Julie Lamb brings an urban edginess and feisty attitude to fine jewelry
Julie Lamb might be considered an emerging jewelry designer, but she is anything but a newcomer to the industry. Although she launched her own collection only a little over a year ago, she has been designing professionally since she was 19. From 1996-2014, her work included name brand licensees, runway fashion, high-end fine jewelry lines and a range of designer collections.
Upon seeing her collection for the first time, you can tell immediately that the New York-born and bred designer is in love with the city in which she grew up—riding the subway, attending the High School of Art and Design and creating jewelry as a teenager from findings and components collected from hardware stores on the Lower East Side, Canal Street and Manhattan’s Garment District. “I was 16 when I decided to be a jewelry designer. Having experimented with every art supply growing up and then majoring in Illustration, I knew my passion when I found it.” she explains. Her tenacity propelled her to set her sights on colleges offering a metals program, and Julie chose Syracuse University. “I was able to spend a semester abroad in Florence, Italy where I learned basic setting techniques with a Florentine craftsman whose English was just as limited as my Italian! I only started a fire once in that studio. Walking around with singed hair was a signature of mine back then.”
“Summer breaks were spent back in Brooklyn. I ran around Soho after my first year in metalsmithing looking for any kind of bench work. I found a shop that would let me hang around and cast stuff. I became familiar with larger scale production and I was able to meet the designers for whom they manufactured.
I was one of the designers Julie met there and the first real hands-on job Julie took was with me. It was during the time I owned and designed my Bethany B collection in the ‘90s. I asked her a few questions about what she could do—and she showed me more of the simple things like rosary beading, right there on the spot. I could tell she was in her milieu around gemstones and precious metals and I could feel her desire to learn and experience everything she could take in so I hired her. She went on runs to casting houses, setters and finishers, and then sat on my couch cross-legged assembling pieces.
After I closed Bethany B and went back to writing for magazines and designing and consulting for other companies, Julie went on to work for big brands and rising the designing ranks with each job. However, I continued to employ her for different freelance stints over the next five years.
I’d almost forgotten Julie’s quirky sense of humor — her “New York” attitude, her quick-witted answers, her rebellious nature and her craving to break all the rules. She let me know in no uncertain terms her opinions on all aspects of design and was no holds-barred in her conviction.
She surprised me when she went to work for extremely corporate companies. However, it proved to be a powerful learning experience and gave her the skills and industry savvy to finally break out on her own. Her dedication and pure love of the craft pushed her through years of corporate politics. She gained a well rounded understanding of what it means to build a brand. Today she has become a force to be reckoned with as both a designer and businesswoman.
I caught up with my former intern/employee/model maker and long time friend – who learned how to translate her urban edginess, playful sense of humor, and raw determination into a collection that is at once charming and empowering—with tongue-in-cheek messages, classic New York City symbols and endearing motifs. Julie’s feisty attitude and fiery talent come through in every piece she designs. And, everything about Julie’s collection is as authentic as she is.
Beth: So we got through our history together. I can get on to the questions about your background and your collection now!
Julie: Sure. But I think it’s important to mention that while working for you, and seeing first hand situations like tracking lost packages with components needed for major orders, dealing with multiple re-castings due to intricate details in the pieces and working a trade show in a blizzard, not to mention taking on the role of bookkeeper to collect payments-I learned what it would be like to be an independent designer. You get all the credit for my scared straight training and late launch in life! Seriously, timing is everything, I’m happy I waited.
Beth: Very glad I just got to relive all of that. Kidding aside, I do think the many years you spent in the jewelry business, during and definitely after working for me, provided you with the knowledge and tools for success.
But before we go on to talk more about that, can you tell us about your teenage years and your passion for jewelry.
Julie: I was 16 and an Illustration major at Art & Design when I decided on a career in jewelry. I had dabbled in all kinds of mediums growing up. My family was good about gifting me art supplies for every occasion. With my best friend in high school I started making jewelry after school. She grew up in Greenwich Village and introduced me to all the supply districts in New York City. I was instantly addicted and looked at everything with the intention of making jewelry out of it. Besides all the beads and rhinestones, there was nail polish, Sculpey and buttons. I would also pick up bottle caps, keys, nuts and bolts from my dad’s garage. You name it and I used it. I was dying to be in a real metal shop by college! Goodbye glue; hello solder!
Beth: You worked for a few small businesses and then went on to more corporate larger multi-line jewelry firms. Was that a shock to your system?
Julie: No, I just kept moving on to learn new things: going from wax carving into design work, going from hand manipulated beadwork into technical drawing and so on. It occurred to me as I advanced in my career that I was getting less hands on with every step, and I never wanted to lose sight of that, it’s what I love most. There were times in corporate where I was in more meetings and doing a lot less design work, but I did get to travel the world — trend shopping in Europe and seeing thousands of production pieces being made in Asia. I worked for more than one company whose main focus was not jewelry, companies that were publicly traded, and got a whole different perspective. Being privy to that level of information was interesting even if I half listened in Town Hall meetings while doodling an upcoming collection.
Beth: Can you mention some of the companies for which you worked?
Julie: – Erickson Beamon was my first official job after graduation. I was so excited! I thought, ‘We get to make jewelry every day and they pay us?’ I also designed for Robert Rose, Michael Anthony, Nine West and Avon. I was the Design Director at Honora pearls for a few years, moving back into fine jewelry and before my last position as Merchandising and Product Development Director for a fine jewelry start up. In between I did a lot of freelance drawing for sterling silver companies.
Beth: Is it true that you started some of your eponymous collection while working for a major corporation?
Julie: Yes. I fell in love with what CAD could do. Design ideas became unlimited. When I would attend the trade shows to do my trend reports I would often buy a loose stone and design a one-of-a-kind piece for myself, and have it made on 47th Street. I enjoyed being connected to the Diamond District.
Beth: How and why did you feel it was time to launch your own collection?
Julie: When my last full time position ended, I knew it was time. I couldn’t think of a single brand I wanted to work for. I had now gained experience across many different facets of the business, and survived corporate, family-owned and start-up. I had seen too many companies get bought and sold, merge and purge staff. I couldn’t go on another interview. I wanted to produce only what I wanted to design, no meetings, no approvals. It was the next logical step in my career and I was as ready as I’d ever be.
Beth: Can you describe the grouping that you launched to kick off your brand at the beginning of 2015?
Julie: The ‘Be Ewe’ (Be You) Collection features the brand’s signature lamb logo in every piece. I had been signing my work with this minimalist logo since art school. In an effort to connect to a larger audience, I incorporated all kinds of word play in messages that empower. Pieces are engraved ‘Rock Your Flock’, ‘Be Ewe’, ‘Stand Out’, ‘Love Ewe’ and ‘Be Herd’. The hero of the flock, however, is named ‘Johnny’ and he is The Black Sheep.
Beth: Can you tell us more about the black sheep?
Julie: Johnny is named after my dad. In our family of four Lambs he reveled in being The Black Sheep. He must have perfected this growing up as the middle child of eleven! He subtly taught me that it was okay to be different through his unwavering acceptance of my strange choices in clothing, hair colors, boyfriends and art projects. I’ve found that my black diamond sheep have their very own following, attracting a different fine jewelry customer — people who connect because that has been their role in their own families or peer groups. I offer both black and white lambs in my collection, which celebrates individuality.
Beth: What sheep do you identify with most?
Julie: I would say I’m a well disguised black sheep! There were times growing up in my insular Brooklyn neighborhood where I definitely didn’t fit in. I ran off to the High School of Art & Design in midtown desiring diversity and freedom of expression. My wishes were granted walking the halls amongst mohawks and metal heads, graffiti artists, cartoonists, and all types of kids that Art & Design attracted. I was comfortable there blending into the mix. As I like to say to my customers, ‘It’s not always easy to be the Black Sheep but somehow wearing him proudly in diamonds is a comforting reminder of why you chose to stand your ground.’
Beth: Let’s get to your love of New York City and another big part of your line, which celebrates all of your surroundings while you were growing up.
Julie: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Not the cool, gentrified neighborhoods everyone makes a big deal about today. I call it ‘Deep Brooklyn’. Canarsie. Last stop on the L train, then take the bus to the last stop out by the pier. The energy of Manhattan as well as the details of the city made an impression on me from the time I was very young and throughout high school. Inspiration was all around in bold I LOVE NY posters, textured manhole covers, colorful graffiti on cement, and the old subway tokens my dad used. These details have all served to influence my ‘City’ collection. Celebrating these often ignored industrial elements by elevating them in precious metal and diamonds is a way for me to pay homage to my home. ‘City’ also sends a strong message about local manufacturing. I have engraved ‘Made in New York by New Yorkers’ on some of the pieces, which is part New York pride and partly a reaction to all the time I spent in corporate design positions dealing with factories overseas.
Beth: You also have created the Metropolis collection—another ode to Manhattan. What is the inspiration behind this collection?
Julie: I fell in love with this shield shape stone walking a gem show with a Graduate Gemologist friend. When we saw it, I said ‘Superman’ and she said ‘diamond’. I realized how powerful both of those symbols were and appreciated that different people would view it in different ways. Naming the collection after the fictional city this classic American caped crusader tirelessly defended felt just right and it was a great tie-in back to Made in New York. It’s a potent combination, ‘Acknowledge Your Superpowers’. It’s been popular with supermoms, personal trainers and for gifts of strength to women going through a tough time. People find the symbol very inspiring.
Beth: Let’s talk about your tagline and where you are going from here?
Julie: The tagline “Infusing Fun into Fine” is truly the basis for all of my concepts. I like to create pieces that amuse me and I have found that I am able to translate that feeling to others. I want people to smile when they get the hidden meaning and appreciate that they are holding an original design with Made in New York quality.
As for the future—we have yet to see, but it’s been a very good year with orders from two of the most influential designer retailers: Reinhold Jewelers for their Valentine’s assortment and Ylang 23 in their Next Now section. I am hoping to continue to be picked up by stores like these who want something new and different. I’m so appreciative of how the line has been received so far and the support I’ve gotten from so many industry friends really keeps me going. I’m very much looking forward to 2017!
Julie Lamb—an original—with honesty in her aesthetic and who always says what she means and now can design what she feels.