When one of her personal designs caught the eye of a Europe-based Barneys buyer, Temple St. Clair went from studying art and literature in Florence to running a full-fledged fine jewelry line.
Twenty-five years later, her eponymous line is sold in Bergdorf and Saks, and its signature rock crystal amulets remain a mainstay among the well-off boho crowd. The designer remains refreshingly independent in the corporate era, running the business with her husband and using her role as a well-known designer to benefit philanthropic causes both environmental and cultural.
Later this month, her audience will expand way beyond uptown doyennes and the West Village gypset when Temple St. Clair for Target hits shelves on August 29. In anticipation of this milestone, we spoke with the designer on her Florentine roots, working with the retail giant, and why coral belongs in the ocean, not around your neck.
Fashionista: Tell us about the early days of your main line. Temple St. Clair: The Mediterranean was the root of my inspiration, [which can be seen in my use of] a yellow gold, and a lot of colored gems, and a lot of granulation detail. It was sort of very organic. I’d be traveling, and I’d be in Turkey, and there’d be architectural details that I’d take note of…that I’d turn into a piece of jewelry. It has evolved over the years and become sort of more modern in a way but sort of a modern classic. It works in a little bit more structured manner in that I actually have a timeline I have to stick to. I’m pretty much a year out. Right now I’m finishing up Fall 2011.
That’s even earlier than fashion! You’ve named Fall 2010 the “Odyssey” collection. It seems you’ve moved east from Italy and the Mediterranean. One of my children was reading The Odyssey for school, so we’ve had a lot of discussions about the Persian Empire, Helen of Troy, and the exchange of cultures…my imagination got going and I thought, "I'll create a modern Helen of Troy’s jewel box." So that's part of the collection: Very limited edition, almost one-of-a-kind pieces. And then at the same time, in my imagination—and this is why I think I’m so lucky I do what I do because I get to sort of daydream and turn it into jewelry—I’m thinking, Troy was ancient Greece, but it was [physically] in Turkey. So there was the influence of the east, which brought an evil eye into the collection. And then from the more Western ancient Greece influence, there’s an amphora shape, a beautiful shaped vessel that I’ve always wanted to incorporate [in pieces].
Onto Target. Were you at all hesitant to do the collaboration? I’ve said no to plenty of others, but Target was an easy choice. I really like how they showcase designers and how they support the arts. When they approached me I was flattered, because it puts me in great company, with the ready to wear designers that have worked with them. I don’t feel like it compromises my brand in anyway. There are obvious limitations though. You’re not working with real stones and gold. In a way there are fewer limitations. Target, first of all, is so masterful in facilitating what a designer wants to do…and [they] take care of production and sourcing. In my main collection, [sourcing is] tremendously difficult, because all of our stone choices are without compromise. So if I want to use a large aquamarine, it has to be a natural stone, and it has to have a certain color saturation. In the Target collection, I could say I want to do a necklace of all these large stones matched in this color, which basically don’t exist in nature, and do it in fakes. It’s sort of like I could draw up anything I wanted. [It’s] meant to be fun. It’s priced for fun, and it’s pieces you don’t have to worry about.
Any favorite pieces? I love all the charm pieces. [They’re] fun to wear to the beach, they’re really easy, and can be layered. I can’t wait to see them in stores. I hope I get a few pieces before they all go!
Tell me about Too Precious To Wear (a coral preservation campaign led by Sea Web, an non-profit organization in Washington). I sort of have a lifetime involvement with the ocean. I’ve been an avid snorkeler from a young age, a scuba diver since I was a teenager, and I actually went on a few study trips with Jean Michel Cousteau. Celine Cousteau, Jean Michel’s daughter, brought the Too Precious To Wear people to me…We’re trying to explain that coral is the [oceanic] equivalent of the rainforest: it’s the foundation of the ecosystem and if it’s wiped out there are a lot of other species that will be wiped out as well. So I’ve been very actively trying to get other jewelry design colleagues to pledge that they will not use coral. I’m doing a lot with the imagery of coral in my Spring 2011 collection, and we’ll choose one [piece] to help the Too Precious To Wear campaign. Temple St. Clair for Target hits stores and the web August 29. The Odyssey collection from her main line will be in stores and at www.templestclair.com August 16.