I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the expanded Monica Rich Kosann boutique within Bergdorf Goodman last month. While I’ve always known that Monica practiced photography, it wasn’t until the event, where I saw her beautiful images on display, that I began to inquire further about this part of her life. I’ve always been a huge fan of Monica’s jewelry, but after speaking with her more about her passion, and about her unique path to jewelry design, it became apparent how cohesively Monica’s jewelry and art influence one another, and how truly talented and versatile this artist is.
Couture: I understand that you started out as a photographer; did you study photography formally or are you self-taught? Can you tell me a bit more about your passion for photography?
Monica Rich Kosann: I have been photographing since high school! My father was an amateur photographer and loved to include me in his love of photography. He would talk to me about “framing” the images and the importance of “seeing.” I am always developing my eye and am inspired by everything around me on a daily basis. Of course art, music, design, and fashion are always my favorite means of creative nourishment. I was also a model from the age of 5 until about 17 and found that I hated being in front of the camera – I was so shy – but found being behind the camera much more comfortable. Photography was such a creative outlet for me. I was always happy when I was shooting…I am the same way today. I am inspired by the great photographers from the early 1900’s….Steiglitz, Kaiseber, Steichen etc. They were some of the first photographers who took photos as art and not just documentation. I studied photography wherever and whenever I could…summer at RISDI, FIT, ICP, Ecole Fur Kunst in Salzburg, Sorbonne in Paris, the list goes on!
C: When you started in the jewelry industry, you didn’t make actual jewelry but rather items sold in jewelry stores. What types of work were you selling?
MRK: When we started I was really creating pieces to hold photos. I love to antique and go to flea markets. I would collect the old cigarette cases and powder compacts, lockets, anything that was an accessory from the early 1900’s. My husband (and business partner) and I decided to take a trip to Italy to find artisans who made these pieces and we convinced them to get out the old molds of the cigarette cases – make them new again and have them hold photos and NOT cigarettes! We called them image cases. Bergdorf was one of my first clients and I started selling them on the 7th floor. They were unique, so we went on from there…why not make a locket so a woman can wear whom and what she loves and not just display or carry it. The rest is history! Our collection is now in over 100 stores and jewelry has become 90% of our business. I am a storyteller, through my jewelry and of course my photography –I allow a woman to tell her story through her jewelry.
C: Wow, your journey to jewelry design was anything but straightforward! What perspective does this give you on jewelry design?
MRK: I believe that jewelry should move with you, so I design my pieces to be beautiful from all angles. I believe the personal nature of my collection sets me apart from other brands. People like to tell and share their story, so every part of my business is about memories and one’s life experiences. I’m a storyteller at the root of it all, so I encourage my clients to use my jewelry to tell their story. My one driving question when I design a piece of jewelry is, “Can a woman give this piece to her daughter in 20 years?”
My fine jewelry, handbag, and home collections offer modern heirlooms that maintain a sense of fashion and timeless style. My brand has become known for my 18-karat gold and sterling silver lockets, charm bracelets, and other fine jewelry pieces, as well as image cases and frames.
C: What continues to inspire your collection?
MRK: I continue to be inspired by vintage pieces from days gone by, but my collection has evolved to draw this inspiration and manifest it in my jewelry in new and unique ways. For example, while my charm bracelets are inspired by those worn by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and the Duchess of Windsor, my pocket watch key collection is inspired by the keys men used to wind up their watches at the turn of the 20th century.
Every season, I also introduce new one-of-a-kind pieces. This collection is the ultimate in luxury. I travel the world to find completely unique stones that are like no other, with their own colors and markings that set it apart. I then design the piece, be it a locket or a ring, around the stone.
C: Do you still practice photography?
MRK: Yes of course…I will never give it up…they are my roots.