It was a cloudy night in St. Pete’s Old Northeast neighborhood — the kind of night when the sky glows silvery red just before the rain. Across the Bay, philanthropists and sartorialists were taking to the streets for Fashion’s Night Out. But while the fashion elite slipped on their Chanel and Tiffany’s to go out, Nicole Shannon donned a black shirt and shorts to stay inside.
She had work to do.
The 32-year-old jewelry designer had transformed the dining room of her Craftsman-style bungalow into a jewelry lookbook of gold-plated pendants, oversized statement pieces, and drooping asymmetrical earrings. Bits of copper, gold and inner tube covered the top of the hardwood table, concealing a grid of masking tape labels.
“The sewing room is pretty much not in use,” Nicole said, pointing to the room at the back of the house where one might otherwise have a breakfast nook.
“Until the HAUTE show is over, I pretty much have to focus on it.”
The following night was Tampa’s HAUTE the accessories show 2012, which showcased the runway collections of 11 local designers. Nicole would be showing her fashion jewelry line, Nicole Shannon, including designs of copper, brass and found objects. Her other line, Nicki Shannon, of precious gems and metals, was tucked away in the sewing room inside neatly organized plastic boxes.
“For pretty much the first three years of my business, most of my work has been custom pieces,” she said. “So I really got excited with the idea of doing fashion jewelry.”
Although it wasn’t Nicole’s first time showing a collection on the runway, it was certainly an important show for the young designer. And next month she reaches another milestone: In October, Nicole and her husband, Brendan Blowers, will fly to New York to show her collection during a rooftop event at the Empire Hotel.
It all started back when Nicole was a kid. Her father gave her a wooden tackle box he discovered while renovating an old Victorian home.
“Inside the box were sterling silver and pliers and stray wire and turquoise beads,” Nicole said. “So at 9 years old, I started making jewelry and pretty much never stopped.”
She went to school at SUNY in Upstate New York to learn goldsmithing before attending Savannah College of Art & Design for a degree in metals and jewelry-making. While in college, she also worked in the heart of New York City’s diamond district, where she had the job of transporting innocuous-looking backpacks full of precious stones and metals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But for Nicole, the fun of jewelry design didn’t come from working with expensive materials. It was all about the inspiration.
“I was feeling really stifled when I thought about how I was going to profit at being a jeweler,” she said. “So this is where I decided to go and play.”
She started incorporating unconventional materials into her designs — everything from worn sofa leather to the malleable rubber of black inner tubes — as a way of creating sustainable jewelry.
“There are a lot of conscientious jewelers, especially art jewelers, who make changes in the way they do their work to make people aware of [eco-friendly designs],” she said.
Her first break came when she got a call from an editor who wanted to use her black hairpiece with floral detailing for a spread in jewelry magazine Vogue Gioiello. Soon after the magazine hit the stands, everyone wanted an identical clip, sparking sales for Nicole at a boutique in Savannah, Georgia.
“The clip was kind of chasing me down, and I was trying to get away from hair combs,” Nicole joked. “But everyone says to keep making them because apparently they do well.” These days, though, Nicole is focused more on developing her sustainable collections.
“I definitely like the eco-friendly aspect,” she said. “Even as my business gets more established, that’s not going to change. It’s important to me. It ties back into wanting to do good with my work.”
To fund her New York trip, Nicole has started a Kickstarter project. She set a goal at $2,500, and so far has reached only $485. But the number doesn’t discourage her. If anything, she said the grant project has helped expand her business.
“My customers are more interested in buying my designs than pledging to a Kickstarter project,” she said. “Since I posted the project I have an increase in people shopping on my website and contacting me for custom projects.”
Shortly after she returns from New York, Nicole will fly to Boston to meet with a new client who has asked her to assess some old jewels for a new piece.
In the meantime, Nicole said she would continue to work away in her St. Pete home to the sound of her metal polisher, while her dog Abby steals pieces of the collection off the table.
“I’m just excited to meet everyone there,” Nicole said. “There’s supposed to be a lot of buyers and a lot of people in the industry. It’ll be fun.”
To see more of Nicole’s jewelry or to shop the collections, visit nicoleshannon.com.
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