From collaging to "rave days" to having Anna Wintour as a supporter, Pamela Love tell us how she made it big
Words: Mish Way
Photos: Jody RogacNew York-based jewelry designer, Pamela Love is used to people asking if her name is real. Besides being in an industry where people often kick their run-of-the-mill last names for something a bit more memorable, the name "Love" has been appropriated by rock stars and strippers alike. But this Love was born Love. "It was really embarrassing growing up," the 29-year-old, big-haired brunette tells me. "And people always assume it is fake. I don't want to be one of those jack-asses with a fake name." But "jack-ass" with a fake anything, Love is not. In the last four years, Love has built her own jewelry empire drawing praise from Anna Wintour, huge magazines like Elle and celebrities including her musical heroine, Royal Trux vocalist and 90 style icon, Jennifer Herrema. She has collaborated with fashion big wigs Zac Posen, Yigal Azrouel, Marchesa, Frank Tell, designed pieces for the popular series, True Blood and was the first American designer to team up with Britain's Top Shop. The list goes on and rightfully so, because Love's work is remarkably distinguishable--most famous for her eccentric, dark collections featuring bird skulls, talons, claws and anything associated with natural decomposition.
Walking into Love's Chelsea studio in Manhattan, you are immediately tossed into the chaos. Young jewelers in smocks and gloves work away at the latest pieces of Love's collection while mechanical buzzes from the machines fill the room. Downstairs, a team of young, professional women and men dressed in everything from blousey button-ups to ripped flannel, toil at computers mastering Love's brand. The air is filled with the clutter of voices and Love seems right at home. The Queen Bee buzzing over her colony. As Love shows me around, she apologies profusely for the madness. Her label has been nominated for the C.F.D.A. Vogue Fashion Fund Award and her bees are busy making sure things are prepared. Suddenly, Love notices me gawking at the larger-than-life-size poster of her and "it-girl," Alexa Chung on the wall. She sighs and quickly takes note of my stare. "It was a present," she explains sheepishly with a charming grin. "I feel a little weird having my face on the wall."
Love was born in New York City, but spent her youth bouncing through out South Florida from Orlando to Miami to Gainesville—which inspired some pieces in one of her collections, the "Miami-rave days" as she jokingly calls it. As a child, Love was a self-proclaimed "weirdo" always drawing, painting or collaging anything she could get her hands on. "I collaged chairs in my room. I collaged my Doc Martins. I had this briefcase that I carried around, I collaged that. Everything I owned was deco-collaged with magazines and then varnished. I still have my Doc Martins. One of the shoes is totally in tact and the other one is all peeling off."
After her Florida days, Love moved back to New York City to pursue an education in art. She enrolled at the New York University Tisch Film School but like lots of young students getting degrees realized that was not what she wanted to be doing. "I wasn't particularly interested in what went into making a moving image," Love remembers. "But I was very interested in what went into making a still image." After graduation, Love was lost and worn out from the rigorous work that seemed to be leading nowhere. She ended up working at a vintage store and apprenticing for the critically acclaimed artist, Francesco Clemente, who rekindled a spark in her creativity. She started styling for small publications in New York City, but Love always had trouble finding accessories she liked for shoots, so, like the self-starter she is, she started making her own. "The people I was working for were really into the jewelry I was making and one thing led to another," she explains. "I loved [making jewelry] but I didn't know the first thing about it." So, she got her feet wet. Love chased down friends who were jewelry designers and asked them for help. She read books. She even found a job apprenticing for jewelers in the Diamond District in exchange for training. "A lot it was self-teaching and a lot was experimentation," she reflects. "I didn't know much but I was working with such experienced people I felt like I was in good hands." Love devoted herself to her new craft and the rest fell into place. "Once I let go of all the other things, took the risk, [my line] took off."
Nowadays, Love is no longer conducting a three-man operation. Her business has become larger than she ever dreamed and this presents ethical challenges or the pressure to mass manufacture overseas, but Love is thoroughly against it. "It's something I will never do," she assures me in a strict, passionate tone. What's the answer then? "We hire more people. We get a bigger studio to accommodate more jewelers. We can respond to the increase in quantity, but our prices will not decrease like they would if we went over seas." She pauses for a moment and her tone relaxes. "These pieces are supposed to be special and cared for. I hope that my customer understands my politics of design."
For Love, jewelry has a deeper meaning than any other adornment or apparel. "Historically, people were putting jewelry on their bodies before clothing,” Love carefully lectures. “It's a source of communication. Jewelry is like a tattoo or something, you don't take it off. It becomes a part of your identity. It has that special power." That is why she pays so much attention to the details, each piece carrying the signature Love-style of contrast, playing with the friction between oppositions.
But whether it’s pragmatic decisions or historical details, Love does her research. When creating a collection inspired by Native American traditions, Love traveled to residences in Arizona to research the origins of the jewelry she was inspired by and also worked with an organization for Native American teenagers that encouraged them to further in the arts. "I try to explore things very thoroughly and respect my references. You know when people make "punk" things but it's clear they have never been to a punk show in their life? If you’re going to make a comment on something you should understand what you are commenting on." She sighs and chuckles a little at herself. "I want to be the real thing."