April 04, 2016
When I was in college returning home from a winter break, one evening I happened to be hanging out with my mother while she was cleaning her jewelry. It's one of those activities that she does only so often, but when she does it she brings everything out. The kitchen counter was loaded up with jewelry that was a mixture of fine and costume as she was sorting and deciding which pieces needed a good cleaning. Much of it was decades old , and I was drawn to a piece that I had never before seen the likes of. The year was 2002 and I was 22 years old. I had been fairly familiar with vintage clothing and styling, already amassing a fair amount of vintage dresses. But vintage jewelry? It was something that I had always overlooked. I knew it existed, of course, but in my youth I would much rather purchase a showy vintage dress that would make a huge visual impact. Jewelry always seemed so subtle to me in comparison.
This particular piece of my mothers that I was drawn to...I will now try to describe it in a way that the 22 year old version of myself would have. It seemed to be from the 1950s. It was costume jewelry, but the quality was good. The main color of the piece was a bright minty green; very reminiscent of the 1950s. The bright minty green was used as plastic flowers, with some intricate detailing. The flowers were mounted on shiny silver colored leafy looking things, and in the center of each flower a was very vintage looking gold starburst metal rhinestone setting, with some darker aqua colored rhinestones set inside each flower. The center of the necklace was about 5 to 6 inches, and the rest was a chunky chain. The necklace was a choker length - another clue that eluded me to the 1950s age approximation of the piece.Since I had previously overlooked jewelry, all things vintage felt exciting again as there was something new for me to explore and learn about. As I held the necklace in my hand for the very first time, I probably said something like, “Dude...!” and promptly asked my mom about it. She said that it belonged to YaYa (my grandmother; her mother) and that my mom had acquired it from her (or simply took it – I know my mother and I think that the later is more likely) when she was in high school. Well, I had never seen my mother wear it in all the 22 years I had known her so I asked her if she still wore it. She told me that I could wear it - and so I continued the tradition by never giving it back.
I was so excited. It became my treasured piece and was so different from anything else accessible to me in 2002. I wore it so often during the first year that I had it and it solicited MANY compliments from many different types of people. My professors. My friends. The sorority girls who I never felt I identified with all loved it. And it was a special time for this necklace, because it was so different from anything else. You just knew it was vintage by looking at it. Nowadays, statement chokers are more plentiful and designers are recreating vintage looks in some of their pieces. Additionally, much costume jewelry on the market is made cheaply and in China and does not last for generations the way that my grandmother's piece did. That one bright minty green vintage choker necklace that I found one night because my mother decided to sort and clean her jewelry has been inspirational to me in my own jewelry line in so many ways. For one, I believe in quality. I want my Funhouse Labs pieces to last for years to come and I am very firm about sourcing raw materials and components in the USA. Did you know that many Chinese made components are plated in thinner layers of metal material (such as gold) than their American made counterparts? That means that Chinese pieces will generally begin to tarnish within a few wears. My pieces made with American components? I'm still waiting.The other way that my grandmother's vintage necklace has inspired me is on a more literal level. I enjoyed wearing – and saw how others enjoyed it too – the necklace so I set out to create a Funhouse Labs version. The very first thing that I knew I needed to do was to replace the rhinestone flower centers with wiggle eyes! It just seemed right. Next, I looked for some resin flowers and found some roses. The flowers I use are a bit bulkier and not as delicate as the flowers of the original. Underneath the flowers, the original had some interlocking silver colored leaf things. I looked through books and books of metal findings to try and find something that was similar, yet could work with the bulky roses I was using. I found a company in New York that manufactures metal filigree using vintage tooling so I ordered some components that would work. Instead of leaving (or leafing, ha ha) the botanical metal components raw, I powder coated them. I am SO about color and THE reason I started powder coating was so that I could coat metal durably and in a plethora of color combinations. Since the flowers I was using were white and the eyes were pink, mint green was the obvious color choice to pay homage to the original. The necklace idea expanded into a collection, including a ring and earrings. All pieces in the collection feature resin flowers, pink wiggle eyes, and powder coated minty green components. All of them look like fun costume jewelry, but the quality is excellent. I'd like to think that my grandmother would be proud. Rather, I know she would be.
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