Christina Alexiou is a thinker. As a student of psychology, the Greek designer never loses sight of jewelry’s emotional powers. She is also deeply interested in the anthropological history of jewels — synthesizing traditional crafts from around the world and distilling them to forms that transcend any one culture. But Christina, who worked for over a decade at magazines including Greek Elle, always renders her intellectual inspirations with a fashion editor’s sense of style. She has a keen understanding of wearability and makes effortless pieces that work harmoniously in a woman’s wardrobe.
I sat down with Christina to discuss her fascinating background, which includes stints as an interior designer and proprietress of a nightclub. Her eclectic experience and inquiring mind come shining through in her beautiful jewelry collection, which launched two years ago and debuted in the United States earlier this spring, and has rapidly become among the most covetable on the market today.
You were born and raised in Athens, the birthplace of civilization not to mention so much ancient jewelry. When did your fascination with jewelry begin?
As a young girl, I loved ethnic jewelry, the hippie look. I was mesmerized by the women who wore it, the way they carried these big earrings with an attitude. When I was 13 or 14, I bought myself many, many Indian style bangles and big gypsy earrings. When I was younger, I only bought silver. I thought it was cooler. I thought gold was a symbol of wealth and power. But, going to the Greek museums and seeing ancient jewelry that still has this exquisite color, I came to understand gold. It will always shine, even after centuries.
After you studied psychology in college, you had many creative experiences ranging from advanced studies in art direction at New York University to running a disco in Athens and working as a fashion editor and interior designer. What made you finally turn your talents to jewelry?
I was always in antique markets and vintage stores for various projects or pleasure and I would see jewels that I wanted to do in my own way. I wanted to change a little something to make it more now, more contemporary. The first piece I made was a pair of big hoops and it just went from there.
Tell me how collections come to life when you make them today.
Everything starts with a sketch and is made by hand at workshops in Greece. It’s such an important relationship, like an extended family. We’re partners. They know what I like and what I mean when I say something. They know that I like everything to be very rounded and soft to the touch. You play with your jewelry, so I want it to feel good when you hold it. I don’t want my pieces to be too shiny, too showy. I want them to be part of a person’s story; to be inside them, not on top of them — not overpowering.
Tell me about some of the diverse cultural and historical references that influence your designs.
I love the power of historical styles; you can see the devotion and energy that someone has put into it with their hands. I’m inspired by traditional techniques, whether it’s Hellenistic or Mexican, Navajo or Byzantine. These crafts are so well-developed that it really is an art.
In Athens, I love the Archaeological Museum and the Benaki, which isn’t just about antiquity. You see in the 16th and 17th centuries how people were beginning to travel and how that influenced them. You know, a pair of earrings that you see in Sicily, then you see in Greece, then in Spain. You see how ideas traveled.
Many of the motifs that are central to your collection, like eyes and snakes, are similarly universal themes. Tell me how you view the meaning of these emblems.
For the eyes, I don’t consider them “evil eyes.” I respect the culture around them but the way I think of them is a bit different. I believe it’s your own energy that protects you. I think the eyes are more of an acknowledgement, like a thank you to that energy. They also acknowledge all we do with our eyes: we see, we perceive. I think they are a reminder to keep your eyes open, to see others.
You have lots of hearts in your collection — in little charms, chain links, clustered in rings, carved in stone, etched in cuffs. Several of them draw on the Orthodox tradition of ex-votos [a symbolic token with iterations in numerous religions throughout history]. Tell me about more about this.
There’s a museum in Mykonos with a collection of these votivos in metal, handmade or pressed, that would be designed depending on what you needed. Say you didn’t have good eyes, you’d make an eye; problems of the leg, you make a leg; problems of the heart, you make a heart. Then they would make a wish or a prayer and give something precious — often they’d give their best jewelry — saying ‘If you help me with this, I’ll give you this’. You’d see Greek Orthodox icons covered in all this jewelry, to the point where you can’t see the icon anymore. I love the spirit of hope in that tradition. Mine are made in the traditional way: the design is etched in gold, then we make a mold, and after the mold it’s a lot of handwork. It takes many, many hours of working it down so the design really comes through.
With all the ideas that go into your jewelry, your pieces maintain a sense of ease and wearability. How would you describe your style?
I’d say my style is comfortable, first of all. Chic, understated, simple. I like to keep it real. Personally, I always like to wear these two rings, with rough black diamonds and enamel. I found the stones and loved their shape so had them cut into pyramids, like a natural crystal. That gave me the idea for a kind of Middle Ages ring — the kind a knight would wear before going to war. They have a kind of power. It’s something I have in my collection with tourmalines instead of diamonds.
I love tourmalines a lot, especially with inclusions. I understand the perfect ones, where it’s all about carats and clarity, and I like them but, somehow, I always wind up choosing the ones that are a little strange. A perfect stone is a perfect stone but I like a little glow, a little story. I like stones with emotion.
*This post was produced in partnership with Christina Alexiou.