My love for accessories and jewelry is constantly evolving. I love on trend costume jewelry and timeless pieces. Jewelry can make or break any outfit of choice. Even when I am bumming around in sweatpants and a hoodie, one simple dainty accessory can take that outfit to a different level #level-up LOL. However, I find that in the land of jewelry everything is starting to look similar and nothing as of lately has stood out to me until this happened….
I was actually on my way to the W hotel in D.C. to grab a quick cocktail before my FGI blogger event and I saw this interesting jewelry stand. The stand had exquisite metal pieces. The metal types were rose gold, silver, and gold. The thing that stood out to me was the shape of the jewelry. There was a bracelet made of horns and choker necklaces that made you want to empty your pockets on the spot. I was in complete heaven and slightly in utter shock. I looked around for a while and then I asked Nina Berenato about her collection. She explained that she was the owner and she makes everything by hand. We had a really great conversation that actually led to the blog post that you are currently reading right now. This attractive #bossbabe woman is making a household name for herself in Austin, Texas. She has a luring jewelry line that has caught the eyes of a few stars and highly anticipated press like Elle, Teen Vogue, Tyra Banks, Willow Smith, and Nylon just to name a few. Her most recent success can be seen in the “Spirit” video by Beyonce for the movie “The Lion King.” She made some of the face mask featured in the video.
My Interview with Jewelry Designer Nina Berenato
C.Y.C.- Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you start off making jewelry?
N.B.- My name is Nina Berenato. I currently live in Austin, Texas but I’m from Missouri, St. Louis. I went to the University of Missouri. I enrolled in a typical textile management program, more on the design side. When I got out of college I couldn’t just jump into a fashion design career there was a lot missing. I decided to move to new york and I took a job styling store windows. That job was really cool. A couple of the stores I worked for were really weird. One of them I worked for was a hippie store, but they had a full bar in the back. It was most known for the store that artist could come in and get a free drink. People would come in and out all the time. One of the people who came into the store was a jewelry designer, and she and I met. She was looking for an apprentice at the time, so I just came into her studio and found out it was a full- time position without a salary. ” I then said to myself if there is a time to do it then the time is now.”
N.B.- I was around the age of 21 or 22 and I just decided I was going to do it. The location was beautiful based in brooklyn with high ceilings and a lot of natural light. It had 7 different designers in there all sharing tools, because metal-smith tools are really expensive. I just thought I’m going to work in here, work with my hands and get crafty all while working in bars at night, and it will just be for fun. I ended up falling in love with it. I worked for her and helped create her line for five years. I started my line at the same time as well. My first collection consisted of things that I just wanted to make. It was also difficult to make because I didn’t have a grasp on all the metal techniques. Some designs were way out of my technical depth. It was a real challenge, I see them now and it’s like nails on a chalkboard, they are so bad. A few stores in brooklyn wanted to put them in on consignment so that is how it all started. I thought I was going to go back to apparel, so I didn’t want to use my name to brand the collection. I started the line under the name Psyche. He is a greek goddess that I love. I had the line under Psyche for four years in new york. Then I moved to texas and re- branded under my name Nina Berenato.
C.Y.C.- If you were not a jewelry designer right now what would you be?
N.B.- OMG! Well I still feel like I would be in metals. I would be a sculptor or a teacher. I teach classes here and there and I really enjoy that. Also, I really like styling. I would do prop styling and open up my own store. I have a deep love for antiques that has become more and more prevalent. People have began to ask me to help them style spaces.
C.Y.C.- Where are you originally from in St. Louis?
N.B.- North County I grew up there and when I was there I didn’t appreciate it. I hated St. Louis when I was there! I couldn’t wait to get out. Now when I go back I’m like this place is great, what was I thinking? I think it’s like that you underestimate your hometown and then after a little time passes you appreciate it.
C.Y.C.- You said you started working in the industry at 21 right? How old are you now?
N.B.- I’m 30 and it is great. I feel like it is an empowering year. I was weirded out by it. As a woman you think that you are going to be in a different place in your relationship. When I left new york I was also leaving a 7 year relationship. I moved to texas and I didn’t know anyone there. I was just like I’m going to move to texas and do this jewelry business. I was a lone ranger. It took me a minute to settle into austin. I thought I was going to get there and have a million best friends and a boyfriend. 30 just was a very empowering year for me because “I wasn’t exactly where I thought I would be but I was learning to love where I was in the present moment.”
C.Y.C.- What inspires you when you are making your jewelry?
N.B.- It’s really literal. Every season I would find one thing that all of a sudden that grabs me and I just start researching it. The very first collection was based on the “constallation leo.” My second collection was based on the greek alphabet called “linear B“. It’s made of a bunch of symbols. Then I did one based on this south african tribe called the “San Bushmen“. They are the oldest genetic match that we can trace back to the cave men. San bushmen are super important in science biologically. At the natural history museum I saw these cave paintings that they did and I became obsessed with the tribe. The next collection was based on time travel. I go past something in my life and then all of a sudden I feel like I see it everywhere. My imagination just goes wild. That was a lot of me being based in new york. I had incredible inspiration everywhere, amazing art, amazing museums I could visit, and different cultures I could see constantly.
N.B.- When I got to texas I was having a really hard time inspiration wise because I wasn’t seeing the things that usually inspired me like modern art. I had to look for inspiration in a way that I hadn’t looked before. The first collection that I ever designed in austin took me a whole year which is not typical for me at all. It was also smaller than anything I ever made. It was called “Doors of Janus.” When I first got there I didn’t have a car because I hadn’t driven for a while. I was just walking and the only thing that kept sticking in my mind was that all the doorways had really bright colors and the trees arched over everything. It’s really beautiful. “I always try to think what is sticking to your mind? What do you want to create?” Don’t push yourself into something if it’s not there, so I created a collection based on doors. Then I started researching ancient doors. All my stuff goes back to methodology in some way. Janus is the God of doorways/ entry and new beginnings. I just created a snake collection called “Chaos.” Now looking back when I was creating this line things were pretty chaotic in my life. I was just opening the store in austin. “Chaos” goes back to the beginning of the world and creation. The very first being to spring from the earth was a snake.
C.Y.C.- How did it feel when someone purchased something from one of your collections for the first time? Can you rein-act that moment for me?
N.B.- Ok well… I actually was in brooklyn one of the first stores that carried it was at a store that I worked in as a sales associate so I actually got to witness people buying it in the store. I didn’t have a huge online business or anything like that. I was super shy about it. I would not tell them I was the designer. “I was just in my body exploding of course”. I would say, oh you want that necklace let me wrap it up for you. I thought if I told them they would react differently. I didn’t want to pressure customers. Then one day the store owner pulled me to the side and said you have got to tell them you made this. It would be so much more special to them to be able to meet the designer. That helped me be able to really talk to people about my jewelry. That’s like six years in the making it was not natural to me in the beginning. Even now when I go to hotel shows I feel really insecure about talking to stores about my stuff because they are really judging it. I also feel like I have this big responsibility to them to be able to give them a product that they can sell.
N.B.- I can actually remember a time when I was on the subway and I looked over and saw someone wearing my jewelry. It feels like you are having a fever, it’s unreal. Especially for me because I am so emotionally connected to every single thing I make. I make everything in my collection. There is no one helping me with production.
C.Y.C.- How long does it take for you to actually make a piece of jewelry?
N.B.- For instance the ring I am wearing right now took 3 hours to make. Then I make a mold of it and it has a tiny hole in it, and I just pour the medal back in to finish it. That’s how I almost make an identical ring along with an entire collection.
C.Y.C.- Where do you see yourself in five years with your jewelry line?
N.B.- Right now I am in an interesting spot. We opened up our brick and mortar at the domain, but it’s only a pop up. It’s over in January. Then we have to figure out where we want to go. I still believe in brick and mortar. I know everyone in the world is like that’s fucking stupid. You can’t survive off of brick and mortar anymore. I like my interaction with my customers. It drives me so much more when people come in and purchase something. ” It says I believe in you and what your doing and I’m ready to put my money where my mouth is” without that your just sitting around like why is this so hard? Your confined to a studio and you don’t get those pats on the back, which you need. In a store you get that all day long. I have an amazing team. I can’t believe how lucky I got with retail. It’s like I can’t let them down either. We are going to try to find something more permanent.
N.B.- I would love to find some place in south congress, which is our main strip. It’s developing like crazy. Every place that we have had has taken a chance on us. The domain is basically a mall. I had been talking to them for two years trying to get in there and they were like no we don’t want a brand like you. We only want big brands. Literally now my store is across from Louis Vuitton and it’s next door to Tiffany & Co. but at first they were like no you don’t fit. Then I was at this pop up place and this girl came in and she was like your stuff is great you need to be at the Domain. They need your stuff there! I told her I was trying to get in for two years and they didn’t want me and that I was a small brand. Then she said her husband was the head of leasing and she would get me in. The next day he said you can have a lease until january if you can build it in 20 days. I knew we could do it. I’m just banking for something like that to fall into our hands again. I just want a permanent home and have the workspace included so people can see me working. That’s my dream.
C.Y.C.- Have you ever thought about doing a collaboration with a huge brand such as Tiffany’s?
N.B.- Here is the thing about that, I thought about doing a collaboration when I was doing wholesale shows. I was talking to wrangler to do a collab on their jeans. I have a hard time doing collabs with other jewelry designers because I feel like what I have, the only thing that sets me apart is my design. Why would I give that to another designer? My design esthetic to me is the most valuable thing that I have. Even if they could give me money I feel like me giving them my brain is worth more than the money. Almost everyone I know has been ripped off or copied in some way. With me you can’t really copy anything I’ve done, it would be way to obvious. I don’t want to give you my ideas! If you are a designer you should be able to come up with your own ideas.
C.Y.C.- Do you see your jewelry on any celebrities? If so who would it be?
N.B.- We have had some celebrities back in the day wear it when it was in the showroom. Lena Dunham has worn it, FKA Twigs, and Cindy Crawford. If I were to think about who I would want to wear it right now it would be Solange. I love her so much.
N.B.- Yeah I know I love her so much. Every time a celebrity has worn stuff it feels really cool and weird. It’s like a dream come true. It’s really hard to get stuff to celebrities. Oh, before I forget Alicia Keys wore it. She wore my earrings on the season finale of The Voice.
C.Y.C.- Are you serious… I would just die!
C.Y.C.- I love Solange. You should reach out to her PR representative.
N.B.- Yes I’m serious I will show you a picture. Listen to how this happened, so all the time people email me asking me for pulls from back in the day from me living in New York. I don’t live in New York anymore so I can’t get it to them in time. Sometimes they will say I need it tomorrow. I can’t spend $200.00 dollars to overnight it to you and there is a 5% chance that your going to use it. I was in new york three months ago or something like that, anyway I got an email from a stylist and she was like hey I’m pulling for The Voice for Alicia Keys do you have anything. I was like I’m in new york right now and I have all my samples. I will come by and drop them off. She said it’s for the episode tomorrow so drop it off now. I watched the episode and she wasn’t wearing anything. I try not to get to invested into things in case it doesn’t work out. Then 3 weeks later all of a sudden my phone starts blowing up. They were like Alicia Keys is wearing your earrings on the finale. I was like OMG, it was nuts!
N.B.- Alicia Tyler has worn all of the ear cuffs on her show. Her stylist came by my store in austin and we didn’t know she was her stylist. We were just super nice to her. She just started posting when she got back home. She said my store was her favorite store in austin, texas. The girls are really nice that work there everyone support them. Then all of a sudden I get an order sent to my phone and it was an $800.00 dollar order in LA. I looked at the address and it was where all of the television studios were located. Then I looked at the name and it was Alicia Tyler’s stylist. In my mind I was like first of all thank you for buying it when you would have probably got it for free if you would have emailed me. That’s amazing! The support that we get really keeps me going. We have so many obstacles that happen every month. We are often worried about skating by on our rent. At the first week of every month I’m on a trip LOL. My staff always say we need a week extension on the rent because Nina is out of town LOL.
C.Y.C.- God has blessed you to sustain, which means you were meant to be doing exactly what your doing.
N.B.- That’s true we won’t stop!
C.Y.C.- Your team how many people work with you?
N.B.- It’s our store manager Van, Madison who works in the store as well she does sales and accounts for us, Lilly does social media and our emails, Victoria who works at the store, and Lauren who works at the store. So that’s six and then we have a freelance person that helps with our PR.
C.Y.C.- What is your most sold out item out of all your collections?
N.B.- The horn bracelet. That makes me happy because I don’t do a lot of wax carving and that was a wax piece and labor intensive. It is carved out of a huge block of wax using dental tools.
C.Y.C.- How often do you come out with new collections?
N.B.- When I was in new york I just worked with the fashion calendar and the wholesale show calendar so it was twice a year. I try to put out at least 20 pieces per collection. Now that I am in austin and have the store people will come in and ask what’s new? I have decided to break it up into quarterly collections that are smaller. I dropped the first 8 pieces of Chaos a month ago. Then I will drop 8 more right before christmas. Then 8 more in february and so forth. So people don’t get bored. In austin people don’t care about fashion it’s not the same as it is in larger cities.
C.Y.C.- Any advice for people who want to do what you do, especially young women?
N.B.- My biggest advice is to become an apprentice versus studying in school. As much as I love education, for things like fashion you are going to learn so much more from people who are really in it. If you are in merchandising or the business side you should try to get in with a smaller company. An internship at Saks sounds great, but you are not going to learn anything there. It won’t be the same as you learning and being beside a small business owner. They are going to let you see them make pit falls and watch the mistakes happen and learn how to not do them yourself.
C.Y.C.- Where did you get your creative nitch from? People often brag about which parent they inherited their creative bug from.
N.B.- Well my mom is not creative she is in accounting. My dad is creative in a way. He is an entrepreneur and has had a ton of different businesses. He has had failures, drives, and sales. He is very creative when it comes to marketing and he has great perseverance. I really don’t know where my creativeness comes from it could be the way my mom raised me. She didn’t have a lot of money so she would take me to free things like the library. We did a lot of educational free things and I think that’s where I got my creativity. “I begin to walk around with my eyes more open.” Instead of doing mindless activities I was always looking at an opportunity to learn or see things differently.
C.Y.C.- What’s your favorite quote what do you live by?
N.B.- Jump and the net will appear.
C.Y.C.- Where can my readers find you?
or my store in Austin LOL.
Until Next Time,