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How I'm Making It: Jewelry Designer Anna Sheffield

Jewelry designer Anna Sheffield's contrasting influences probably has roots in her diverse background. Though she now calls New York home, she spent
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Jewelry designer Anna Sheffield's contrasting influences probably has roots in her diverse background. Though she now calls New York home, she spent the better part of her life in northern New Mexico and various parts of California, with stints down South as well. The element of contrast is evident throughout her life and collections: beauty and refinement meets the unexpected and edgy. Even the combination of her girly, sweet nature and her striking tattoos deliver the same message.

Sheffield never intended to be a designer, and instead focused on her fine arts background. She began creating jewelry for fun by translating welding and blacksmithing techniques with smaller materials. Slowly but surely, demand grew and a business was born. Her label Bing Bang consists of playful, trend driven pieces with punk rock elements, for example the 'tattoo' rings that feature flattened symbols like peace signs and can be worn anywhere on the finger. A desire to work with finer elements and gemstones led to her launch a namesake range of bespoke, handcrafted pieces that now also include a bridal/commitment range.

With multiple ranges and a list of collaborations that range from Marc Jacobs to Target, Sheffield shows no signs of slowing down. She showed us around her spacious Lafayette showroom, before settling in with a cup of tea to tell us how she does it.

What were you doing prior to launching your first jewelry label? Anna Sheffield: I studied sculpture at the Academy of Arts, so I was doing that for a while. Fine art was the direction I intended taking. I had studied jewelry making to learn the techniques, but I was translating that information into sculptural objects. I was also doing blacksmithing and welding- a lot of architectural stuff and furniture here and there. I created a lot of installations.

How did you end up starting your first jewelry label, Bing Bang? It was pretty random. I was making pieces just for fun. I would periodically find something in my studio that inspired me, like a shape or an end piece from a steel plate, or a beautiful copper piece. I would make little one-offs and wear them or give them away. There is this super cute boutique called Behind the Post Office in the Upper Haight of San Francisco where I was living at the time, and I would go in a lot and knew all the girls who worked there. They started asking about my jewelry and if I would sell any. So I made extra pieces for fun and dropped them off. They kept selling, so I kept making more. From there, more stores were asking, so I kept going. It was so much easier than art. Showing your art and writing grant proposals and exhibiting. Meeting people in a gallery is like being naked. It’s so personal and intense.

Why and when did you relocate to New York? I relocated ten years ago. It was kind of to see which took over: art or jewelry. It’s sort of like moving to New York to fulfill my dreams, find my line of destiny. It was kind of like the rabbit and the hare. I felt more attraction to fine art and was way more involved in the art world, but somehow the jewelry thing just happened. At the time I had about ten stockists around the country.

Did you have an ‘I’ve made it’ moment? There were a few of those moments. People would call stuff for a movie or celebrity, and I would see it be shot, which was cool. I remember when Kirsten Dunst bought my necklace, and I was like ‘Oh, holy shit!” Drew Barrymore wore a piece in Vogue, which was huge. I had sent her a necklace just cause I think she is a baddass, and she ended up wearing it in the shoot. You can’t pay for that placement. I also did runway for Marc Jacobs, which was huge. I didn’t even have PR at that time.

What were some of the early obstacles? I didn’t have any business experience, so the ins-and-outs of running a company was difficult. As an artist, my brain doesn’t necessarily work in that way. I started hiring more employees, which was helpful. People taught me simple things like using folders to stay organized. I hired my brother in 2006, and he worked with me for three years. He was basically the CEO and implemented our marketing strategies and doing our blog. He also figured out our campaigns and what photographers to use. He decided that instead of using models we could use women from the community who sort of would become our muses and contribute to the blog.

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How did you expand into your other ranges? I wanted to play with fine jewelry and precious materials, but it didn’t really fit into Bing Bang. I did fine jewelry for 3.1 Phillip Lim in fall ’07, and after that decided to do my own capsule range. It just expanded from there. Then in September we launched the bridal, which we had been planning for nearly two years. I’ve gotten to make rings for some amazing people. Our clientele is amazing and very diverse. The similarity is a desire for something a little different and meaningful.

What is the design philosophy behind your jewelry? I try to have a combination of things that are really refined and elegant, but always with an edge. Something a little dark or off-the-beaten-path. There’s always that salty and sweet combination. I like the artisan element--[items that are] made by hand. That being said I also want it to be a bit perfect and shiny. It’s sort of push/pull until it is finished.

Where do you draw inspiration? I reference a lot of vintage jewelry, objects, architecture, and furniture design. I look at a lot of different things. I have file folders, where I keep inspiration. It can be gemstones I want to work with, or colors I like in a painting.

Are you influenced by having lived on both coasts? Yes, I think so. The visual influences are so different. Where I grew up in New Mexico the architecture is more integrated into the land and more about nature and space, but in New York you’re inside little slots of space with all this steel and glass around you. I definitely think the contrast has had an influence.

Do you follow fashion? Yeah. I love the more established labels like Alexander McQueen and even Alex Wang. But I also love a lot of newer designers like Lindsay Thornburg, Honor, Nomia, and Electric Feathers. There are so many cool labels at the moment.

Do you have any muses? My friends. When I’m designing I try not to think of one person or thing. My collections are pretty broad. It ranges from cute to fierce. I try to think of archetypes.

How do you create the pieces? Sometimes I make the prototype myself here in the studio, and sometimes I draw it and somebody else makes the prototype. Sometimes we create the design digitally. There are many different ways that I work because there are so many different pieces in the collection. I love getting to make things myself by hand; you can tell I’ve been doing it a lot lately by looking at my fingers.

What is your average workday like? It’s like three companies and two brands and four collections at the moment, so it is hectic. I get up and have coffee and send off some misspelled emails from my phone and iPad simultaneously. Then I come here and work for the rest of the day. There’s always a million things to do, so it is varied.

Any exciting plans on the horizon? We just collaborated with an artist called Curtis Kulig called ‘Love Me.’ He’s a friend and we had chatted about it over tea, and then it really materialized. I’m about to make a lot of new fine and bridal pieces, so that will be big. We are re-launching the website and blog too.