Dec 23, 2013
12:57 PMStyle & Shopping
Glittering 'Rock Candy' From Connecticut Jewelry Designer Holly Shannon
Holly Shannon arrived at Marty’s Cafe, a quaint coffee shop in her hometown of Washington, decorated in two necklaces from her 21st Century Cleopatra jewelry line–a gold plated scarab and a beaded strand she had wrapped twice around her neck.
She looked like a walking advertisement for her work, which she said is intentional. She wears the pieces because she loves them, but also to show potential buyers how good the necklaces, bracelets and earrings can look on them, too.
“I wear them every day,” said Ms. Shannon. “It shows people that they can layer and it looks cool. You can mix fine and fashion jewelry.”
As a designer, but first and foremost a jewelry lover, Ms. Shannon believes in the fun of accessories and wants to show people that there doesn’t have to be limits to what you wear. You can mix and match. You can layer different pieces. You can sport different pops of color.
“You can make a statement with your jewelry,” Ms. Shannon said with a smile.
Clad in a pair of dusty grey skinny jeans, a black V-neck sweater and knee-high boots, she motioned to herself and said, “This time of year we all tend to have our uniforms. Everyone is wearing black and skinny jeans. You’re a canvas, play with it. Fall is the season for layering.”
For this holiday season, Ms. Shannon has created a new fine jewelry line playfully named the Rock Candy Collection for its resemblance to the colorful childhood candy. She arranges different brightly colored gemstones, like emeralds and pink tourmaline, on delicate silver or gold chains. The close positioning of each stone causes it to jut out at different angles, which causes the grouping to look like a piece of rock candy.
“It’s the childhood treat reimagined,” Ms. Shannon explained. “I loved the abstract quality of it.”
This collection is perfect when paired with a little black dress. The delicate arrangement and bright pops of color make the Rock Candy Collection a statement piece, but one with elegance.
Since venturing into the world of jewelry design and fabrication in 2000, Ms. Shannon has created three full lines including Rock Candy.
Her first called, All Things Wings, was inspired by nature. A swallow pendant necklace and a molded silver plate bracelet engraved with the shape of a butterfly are two key pieces in the collection. When she sculpted a scarab beetle pendent, the collection took off in a different direction.
“I was inspired by the idea of the Egyptian scarab and the sacred history behind it,” said Ms. Shannon. “It goes back in time and made me think of Cleopatra wearing that piece–sexy, high-up on the neck with glittering beads surrounding it–and so was born the 21st Century Cleopatra collection.”
The Cleopatra collection is categorized by sculpted, kiln-fired pendants and earrings and long-beaded necklaces in black, crimson, deep blue, silver and gold. The scarab necklace is currently being sold at the New Preston-based boutique, J.Seitz & Co., along with some of her other pieces.
The Connecticut native bounced around the state for a number of years before finally settling in Washington with her husband and son, Liam. After going to school for international business, Ms. Shannon spent some time as an event planner. She spent a number of years working at the Mayflower Inn in Washington and, when she became pregnant with her son, she took some time off and turned her focus to art.
“I remembered playing with clay when I was a child, so I decided to take a class,” said Ms. Shannon.
She began sculpting female nudes, which she was surprised to discover, “actually looked like nudes,” she recalled with a laugh, “So I kept doing it.”
It was shortly thereafter that she began experimenting with jewelry design. Over the years, she has taken several classes at the now reorganizing Brookfield Craft Center, but she said she’s largely self-taught. She employs a variety of artistic techniques in her work from engraving and embossing to sculpting and painting.
“All of the techniques inform each other,” said Ms. Shannon. “It makes it mine. It’s my signature.”
One of her favorite techniques is to take something she’s created at her home workspace, fire it in a kiln and have it plated in pewter, 18 karat gold or silver. She uses local artisans to see her vision through completion.
In addition to her various artistic techniques, Ms. Shannon incorporates an interest in gem stones that she has had since she was a child into her work.
“I’ve always been in touch with the natural state these gems began in,” she explained, “and I would be riffling in my grandmother’s jewelry box. It was a good marriage.”
Ms. Shannon has seen significant success with her jewelry. J. Seitz and Co. has carried her Cleopatra line for a number of years, and her work has appeared in other local boutiques over the years.
This past summer, Ms. Shannon took a leap in her career by booking a series of trunk shows at the Warren Tricomi Salon at The Plaza in New York. That is where she was off to when she stopped by Marty’s for a quick coffee and an interview in October. She explained that she would spend all day in the salon, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., showing her work and meeting customers. She has one more trunk show this year at the salon, and it's this Friday, Dec. 27.
“I’m in the very fortunate position of having these trunk shows,” said Ms. Shannon. “I think people are looking for handmade jewelry. Yes, you can go to Bergdorf’s and find something beautiful but you don’t necessarily get to meet the artist. That’s what’s great about the trunk shows; you get to meet the artist.”
She’s more than just the artist. As she put it, she’s a “one woman show,” doing all of her own publicity and selling in addition to the design and fabrication.
She’s pleased with her success and amazed that so much has happened in such a short time, but Ms. Shannon isn’t about to stop here. She can see her jewelry lines being expanded into an entire brand complete with home décor, shoes, belts and other accessories.
“I can see the scarab being made into a cool hammered vase,” Ms. Shannon said. “I always think big. I grew up in the big ’80s.”
This “one woman show,” has come a long way from dabbling at her workbench and there seems to be a bright future for the Litchfield County mom. Her fine jewelry is refined and elegant, perfect for the working mom looking to go from, “desk to dinner,” or the weekender up from New York City. Her fashion jewelry is a little more versatile, and reasonably priced, which allows the customer to play with her look every day. Her ultimate goal is to inspire people to have fun with their accessories regardless of occasion.