Metalwork has always been a sign of creativity and strength of a society. For the two sisters who draw inspiration from history and the arts, it has become the embodiment of present climate by presenting what is missing. Anndra Neen which was launched in 2009 by Annette and Phoebe Stephens, has been seen on iconic people such as Michelle Obama, Florence Welch, and many others. It easy to see how “the cage” clutch, one of their best selling pieces seems to ensnare more and more buyers. We were lucky enough to sit down and interview the designers in their Manhattan studio.
When did your attraction towards fashion start?
Phoebe: Well, we've forever been into fashion... since we were little, we were always playing dress up and getting magazines. It's always been a passion.
Was fashion a positive influence or a negative influence on your childhood? There is always a controversy when it comes to how fashion impacts a child.
Phoebe and Annette: It was always positive.
Annette: We were always encouraged to play with clothing as an art form, a way to adorn ourselves.
Phoebe: Our grandmother made her own clothing; in fact, she used to make costumes too.
How did you get into jewelry? Was it a natural progression from clothing or were you instantly drawn to metalwork?
Annette: Our grandmother was a jewelry designer in Mexico the 30s and 40s. She was predominantly an artist but jewelry was an offshoot of that. We were surrounded by jewelry and saw her process when we were young. We were actually on a trip to Japan and we were so inspired by the aesthetics, the compositions, and everything there. It was after that, that we decided to work together and chose jewelry as our medium.
Has theatre influenced you when it comes to jewelry work?
Annette: I think you can describe some of our jewelry as theatrical. We were inspired by sort of array of different things, of different time periods. Not just fashion but also art architecture, armor, etcetera. One can find inspiration everywhere!
Do you think of the woman first or is the clothing first?
Phoebe: Probably the clothing first. The way we dress is sort of a creative expression for us. Every day is a new opportunity to invent something new; it’s like creating a painting. You put things together and, suddenly, something appears. We start a piece and then we start building upon that piece. I guess we are attracted to women who are free thinkers and are individuals, who don’t want what everyone is wearing, who want to standout, who are bold, who are daring. It goes hand in hand.
The recent Met Ball was inspired by punk. When I look at your jewelry, it is a shining example of the grown-up chic of punk. One of the reasons I love your jewelry, is I feel like it gives you the ability to be Coco Chanel while still looking like you can go into a mosh pit.
Annette: It is a great way of putting it. We always say it’s like Mad Max meets the lady who lunches, which is sort of the same thing.
Through your accessories achieve to show strength while still looking pretty. I think it is a common dilemma among most women: to be strong and feminine. Does it sound like an antithesis to you?
Phoebe: Not at all, quite the opposite. If you are strong in your femininity that strength will show and that makes you beautiful. Being feminine is not about being weak; it’s about having that strength as a woman and standing out for it.
You really give an example of femininity and strength. Do you feel like there are other designers that believe in the same ideals?
Phoebe: Alexander Mc Queen’s work is a clear example and Sarah Burton has followed on with the same idea. It is a brand that has the perfect combination: it is strong, it is edgy and it is extremely feminine. When you think of Alexander McQueen, fantasy and uniqueness comes to mind but it doesn’t miss wearablity.
One of the few things you are told when you are young is that you have to invest in classic pieces. How do you think you cater to the woman who is growing up and is beginning to collect pieces? How would you guide them?
Annette: I would say always say is invest in one piece, not ten. To me, we build our collection in our closet by finding pieces we think are unique and timeless. We invest in that one piece and keep it forever, so it becomes a staple in our wardrobe.
Phoebe: Among collection we have many geometric pieces that fit that mold. We have our statement pieces, but we also have those everyday pieces people all ages can wear, so the mother can borrow from her daughter and vice versa. The cage is one of our signature pieces, we consider it a sort of a classic piece, one of those you keep using over and over again. One should be able to use things across time.
I noticed you use a lot of silver and gold, and you tend to keep the natural coloring of the metals. Is this done on purpose?
Annette: It is about the way the pieces are made. They are all hand made in Mexico City. It’s all oxidized and then polished. It is the natural metal; it is not dipped or plated.
Fashion now seems to have two different extremes: one is completely organic and the other, completely fabricated. Personally, do you prefer the organic and natural or do you favor the dramatic look from top to bottom?
Pheobe: I think you should do both, that combination is what is interesting.
Sometimes it seems very costumey in a way.
Phoebe: It should be relevant and wearable. You can borderline on the ridiculous. We were reading a recent article about people like bloggers and others that are taking clothing over the top. They are becoming too costumey. I think you still need to have the happy medium. It still looks relevant, wearable, and appropriate to your everyday life.
For the shy buyers who may see your piece in a store, do you have any advice how to approach buying jewelry such as yours? It might take require some extra confidence in order to pick it up. What would you tell the person who wants to take the dare?
Annette: I think the phrase “I can’t pull it off” is useless. The difference between pulling it off and not is doing it. I guess it is what you really feel comfortable with, but if there is something that makes you a little nervous and you feels it is pushing it a little… I would say “Go for it!” It is the precise feeling one should have!
Phoebe: When people first see it, they usually say the same thing “Oh no, I can’t” and once then try it on it is like “Oh okay”. So I will always say: “Try it.”
Do you plan on expanding in the future? Where can we find your pieces?
Annette: Here in New York we are sold at Opening Ceremony, Maryam Nassir Zadeh, Beautiful Dreamers and you can also buy us online.
Regarding your new collection, what was it inspired by?
Phoebe: It is still in the works, we are sort of keeping it under wraps. We are working on a lot of fun textures; it is a work in progress.
Can we look forward to no early retirement for you?
Phoebe: No early retirements. We have a whole plan. We have an idea for a lifestyle brand and we want to make stuff. We believe many of our pieces translate well into a home collection; we would love to do that. We are not going away anytime soon.
I am glad because you represent one of the things missing in fashion.
Phoebe: It means a lot to hear that, when you are inside you don’t really know. It is always exciting to hear people respond to it positively. Many people say it breathes a sort of vintage feeling. At the time we started, we did it viscerally. We weren’t following any trend. We then realized there was this void in the market, so people are probably considering handmade and longevity more seriously now.
Annette: It is a new type of luxury. Personal and endearing.