and not about the hype.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I have new experiences every single day. I know that as we raise energy one of the things that confirms that is having experiences you never had before. It’s a different vibration hence a different experience. I am so grateful for that.
Simon Alcantara injects Joy in his Joaillerie. Always.