In Studio With… Eddie Borgo
After an extended journey from San Francisco to Seoul, Shanghai and Hong Kong, jewelry designer Eddie Borgo stopped in Los Angeles before returning to his New York studio. Borgo’s eponymous line launched four years ago—sleek cone bracelets and geometric necklaces are trademarks—and he won a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2011. The designer arrived in town for a trunk show at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and also to research L.A. manufacturers. He’s a firm believer in supporting American artisans, citing the Chanel model (the house is known for buying famed French glove maker Causse and embroider Maison Lesage, among others). Wearing his trademark fedora, Borgo sat down at the Sunset Tower Hotel to talk shop.
By Elizabeth Varnell
You’ve been traveling the world, how have you been connecting with your collectors?
Through trunk shows wherever I go. I was introduced to Michael Kors at Café Cluny in New York and he had seen my work. He told me something along the lines of this, “You young designers think you’ll coast along with the internet and street style, but don’t forget that you need to engage your customers.” He built his business by personal relationships with clients at trunk shows.
You’re from Atlanta, and you’ve lived in New York for the past 13 years, what brought you there?
I studied art history at Hunter College of the City University of New York. If you’re going to night school in New York, you really want to go to school. Some of my professors would overload the classes because so many students wanted to take them, but none of us minded and if you arrived late, you sat on the floor.
You’ve described your company as very conceptual, how do you create?
I pencil sketch, then the drawings are turned into 3D renderings so we can open and close the piece before we start to carve it. After that, prototypes are made.
What sort of research do you do for a collection?
I look at photos in the New York picture library, books in my own library, architecture, sculpture, and the personalities who embraced jewelry in a certain era. I create mood boards [see slideshow], and I collect vintage pieces from that time period.
You’ve visited Joseff of Hollywood’s studio in Burbank.
His studio still exists here, he made jewels for Liz Taylor for Cleopatra. The studio didn’t want fine jewelry on set so he copied it for her. My spring/summer collection was inspired by Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life (Back Bay Books).
Where is your jewelry made?
We started producing pieces in Providence, Rhode Island at a place that made costume pieces for Kenneth Jay Lane, Chanel, and Pierre Cardin. They use the same cage work and finishing techniques as those utilized for fine jewelry.
And you’ve spread the word about your manufacturers to other designers including Pamela Love.
Chanel is keeping the Metiers d’Arts alive, but they also allow other designers to work with the artisans. I like to expose manufacturing bases to other designers.
What sort of manufacturing would you like to do in L.A.?
I’m meeting with people who make hardware for denim companies here. They make buttons, zippers and snaps. We use latches and clasps. These metalsmiths and casters understand the mechanics behind the pieces.
And they may be able to create those pieces for you?
The first thing artisans often say is, “It can’t be done.” There’s a language we have to speak to explain what we want to manufacture. One of the hardest parts of being a jewelry designer is that there isn’t one place that can make a whole piece. You buy the raw materials, then you need a caster, a cutter, and a stone setter. All the pieces move through an assembly line of sorts that isn’t located under one roof.
I’ve created my first pair of 18K gold cuffs of solid gold, a first foray into fine jewelry. The cuffs are sold in a set and are mirror images. They’re meant to look like all of our bracelets stacked together and they’re filled, heavy and solid. They will be ready in time for the holidays.
What inspired them?
Looking at my mother’s jewelry, her engagement band is wide, the weight of gold jewelry used to be substantial. I had also been to the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt and to the Elizabeth Taylor auction preview at Christie’s.
Will it still have a fresh and modern look?
I’m drawn to classic geometry, but it has to feel new. There’s always a moment in time when I look at the collection and ask, “Does it feel new?”
Pictured: Eddie Borgo
Photo by Stewart Shining