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When I chat with jewelry designer Andrea Barna before the photo shoot with her for The Stylish City about the looks we should go for I suggest that, based on her designs, I see two styles which emerge from her line, one is bohemian yet glamorous, I think it’s called “boho glam” in fashion slang, and another that reminds me of the style of Vogue Paris editors- edgy, minimalist, a lot of black, high-heels. And maybe throw in that mix a touch of New York uptown elegance (Andrea does live after all on Park Avenue and her favorite restaurant is Mr. Chow on 57 Street). She tells me that she actually defines her style as “Edgy Bohemian,” so we decide to go with that. I was thinking youthful and colorful before the shoot, and for the first outfit we put together a slightly bohemian, glamorous, feminine yet all black look, with quite a bit of make-up on and Andrea’s hair up so that the earrings, designed by herself, are showing. After a few shots, Andrea suddenly pulls her hair down and tells me “I really feel that I should be myself, and I never wear my hair up.” She was clearly showing that independent streak she kept talking about during our interview. It made sense, given that Andrea is a young woman who started her own jewelry line at 23 and who doesn’t follow trends or other designers in her work. That trait, along with her appreciation of quality and her love of fashion and design, might also explain why her line became immediately successful, carried by the most prestigious stores, and her jewelry designs are worn and owned by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Alicia Keys. The early success also meant that she was approached by many showrooms and publicists, who eventually tried to control the creative direction of her line. It was a learning experience, and these days Andrea prefers to grow her business at her own pace, sell her designs mainly through her (and a few other) websites, and pick her collaborations carefully, because she cherishes her freedom that allows her to create a versatile, unique and affordable line which attracts a wide range of customers, who can find among Andrea’s designs something for every taste and every occasion.
The Stylish City: How would you describe the aesthetic of your designs, of your line? Is the style of your pieces eclectic, or is there a common thread that runs through all your designs? Do you design for a particular kind of woman and what kind of woman is she- is she within a certain age range, does she have a particular style, personality, lifestyle?
Andrea: My line has many different facets to it, and really is so versatile! I have customers of all ages and personalities.
I have a signature and a trend collection. The signature collection is more elegant and refined. It has been carried in stores like Neiman Marcus, Fred Segal, Henri Bendel, and it was my first collection.
My trend collection, which I started designing about two years ago, is edgier. It has a lot of different elements to it like studs and spikes. It’s really a lot of fun! I designed it on and off and it was 4 months ago that I really started selling it and added it to my website catalogue. And I am always adding pieces to these two collections.
The Stylish City: What is your creative and production process like?
Andrea: When I did my signature line, I was sawing the earrings by myself at first and then my friend Melissa, who was living in my building, saw me and she offered to help me by connecting me to a production company, and that took a lot of work, especially physical work, off my shoulders. But it is expensive to produce in the U.S., so I researched production costs around the world and decided to shift the production to Bali and Indonesia.
Now I come up with concepts and ideas and then transform them into sketches, but I am not very technical, so I explain to my team in Bali exactly what I want and they bring my creations to life, they are genius. I used to be represented by a showroom but now I enjoy having my independence. I have been approached by so many showrooms and PR companies but I am happy doing my own PR for now, but that might change, who knows what will happen in a week? That’s the beauty of running your own business.
The Stylish City: Do you follow trends, or your own inspiration?
Andrea: I don’t really follow trends, I like to create them, but I do care about what’s going on in fashion. I rarely pay attention to what other jewelry designers are doing, and I think my designs are pretty fresh and fashion-forward.
The Stylish City: Do you envision a particular theme for every collection or does every item have its own style? Are there certain colors, shapes, materials that you tend to use again and again?
Andrea: My trend collection is more substantial, thicker, edgier, made of 18k over brass, while my signature collection is sterling silver and 14 and 18k gold pieces. I use a lot of enamel, resin, I love bold colors for bracelets and necklaces, but the colors I use for earrings are more subtle because I think that they shouldn’t overshadow your face which is your best feature. I think that jewelry should accentuate you, not overpower you. I use tons of cabochon set stones, and this season I did a lot of spikes and studs, and I love hoops, to which I constantly add new elements.
The Stylish City: Your pieces have been worn by quite a few celebrities- can you tell us by whom and if you will add to this list any new names in the near future? Which high-profile women who have not worn your pieces would you dream of wearing them?
Andrea: I have some celebrities in mind for whom I’m interested in designing- Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz to be specific, as I have spoken to their publicist.
To date, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears (she wore my earrings at her star-signing in Hollywood, probably one of the most important moments in her life), Alicia Keys, Poppy Montgomery and Marcia Gay Harden have all worn and own my jewelry.
The Stylish City: What inspired you to name a gold-over-brass-with-garnet pair of earrings the “Alicia Keys earrings”?
Andrea: The Alicia Keys earrings are actually named after her because she owns them and has worn them on several occasions. From what I hear she loves them!
The Stylish City: Do you have a personal favorite piece among your designs and one that you would consider your “staple”?
Andrea: My current favorite pieces are my lapis and cobalt gold-plated hoops. I design a lot of hoops, so they are kind of staple items for me. These particular ones are definitely eye-catching and are perfect for daily wear.
The Stylish City: When you get dressed in the morning, do you start with the outfit, or with the jewelry?
Andrea: I have to admit that in the morning I’m always reaching for my jewelry first, and the clothes are secondary.
The Stylish City: What are your ultimate goals for your line? Any definite plans that have to do with the production and expansion of your line in the near future?
Andrea: My designs have already been sold all over the world, including at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which has been one of my most prestigious accounts. They carried my more artistic pieces for 5 consecutive seasons. I have some collaborations in the works, and I sell my pieces through ice.com, a leading shopping website for diamond and gemstone jewelry. But honestly, now I prefer to focus on my website, at my own pace, because when I started designing I was 23 and I felt that I had to deal with too many showrooms and publicists, some of whom were trying to tell me what I should design because that was selling.
I plan to take my line to the ultimate destination, whatever that will mean. That’s what I like about fashion, it’s exciting to wake up and not know what could and what will happen today.
By Doris Sangeorzan
Jewelry designer Andrea Barna talked to The Stylish City about the path that led her from her quaint native Westchester town, where she grew up in a family of lawyers, to the decision to join the world of fashion in New York City, first through fashion and accessories editorial positions at some of the most prestigious fashion publications, and eventually to start her own jewelry line, A by Andrea Barna, at age 23, inspired by the energy and culture of the city she loves and calls home.
Although she is often trying to get friends together, and seems full of energy and initiative, you get the sense that Andrea is not the pushy kind of friend who’s all over the place, that she likes the comfort and privacy of her home as much as she loves to explore the city. Somehow the combination of those different sides of her personality made the experience of starting a business that allows her to make her own rules, work in her own space and at her own pace, and at the same time connect with people through her work and expose herself to new opportunities every day, a very fulfilling one. When I visit her apartment, which sometimes doubles as her office, it pretty much matches my expectations- it is elegant and faces Park Avenue, but it also has an artsy touch, as well as playful, girly glam details, like the leopard-print pillows that contrast nicely with the brown leather couch (her long-haired Chihuahua’s, Benny, favorite spot), and the white flowers and candles which decorate her terrace, from where one can admire the lights of Manhattan in all its glory. The large living room table is covered with jewelry pieces Andrea designed, as well as tear sheets and a portfolio filled with images of the still life shoots she styled during her stints at W and WWD. “I love my space, and I am very independent,” Andrea tells me. That pretty much sums up my impressions of her and of the place she inhabits. At the same time Andrea is very accommodating, and when her former high-school classmate Marisa, the make-up artist on the shoot, arrives, Andrea’s spontaneous, funny and informal side comes out, as the two young women start to chat about former high-school mates, Chappaqua, and, inevitably, about New York. Suddenly, I feel like I am among old friends, so I join in.
The Stylish City: We’ve heard a lot about your native town, Chappaqua, because former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Hilary, moved there. What was it like growing up there? Did it inspire you in any way to work in fashion and was anyone else in your family involved in fashion?
Andrea: Growing up in Chappaqua was pretty amazing. I had an extremely tight group of friends and most of us are still close. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than Chappaqua, it’s so picturesque. It’s changed a lot since I lived there, it’s much more populated now and after the arrival of the Clintons the real estate market has gone up.
The Stylish City: Did living there inspire you in any way to work in fashion, and was anyone else in your family involved in fashion?
Andrea: I have always loved fashion. Each day at the Horace Greeley High School was like a fashion show for me and my friends. Slightly like the high-school halls from the show “90210.” It was fun!
My family is FULL of lawyers. I carved my own path in fashion, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I guess you could say that I took the road less traveled. I grew up coming to NYC with my family. I loved all the museums here and loved going to the theatre, and it’s only 45 minutes away from Chappaqua. I knew I wanted to live in the city when I grew up. I moved to NYC when I was 19 with my family, which now resides on the UWS.
The Stylish City: You started to work for fashion publications (W, WWD) at an early age, 19. How did you get the job, was it an internship? And what was it like working with all these well-known editors, journalists, stylists, designers when you were so young?
Andrea: I began as an intern at W and WWD, the summer before my senior year of college at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. I hated going to that college, I was studying business, and I don’t know why I didn’t transfer to Parsons or F.I.T. But my step-sister knew someone who worked at W and WWD, so she is really responsible for getting me the job! After I finished the summer internship I became a fashion assistant for the two publications and it was one of the best times of my life. I have all kinds of memories…I remember that I picked the Jimmy Choos which Jennifer Lopez wore at the VMAs in 2000 and when I watched the awards show and saw her walking around in those Jimmy Choos I was so excited! I did so much there, from assisting Joe Zee on a photo shoot with Hilary Swank, Alex White on a Kate Moss photo shoot, to a lot of menswear shoots for W Men’s Portfolio, and I remember assisting men’s editor Marcus Teo on an issue that included a portfolio dedicated to influential men in media, and we styled Anderson Cooper, Patrick McMullan, Euan Rellie and Darren Aronofsky, among others. I also styled still-life shoots for the WWD Beauty (editor Kerry Diamond was my mentor in the beauty department).
The Stylish City: Do you feel that the book and the movie “The Devil Wears Prada” were an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a young, fresh-out-of-school woman working in fashion media?
Andrea: Haha, “The Devil Wears Prada” was an amazing movie, but no, my experience was nothing like that. I loved working at W and WWD, I learnt a tremendous amount from some of the most talented, intelligent and world-renowned editors. I can’t think of a better place to have started my career. Some of the very editors I worked with at 19 (beauty editor Kerry Diamond, fashion editor Joe Zee), have been very helpful people who have shaped my career.
The Stylish City: Did you know at that that point that you wanted to design jewelry or was it an unexpected direction and craft that you became familiar with while working with accessories at W and WWD? What prompted you to make the transition from fashion journalism to jewelry design?
Andrea: After W and WWD, I worked at Mode magazine as an assistant accessories editor, which was a step up from being a fashion assistant, and I had a lot more to say in what was going on in the accessories department, I produced photo shoots, called in product, and was able to use my PR contacts from W and WWD to call in products from high-end designers that Mode hadn’t had access to before, because the magazine did not have the prestige that W and WWD had. It was then, after years of calling in product, that I thought to myself I can come up with something great too! My years at fashion magazines were a great experience, but like any industry, it had its limitations- a long path to a position that pays well enough for one to live comfortably in Manhattan, job insecurity (Mode folded since I worked there), and I craved independence so eventually I came up with a business plan and I started my line in 2003, and I love doing this, it’s my passion! I also get to use what I learnt in college when I studied business, in order to implement this business. After I started the line, things took off pretty fast in terms of press coverage, prestigious store wanted to carry my line, I was very lucky.
The Stylish City: Did you take classes in jewelry design or are you a self-taught designer? How useful were the fashion publishing experience and contacts when you started your own jewelry line?
Andrea: I took a beading class in the Union Square area, and that was really it. I design from inspiration through trending fashions, and study old issues of Vogue a lot. There is an amazing store called Gallagher’s in the East Village that has archives of almost every single magazine ever published.
The Stylish City: You seem to be very much a New Yorker, very fond of the city, its people and its culture. What are some of the New York places, characteristics, people that inspire you? If you didn’t live in New York, where else would you like to live?
Andrea: I can’t really imagine living anywhere else in the world besides NYC. I love the seasons, the culture, the nightlife, everything about it really! The only other place I can maybe imagine myself living in besides New York is L.A. My step-sister and her family live there, as well as many of my close friends. It’s a really fun and magical place.
I’m known to be a homebody at times. I love to watch movies, and to spend time with friends. I love the energy of the city but I also love to go home and I am privileged to have a spacious apartment by NY standards and to be able to work from home sometimes.
The Stylish City: What are your favorite restaurants, places to go out, shop, spend your free time at in the city?
Andrea: I love going to dinners at restaurants with friends, and would really rather spend my time there than in nightclubs. I am not the type who goes out and networks all the time. I used to go to Mr. Chow on 57 Street with my stepsister at least twice a week, it was by far my favorite restaurant ever! I also love Elio’s, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. My favorite store is definitely Henri Bendel. It’s quintessential NYC!
The Stylish City: In your opinion, what are the best and the worst things about living in New York?
Andrea: The best things about NYC are the seasons and the culture, the worst thing is by far the traffic!
By Doris Sangeorzan
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