From the beginning of Lorraine West’s career, she has attracted a stellar list of stylish clients. The Brooklyn based designer remembers how over 20-years ago, “My leather cuff bracelets caught the eye of Andre 3000, Erykah Badu and Common. In 1999, they were my first musician clients.”
The illustrator turned jewelry designer has done countless collabs over the years including many with the iconoclast Erykah Badu. “One piece that stands out for me is the brass nine-inch wings I designed for her Out My Mind, Just In Time tour in 2010,” remembers Lorraine. “They were entirely hand fabricated and took a month to create.”
More recently the designer who makes her silver, brass and copper work in her Brooklyn studio, had a major appearance on Beyoncé in Black Is King. Queen Bey’s brilliant stylist Zerina Akers put the star in Lorraine’s massive palette earrings. The jewels have sold out repeatedly on the designer’s website.
The narrative of Lorraine’s creations mirrors her Caribbean roots, her fascination with hip-hop and a mix of bold and minimalist design sensibilities. Novel concepts, material range, form and function have drawn many other famous fans to her work including Zendaya, Serena Williams, Alicia Keys and Ava DuVernay. And there promises to be a lot more luminaries attracted to the collection in the future. She just launched her first capsule collection of fine jewelry at Greenwich Street Jewelers in New York City.
All of this and so much more in West’s career is being celebrated in a virtual retrospective of her work that is the centerpiece of New York City Jewelry Week. See it here and find out more about the designer below.
Tell me about yourself and how your love of jewelry began
My mother had a curated selection of jewelry that I loved looking through as a child growing up in Central Islip, New York, with my five siblings. The contents of the jewelry boxes told a piece of my mother’s story. There were two rings I especially loved – a sterling silver domed band with a swirly wavy, hand engraved design and a stainless-steel spoon ring with a relief flower pattern. She gave me both the rings when I turned 14. That was my rite of passage into proper jewelry.
What shaped your love of jewelry and life?
In the mid 80s, early 90s jewelry was a form of identity, self-expression and liberation in hip-hop culture. I was enamored by large four finger rings, ‘dookie rope’ gold chains, medallions, name plates and ‘door knocker’ hoop earrings, and initial earrings worn by music artists such as MC Light, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane and Queen Latifah.
Watching music videos and reading high fashion magazines – Vogue, Elle and Essence – taught my pre-teenage self about the world of high fashion as a lifestyle. By the time I got to high school, I was known for wearing unique jewelry that expressed my appreciation for Black/African culture. I also wore sterling silver rings, bangles and pendant necklaces I found at the local mall kiosks and flea markets that were bold, modern and contemporary.
What inspired the Ascension Nail Halos ring? The design is so amazing.
The Ascension Nail Halo Rings are inspired by the “Higher Self” and the principle of illuminating your inner being so your outer being can shine its brightest. The concept was birthed for the fashion film, As Above.
The fashion film As Above featuring Lorraine West jewels
Tell us about the collaborations close to your heart
Most recently, I collaborated on a top 40 promo/giveaway of ‘Major nameplates with author, Shayla Lawson to celebrate the launch of her recently published book, This is Major, Notes On Dark Girls, And Being Dope, published by Harper Perennial.
Our collaboration now lives on my website where the ‘Major’ nameplates are available for purchase in 14k yellow gold or sterling silver. Each sale of the nameplate includes a personalized, signed copy by Shayla Lawson.
What challenges do you face as an indie jeweler?
One of the greatest challenges as an independent designer is access to capital. During this climate of change, there are more opportunities for growing small businesses to acquire access to capital due to the dismantling of racial and gender inequality.
Tell me a little about your New York City Jewelry Week digital retrospective, Glimpse.
I’m very excited about the Cooper Hewitt talk with curator, Alexandra Cunningham Cameron – Power, Freedom, Love the Jewelry of Lorraine West, during NYCJW on November 17.
One special section of the retrospective is The Inception chapter. It features a new editorial shoot of my early leather and metal work reimaged through new imagery and styling. The shoot was inspired by fashion influences and pop culture of the 80s as well as my years coming of age in the 90s with my crew of creative friends in the fashion and art scene – it’s a celebration of many milestones in my design career.