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Designing Lives: Nak Armstrong

Designer weaves textile background and a love for contradictions into personal, personable collection.

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NAK ARMSTRONG’S collection is often referred to as looking like a group of intricate fabrics. His original background in textile design has created a sensibility that entwines gems to form what Armstrong describes as a “tapestry of color and texture.” He often uses multiple hues of stones in one piece to create an effect where colors “bleed into each other.” Touches of leather, suede and macramé-like chain work distinguish Armstrong’s collection as he continually strives to create non-traditional techniques of jewelry making and invent new ways to allow vivid gems to take center stage.

IN THE BEGINNING: “I never really noticed jewelry before my 20s. I was obsessed with architecture and landscape design; I was fixated on the details of all different types of buildings. I attended the University of Texas at Austin with a concentration in architecture, but I became very intrigued by the intricacies of fabrics and later moved into textile design. ”

FIRST CAREER: “I moved to New York City after college and took a position as a pattern maker for a few years while designing some clothing on the side. I met my ex-business partner and we decided to launch a textiles company together, creating one-ofa- kind fabrics for the trade (both interiors and fashion). After a little over a year, we felt that we were limiting ourselves because of the difficulties involved in textile production in the U.S. It was then, in 1999, that Anthony Nak was born. The jewelry incorporated a specific woven look in the way the beads and the chain work meshed together. The collection was a success at both the retail and consumer level.”

ON HIS OWN: “I held the position for several years as a co-owner and the designer of Anthony Nak. Last year, I felt it was time for me to launch my own label, Nak Armstrong. My design sensibility has evolved. There is a wider range of stones, metals, motifs, and construction techniques. In addition to the more obvious textile inspirations, at the heart of the collection is architecture, a mixture of deco and Roman. But I strive to dissolve the hard and straight edges. The results are pieces that sometimes look like they have been grown rather than built.”

DESIGN PHILOSOPHY: “I am largely self-taught. I would describe my aesthetic as instinctive. The collection is a mixture of romanticism, urbanity, intricacy, and wit. I love the juxtaposition of things: new and old, hard and soft, tough and pretty. Most people are a set of contradictions. I strive to have my pieces reflect that tension

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THE MEDIUM: “I have always considered myself more of an artist than a designer, and the jewelry medium has given me the opportunity to create little pieces of sculpture.”

DESIGNER’S PICK

“The bangles are all hand made in oxidized sterling silver and 18K gold in our studio in Austin.”

“The stones are cut to our specifications and welded together using hand cut sterling silver and gold to create a mosaic pattern.”

“The bangles are completely hand fabricated; there are no castings.”

“The sizes of the stones vary widely in each piece to create an old world look. No two bangles are alike.” 

Q&A with Nak Armstrong

What is your favorite vacation spot and why?
“Africa. It’s stunning, wild, breathtaking, and otherworldly. The landscape, wildlife, and people are completely humbling.”

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What is your favorite piece of jewelry you’ve designed and why?
“An engagement ring for a friend. It so perfectly reflects my aesthetic as a designer and her spirit as a person. I think the best things often happen when you let go and just let it happen.”

If you could have any other career what would it be?
“Rock star for sure. I love to sing, so I might as well get paid for it. But that ship has sailed!”

Tell us something about yourself that no one knows?
“I have a phobia of heights.”

What are your hobbies?
“Yoga, art, movies and attending plays.”

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Beth Bernstein is a published author of three books and jewelry and fashion expert with 18+ years experience. A broad knowledge of the history of jewelry and fashion coupled with a background in "the story", writing, trends, design concepts has earned Beth a proven track record.

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