Designing Lives: Simon Alcantara

Dancer turned designer imbues each new jewel with meaning, beauty and a fashion sensibility

BY TALYA COUSINS

Published in the September/October 2013 issue

When injury robbed him of a promising career in dance, Simon Alcantara rediscovered his love of jewelry making and began a rapid ascent in the twin worlds of fashion and jewelry design. His hand-woven hoop earrings became his signature piece and were worn by both Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada and Oprah Winfrey on her eponymous television show. From his longtime collaborations with fashion houses Balmain and Oscar de la Renta to the mix of bold and ornate pieces that have become so recognizable as his own, the New York designer discusses his unconventional journey to jewelry design and his unique take on modern adornment.

NATURAL INSTINCTS“When I was a child, my parents told me I had three career options: I could either become a banker, a doctor or a lawyer. But from the moment I stepped into a dance studio, all I wanted was to be a dancer. I would sneak out after school to attend ballet class, and eventually, when I turned 18, my parents gave in and I started dancing professionally. Becoming a jewelry designer was a complete accident. While at dance school, a fellow dancer showed me a pair of earrings she had designed and I was hooked. I spent every free moment taking apart vintage necklaces, studying their structure and fluidity and re-fashioning them into earrings and hair ornaments. I was fascinated with jewelry, but I didn’t believe I could make a living designing, so I deserted it and concentrated on my dancing.”

FASHION GEM “Years later after a serious injury that ended my dancing career, I picked up my jewelry toolbox again. A short time afterwards, I was introduced to a buyer at Patricia Field’s store. She requested that I create a collection of woven leather and stone chokers. The collection sold out in three days and other retailers quickly followed. In 2000, Oscar de la Renta saw my pieces and decided to feature them in his fall/ winter runway show. That led to a three-year collaboration with him and beautiful partnerships with other fashion houses such as Balmain and J. Mendel. In 2003, Bergdorf Goodman launched my namesake collection.”

PRESENT PERFECT “In many ways, not having formal jewelry training has been a blessing. I’m very keen on learning, and since I create everything by hand, I keep developing new techniques. Weaving is one of my strengths; I’ve spent years finessing it. My newest collection, Alpha Pavonis, is inspired by the peacock and its symbolism across cultures. Essentially, the collection is about celebrating our own innate brilliance. It combines 18K gold and sterling silver with feathers and warmhued gems such as lapis, garnet, amethyst, quartz, mother of pearl and green agate.”

POINT OF VIEW “Frankly, I think of jewelry as small pieces of art. They’re personal and meaningful yet as the wearer evolves so does their taste and almost every piece of jewelry can be re-fashioned into something new. It makes for a beautiful story and an unwasted form of expression.”

LIVING FOR TODAY “At this point in my life, I don’t make ten-year plans. I am a day-to-day kind of guy. The world is changing rapidly, so I try to stay open and focus on deepening my connections both professionally and personally.”

ARTISTIC MEANING “One of my mentors, the ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, once told me: ‘Who cares if you can lift your leg up to your face if it doesn’t mean anything or is not relevant to the story you’re telling.’ Those words remained with me and keep me in check as I build my business and design every collection. To me, meaning is everything. I like to create pieces that aren’t classic or contemporary but ageless, and I get inspired by the idea of creating something that will last beyond me and have a life of its own.”

Q&A | GETTING PERSONAL WITH SIMON ALCANTARA

FAVORITE PIECE OF JEWELRY TO WEAR?
“A charm necklace featuring a white pyrite pendant from my Nuntius collection, an ‘eye’ and a Nefertiti head that my mom gifted me when I was a teenager.”


WHEN NOT IN MY STUDIO DESIGNING I CAN BE FOUND…
“Walking around New York City, taking photographs and people watching. At night I can be found on the dance floor. I am a night owl.”

WORDS TO LIVE BY…
“SHINE BRIGHT. BE KIND. BE CONSCIOUS.”

MY STYLE ICONS ARE:
““Porfirio Rubirosa, David Bowie, James Dean.”

WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE AND WHY?
“My mom, she’s never lost her sense of curiosity and excitement for life. She is sheer joy and always smiling.”

 

Designing Lives: Simon Alcantara

South Sea mother of pearl, black agate and sterling silver earrings
MSRP: $465