by Natalie Frigo

Late last year while in Asheville for a bachelorette weekend, I stumbled upon a stunning pair of antler earrings in a small downtown boutique. I didn't even notice the name plate beside the earrings as I whirled around and asked the nearby sales associate to tell me everything she knew about the designer. She politely directed me towards the obvious bio that read "by Natalie Frigo" tucked behind the golden horns. I don't wear a lot of jewelry (I'm quite a minimalist when it comes to accessories), but seeing something as unique and stately as these earrings made me want to put them on. The concept of antlers seemed so ordinary and basic, yet I had never seen a jewelry designer be inspired by something so commonplace. It was as though I could feel the power of the beast, the strength and regality. I was struck by how delicately the antlers hung, almost like thorns cascading down the stem of a rose. After the weekend, I went home and was swept away by her website - I loved everything! I finally got the courage to email Natalie herself and discuss a possible collaboration. 

It's safe to say that Natalie speaks volumes through her work; it's powerful, mysterious and sexy - bejeweled and fierce. I imagine kings and queens of old dripping in her jewels, golden and radiant. I imagine her rings stacked on King Midas' golden cursed fingers. It was an honor to work with Natalie on this collaboration be allowed to share a story of my own all while displaying her beautiful craftsmanship. Below is the interview I had with Natalie, talking a little about her work. 

I cannot wait to share the final images of this collaboration with you tomorrow, and I thank Natalie specifically in fueling my own creativity and allowing me to work with such magnificent pieces!

Mel: Who do you see wearing your jewelry? What is her style?

N: My ultimate client is a warrior and not afraid to express herself. She wears jewelry and fashion that inspire her. She invests in what she wears and loves to talk about the details of her style.

Mel: Where do you get your inspiration?

N: I am most influenced by ancient cultures, specifically the Etruscans and Ancient Egyptians. They didn’t try to hide the craftsperson's hand in their jewelry and I carry that aesthetic into my work today. It’s very powerful to see that “a person made this” – I’m often told that this is a key reason for someone’s initial enchantment with a piece of by/ Natalie Frigo, which I love to hear.

Every few months I will get an obsession and that will fuel a tremendous amount of jewelry design. Last year I was completely enthralled with Hopi pottery patterns. I still am but now I’ve added a new aesthetic on top of that, which is Art Deco. To me, this makes sense, given that Art Deco was a movement infatuated with Native American design!

Mel: What is your design process? Where do you draw your inspiration from, and how does that motive you as you begin designing/creating each piece? How are they made from start to finish?

N: First comes the idea. I have no idea where they come from and I don't question it – I don't even like to talk about inspiration, for fear it will go away!

Next, I usually sketch something in my notebook. Someone suggested that I date my sketches. It is a great way to track how long it takes a piece to get realized and also to see the progression of an idea.

Then, I'll begin to carve out of wax. This process can take an hour or it can take a week. I keep the idea in mind, but sometimes I become inspired by something I hadn't thought of before or a mistake I made while working and the idea takes on an entirely different form.

After I finish the wax carving, I wait a day. I work on another piece in the meantime, but I break from it for a little a while. First thing the next day, I go through the piece one more time before it's cast. Also, this process can take an hour or it can be a few more days. But I want to make sure I didn't overlook something or leave a marking that will forever bother me about the design.

Then the piece of wax is cast. It's not until I see it in metal and hold it that I can see if it's really done or if it needs to be reworked.

After the metal components are done, they are polished, assembled and stones are set. I love to see a work completed – It's always a great thrill mixed with a little relief that it worked.

Mel: How did you get your start in designing? Where did this passion start?

N: I have loved and treasured jewelry for as long as I can remember – as much for the craftsmanship as how a heavy necklace feels on my skin or how, when I wear a ring, I feel it on my hand during the day. I have always been hypnotized by gemstones: the different intensities of color, how they are cut, what their texture is like. But it wasn't until a few years ago, when I began making jewelry, that I discovered how much I loved designing. I began by making jewelry for myself, then friends and family. After that, I couldn't stop.

Mel: What do you love to do when you aren't designing jewelry?

N: I love movies – I love reading about them, watching them, dissecting and analyzing them for their beauty and hidden meanings. It is definitely another passion of mine.

Mel: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where were you educated? What did you study?

N: I grew up in Chicago and my background is in fine art; I received my MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fiber and Material Studies. I used to make very tiny sculptures out of dead bugs and fly fishing materials, which was excellent training to learn about jewelry. While getting my MFA, I would make jewelry for myself, friends and relatives and received a very positive response from the beginning, even from strangers. That early support made me feel like investigate jewelry more seriously.

Mel: Do you have any pets? I'm an animal lover...

N: I am as well! I have 3 cats, Knievel, Porkchop and Vito. Vito is the inspiration for a lot of the cat faces in my jewelry. He likes to sleep on my desk while I work so he’s the perfect model.

Mel: Who is your favorite designer?

N: There are so many designers to love, but I am continually inspired by Alexander McQueen’s work. He was fearless.

Mel: Do you have a piece that you made that is your favorite? What did it look like? Why was it your favorite? If not, do you have a least favorite?

N: My Triangle Cuff has been my favorite piece for a few years. It feels like you are wearing a sculpture when you have it on, but it's lightweight enough to not feel cumbersome. It was a challenge to carve out of wax (it broke numerous times while I was making it). It felt like a huge accomplishment when I finished it. 

Mel: What are your other passions? Is this your dream job? If not, what would you want to do?

N: I never get tired of contemplating jewelry – it is definitely a dream job!

Photography by Sarah Morrel