You only have to be on the J train for five minutes before you realize: chains are a thing here. Disclaimer: I'm a Brit who moved here from a town in South-East London little more than a few years ago, where urban style doesn't dare too much outside of a Nike tracksuit and some squeaky clean white sneakers. Subtlety reigns in the UK. So when I moved here, I loved that the "dripping in chains" look had lived well beyond its late nineties MTV screen days, and for a while had a small obsession with the brash pawn shops of Delancey Street and the rows of Canal Street jewelers. More recently, I saw an older guy with a cane on the subway (in a scarlet velvet tracksuit) drowning in hundreds of enormous chains. I wondered if he bought the cane as an accessory in '98 and the heavy chains had weighed him down over the years which then made the cane practical—a true veteran of style. The curiosity a chain can inspire can't be denied. It makes you want to know the story behind the chain, the story of the person wearing it.
Martine Ali had the same obsession, she's a child of the MTV generation and grew up wanting to be "the next Jacob the Jeweler." Completely self-taught, she has a (secret) unique technique that give her chunky chains a special burnished finish—her trademark. I went to her Brooklyn studio where we chatted chains, romance, and the story that sits behind each piece and at the heart of the Martine Ali brand.
ELOISE MORAN:When did you first get into making jewelry? - Do you remember the first piece you made or experimented with?
MARTINE ALI: I started making jewelry when I was a kid. I had this babysitter who would bring me to the local hobby shop for projects to keep me busy. Once we started dabbling at the bead counter it was a wrap. I started making these awful seed bead necklaces with blown glass beads for my mom. She was obsessed with them and would wear them to work, and pretty soon got her friends to start buying them from me. Thanks mom!
For Fashion week you made a pop-up in SoHo— Can you tell us a bit about this and where the idea came from?
I've had this idea swirling around in my mind for a while. It started really because I had all these people even from various countries that found me on Instagram and hit me up to come by my studio. It became almost like this destination. I realized that the studio wasn't just a place, it was an experience. Consumers need an inspiring experience. I wanted to take this concept and really push it. I want to create a retail experience that doesn't feel like retail at all, but mimics a studio visit. I want to really bring people into my creative process, and I want them to feel the creative energy and the ideas that make the jewelry so special.
Generally, where do you look to for inspiration? OR What has given you your best idea?
My best ideas come from boredom. Creativity creeps in just as you want to claw your eyes out. I think we are always looking to be doing something, to stay busy. Do nothing. Let yourself go. Let your mind wonder. All of these ideas live inside of us and we need to let them come up to surface.
What piece of yours would you suggest for the guy/girl who wants to get their loved one something a little different?
The Cuban Link bracelet is my classic. Guys, girls, everyone loves this piece! I basically live in mine because no matter what I wear it always gives every look that special signature. It really just takes it there.