Unique, effervescent, and passionate – three words that when left alone do not hold much significance, but place them in front of a renowned name like Jennifer George and their vibrancy becomes apparent.

A woman of a fervent imagination, George designs high fashion jewelry for celebrities and common folk alike, dusting off old jewels and turning them into works of art. Sifting through flea market jewelry stands and thrift shops for vintage pieces, her custom made designs transform into stories; stories of objects and the people behind them. But her storytelling days didn’t begin with jewelry nor with the written word, rather it all started with a clothing brand sold in places like Barney’s and Saks Fifth Avenue.

While selling her brand to the top stores and participating in extravagant fashion shows, George abruptly decided that designing clothes wasn’t what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, vanishing from what looked to be a promising career. Yet this standstill was only a curve in the road for her as she quickly forged a plan to manifest her inspiration into the bracelets she now makes, landing her creations on Oprah’s list of favorite things and on the wrists of Mariah Carey and Sharon Osbourne.

In an exclusive interview for GALO, the designer discusses her gems,  her new blouse line, why she left the fashion industry, which necklace she’s never selling, and her list of the best hideaway stores.

GALO: You weren’t always a jewelry designer. You started in fashion and continued on this career path for 20 years. What led you to switch gears in your career, especially when you were on top, selling your clothing brand to renowned stores like Saks and Bloomingdales?

Jennifer George: I had a friend, a dear friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had kids at the same time, and when she died, it was a wake-up call. There were other things I wanted to do, including writing and being with my children, while they were growing up.

GALO: Do you regret this move?

JG: Not for one second. Life is short — and I’m reminded of this every day. I had lost the joy out of designing clothes. It was all about sell-through, and mark-downs, and deadlines. The business was changing and so was I. It was time. I’m thrilled to have had the long run I did on 7th Avenue and that I get to have a second and third act in completely different fields.

GALO: Your jewelry is quite exquisite. You take something that might have been lying around, gathering dust in someone’s drawer or jewelry box for years, and turn it into a work of art. Do you remember what the first piece that you made was?

JG: Yes. It was a piece I made for a friend, entirely of old lockets that had been in her family, filled with family pictures.

GALO: Why did you choose to make your accessories from findings in flea markets and neglected, old pieces instead of exquisite stones or gems?

JG: It wasn’t actually a conscious decision. It just happened. I love the idea of repurposing things and making you look at something, something that you wouldn’t look twice at, in a different light. There’s beauty all around us, it’s just not always obvious, until you assemble it a certain way and with other things. Sounds a little hocus-pocus, but when you work with multiple elements in a collage type format, it’s amazing what can happen — an alchemy all its own. That said — I’d love the opportunity to work with expensive stones and gems one day, but at the moment my coffers are full of old costume bits and baubles.

GALO: Do you follow the seasonal fashion trends or do you stick to your own unique formula?

JG: I never follow trends. I’m inspired by color, typically, or a theme.

GALO: Is there a particular material you most enjoy working with — perhaps a certain type of stone?

JG: I’m crazy about mother of pearl, especially old mother of pearl. It gets a lovely patina and makes a beautiful sound when it clacks things. I’m also partial to Victorian cut-steel. It sparkles and has facets, but it’s not really glittery. It feels urban to me. I like that.

GALO: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve designed over the years?

JG: I think maybe the Lobster necklace that was featured in the New York Times, Sunday Style section a few years back. It’s on my Web site and in my showcase. I’m never selling that one!

GALO: How long does it usually take you to make a new piece?

JG: It depends. Remember, I collect elements all year long, and sometimes one piece can take up to five years of collecting. I have a butterfly wing necklace that took me almost six years of collecting till I had enough discs to make it. So, providing I have everything I need, a bolo can take a few hours — and a big necklace or bracelet can take up to a week to finish. Lavalieres and earrings take less time; I can make a few of each in a given day.

GALO: At what amount are your items priced at?

JG: All of my work is priced according to what I paid for the elements it’s comprised of. Earrings range from $75 to $150. Lavalieres from $165 to $797. Bolos: $795 to $995. Big necklaces, bracelets, and belts can start at $595 and go all the way up to $3500.

GALO: Not only are the pieces that you make unique, but so are their names. How do you come up with these?

JG: I look at them! I try to imagine them washing ashore on some deserted island, and that if you could get just one clue about the necklace or where it came from, you might find the name helpful. Crazy, I know. But it’s part of the fun of making things out of stuff that once belonged to other people. I feel like everything has a unique provenance and that if you’re willing to imagine the life it had before it found you – then you’ll come up with just the right name for the piece.

GALO: When someone asks for a custom design from you, what do you take into account? Do you try to capture the person’s personality or perhaps their style? Is there any type of assessment that your customers go under so as to provide a truly, one-of-a-kind gem for them?

JG: To be honest, a customer’s personality is already there in the stuff she gives me to work with. I find that if a person gravitates toward turquoise and silver, most of what she gives me will be turquoise and silver. Same with every collection I’ve ever been given. Except, I had a customer once who brought me 20 pounds of jewelry that had been her mother’s. There was everything in there [that] you can imagine! We made five different pieces out of it — one for each of her daughters… I will also, before I start on a piece, ask questions about the person it will belong to. Her hobbies, her favorite places and foods, her kids’ names, etc.

GALO: You’ve created bracelets and necklaces for various celebrities including Oprah, Miley Cyrus and Mariah Carey, among others. Was there a particular piece that you have a fond memory of making or perhaps a unique request?

JG: Yes. Sharon Osbourne. She was going through cancer treatment and a friend of hers commissioned a piece from me: a bracelet of all Bakelite hearts on a silver chain. I made a beautiful pouch for it, out of black silk taffeta that I filled with heart-shaped pieces of confetti — all of which had inspiring quotes on them from Abe Lincoln to Mae West. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to look at, and play with, while trying to recuperate in bed. And I was right. When I met her, years later, she gave me the biggest hug and told me how much she still loves the piece — and the wrapping.

GALO: What are some of your favorite hidden flea market gems or vintage stores that you would recommend to readers to find their very own unique finds?

JG: I love Brimfield. I love Vanves, in Paris. I love the one on my corner, 77th & Columbus on Sundays. The Antique Mall, off of South Street on 6th in Philly is always fun. I can pretty much find baubles at any flea market, as long as I have my glasses. Just keep your eyes open and you’ll be amazed at what you find!

GALO: Have you thought about selling your items in stores?

JG: At the moment I sell to just one store — Portobello Road, in Boston. I’d love to sell to more stores, but I’m so busy making stuff that I haven’t had the time to pursue it.

GALO: Besides jewelry, you also started making umbrellas and are coming out with a blouse line. Can you tell us more about this?

JG: Actually, I’m selling blouses — five styles, all in silk chiffon that coordinate with my scarves. Unfortunately I just haven’t had the time to put it all online. One day! I also sell pants, a pull-on slim style and a pull-on wide-leg, in black, only. The umbrellas had been the invention of a friend who thought I would like them. I’ve sold them for years now. And I even got the umbrellas over to Oprah, who put them on her “favorite” things list!

GALO: What sort of material are your umbrellas made out of? What about the blouses? Any special designs?

JG: All of my blouses are made in the USA out of imported silk chiffon and georgette. The pants are also made here in the USA from imported, washable matte jersey. The umbrellas are nylon with wood handles and are virtually indestructible and wind-proof — they are made overseas.

GALO: Does this mean that you are thinking about returning to fashion? Will you be making any other clothing items?

JG: These days, I tend to make clothes when I need them and I typically only make what I like. So, yes, most likely I’ll be making more clothes that I’ll sell privately at shows and on my Web site, but I will never return to fashion as a full-time designer.

GALO: Where does your inspiration come from?

JG: EVERYWHERE. I’m very visual, so every time I open my eyes, there’s something inspiring. It can be as simple as the color of a flowering tree outside my window and the light it casts on the building across the street. Or I can see a painting, or a window display, or a stamp, or a hipster girl in Brooklyn dressed in a quirky way, and that will set the wheels of my imagination in motion. Inspiration is all around us, you just have to be able to see it.

GALO: In addition to your designs, you also write. Recently, you wrote a piece on your family’s Broadway flop, “Via Galactica,” which was featured in the New York Times op-ed. Do you have any plans for writing more in the near future?

JG: When I closed up shop, almost 15 years ago, I began writing full-time. I’ve written several screenplays, one of which was optioned — and I continue to write, every day. My latest writing project is a screenplay based on the life-work of my grandfather, Rube Goldberg — he was a cartoonist who drew crazy contraptions that over-complicated a simple task.

GALO: Umbrellas, jewelry, clothing. What’s next?

JG: A feature film. That’s next. And a re-design for my website: www.jennifergeorgenyc.com

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