The explosion of pyramid studs and chunky chains over the past few years may have some people surprised, but not Anna Sheffield. The sculptor-turned-designer runs the jewelry label Bing Bang, whose textured metal pieces have been seen on the runways for Marc Jacobs, Phillip Lim, and Lutz + Patmos. In the process, her home-hewed style of mixing metals, jagging edges, and studding even the most expensive of jewels to look like motorcycle dowries has become something of an industry standard - how many cleeted bags got sacked on the Burberry and Balenciaga catwalk for Fall? Now Anna's moved into making her own handbags, as seen on Claudia Schiffer, and designing a new collection for Fall '08. This year, she was nominated for the CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessories. Next year, maybe she'll win an Oscar. Okay, maybe not - but she'll probably gain a good group of girls, sick of their status bags but still needing something stamped by the fashion packs as "approved." Plus, she admits in her interview that she used to mangle her Barbies - a style soul mate, indeed.
Really dumb but dying-to-know initial question: How do jewelry designers actually shape their metal? Do you have a place where you go melt gold and make molds, or do you just draw things and send them to factories? No, that's a good question! I make almost everything for Bing Bang. My background is mostly in fine art, and also in making stuff. Making stuff? Yes, I majored in sculpture in college, and when I was 20, I started soldering metal. It was like heaven. I love bending metal, and heating metal, and soldering it. My work is really structural, and there's lots of assembly. So we do use molds for some of the charms, but I do a lot of assembly, where I mix chains together, and sand and patina all the edges of our pieces. I love mixing colors of metal. So you weren't making jewelry as a little kid? No way, definitely not. But I was always making things because we were poor. I did DIY things. I made a Barbie car with wheels when I was a kid.
Wheels? Yeah and little shocks and breaks for it. I was a maniac. I also made Barbie food. Actually, now that I think about it, I never actually played with the dolls, I just made stuff for them! I should have known. It seems like the typical story for accessories designers is that they wear their own stuff, then all their friends start buying it, then all the fashion people... Exactly. I started by working in steel, and I would wear my pieces out and it was always, "Omigosh! Where did you get that? Oh, will you make me one?" How did you start collaborating with fashion designers? It was being in the right place at the right time. I was with a showroom called The News, and Phillip Lim had just started working with them, too [editor's note: The News also works with Vena Cava, Alexander Wang, and Cheap Monday]. And I met Rogan Gregory back then. We were all running in the same circles, we were all new. I really believe if you're smart and creative you should find people doing similar things and help each other.
What about with Marc Jacobs? With Marc, my friend Shelly is his fit model - Shelly's the model I use in all my look books. But she's really, like, Marc's model and she went into a fitting one day wearing it. He was like, "Oh, I love that" and she was like, "You should meet my friend." I went in to meet him and I was dying. Yeah, were you so nervous? SO nervous! In the elevator I was shaking. But he's so cool, he'll like, run right up and hug you. What's your process like? It's so easy. I have ideas constantly, and I sketch everything out, and then I'll start laying stuff out. I work on these trays and they're everywhere in my house and in my studio - whenever my design assistants see me with trays, they're like, "Oh watch out for Anna!" Everyone says the hardest part of starting your own line is having to sell it. That's true, designers are usually introverted by nature, so it's hard for them to have to push something. But because my background was in visual art, it's actually easy for me. I used to have to stand in front of my art work and try and explain it to patrons, which is so hard because art is so visceral. What can you say, like, "When I was two, this really shocking experience happened..."? This is a million times easier!
What about people who want to become designers? There's a million ways to get there. I think it has a lot to do with the right place and the right time and you have to appreciate the people around you. Also, I'm really big on keeping your integrity, there are some things you have to compromise but if you ever look at your work and don't recognize it, that's a problem. Why do you think you've been so successful? And you're not allowed to say, I'm not that successful, because that's boring. It's because I've handmade every single piece of our line, it's important to my process and it puts the mark of the maker in it. Actually making it is the most important part to me, and that gets a good audience.
And Now, The Semi-Proust Questionnaire... WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD? Fuck. I use it more often than any other word, except "cute." I like four-letter words. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE WORD? Parking Ticket! WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SOUND OR NOISE? Sinking a pool ball. I haven't done that in a while. WHAT IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE SOUND OR NOISE? The telephone ringing. WHAT PROFESSION, OTHER THAN YOUR OWN, DO YOU WISH TO ATTEMPT? I really want to be a helicopter pilot. I would also like to play the harmonica. I mean, if Angelina Jolie can do it, I should be able to do it. WHAT PROFESSION WOULD YOU NEVER WANT? Cab driver. WHAT MAKES YOU INSPIRED? I think honestly, the people I know. WHAT MAKES YOU NEVER WANT TO WORK AGAIN? Money. Finances and sell-throughs. I like being creative for being creative, not to make an end-goal. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SWEAR WORD? Fuck. Please. IF HEAVEN EXISTS, WHAT DO YOU WANT GOD TO SAY TO YOU WHEN YOU DIE? I think he'll probably say, "I didn't like that one necklace..." But it would be really fun if he said, "That was my favorite funeral ever." I already have parts of it planned out...