Chris Davies studied to become a clothing designer at the famed Parsons School for Design, but about a dozen years after he graduated, he went in a different direction. "In my sketches, the dresses started getting less elaborate and all of sudden jewelry just started to emerge in the drawings," he said. "At a certain point I was just drawing jewelry. I wasn't drawing clothes anymore."
He begin to concentrate on jewelry full-time and the result is a collection that combines clothing design techniques, like drapery and pattern making, with traditional methods of jewelry making.
"That was the design challenge that I presented myself. I wanted to be able to find a way to make work that felt alive the way that a garment does."
"A lot of the pieces have folds and patterned pieces that are either opened or joining," Davies explained from his studio in Manhattan's Garment District during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. "And the method of manufacture is a combination of traditional goldsmith work and basket weaving. My mother is a master basket maker and textile artist."
The result is an unusually refined collection of jewelry that caught the eye of Elizabeth Anthony owner Julie Roberts when she recently launched a fine jewelry collection at her expanded Uptown Park store. Davies will travel to Houston to showcase his latest collection at the store Thursday and Friday.
"A lot of traditional jewelry functions as containers for stones," Davies said. "They're not really independently living pieces. So that was the design challenge that I presented myself. I wanted to be able to find a way to make work that felt alive the way that a garment does."
His styles range from pearls draped like a rope to pieces with woven gold granulated nettings over precious gems that catch the light and move with the body. Once necklace of woven hematite is sculpted and draped in the tradition of couture dressmaking. Prices range from $1,500 to $30,000.
"The collection has been in development for about four years but it took around two years before the prototypes started to feel the way I wanted them to be, " Davies said. "I've been patient with it and let it grow (until) there's a resolution."
Growing up in Los Angeles, Davies was influenced by his grandmother, who was a chic dresser and "incredible" seamstress. "She inspired me a lot with jewel-encrusted boleros and incredible box purses and hats. She was always impeccably dressed — even at 9 o'clock in the morning," he recalled.
"It's a little bit like storytelling, isn't it? You're creating an idea of a woman and you're integrating wit and humor and history and even political ideas."
Fascinated with fashion, Davies was, at age 7, researching Christian Dior and Balenciaga and presented his first fashion show at age 8. "I was really interested in the history of design," he said.
With a degrees from Vassar College in religion with emphasis on ancient civilizations, he feels the influence of the ancient world in his designs, incorporating Greco Roman methods of gold work and granulation. Having studied ballet and the Martha Graham technique at Vassar, dance also figures into his designs. He calls one piece of jewelry "Sway" and another "Spiraling" because they reflect modern dance movements.
Another necklace pays tribute to the suffragette movement in the 19th century as women fought for the right to vote. The necklace incorporates the colors of white, green and violet that were used in the movement. "I'm always researching things, talking to dealers who know the history of jewelry," he said.
In addition to necklaces, he makes accompanying earrings, but mainly as clip-ons. "I find that women have more flexibility in how they position it on the ear because the holes can migrate or the earlobes can be long. With the clip they can get it in the right place," he said. "I'm having fun teaching some of the younger women who may not be as familiar with clips what's so marvelous about that."
The thing he most likes about designing jewelry is "the opportunity to think," he said. "And finally envisioning the woman interacting with the piece. What does it look like while she's walking?"
"It's a little bit like storytelling, isn't it? You're creating an idea of a woman and you're integrating wit and humor and history and even political ideas. The idea that a strong and powerful woman can be very feminine and still be incredibly engaged."