Jewelry That Rocks
Jewelry for risk takers: Houston designer's Texas-sized baubles make a bold statement
Art runs in Jessie Dugan’s family. “My mom’s an artist. She has a studio in her backyard, and that’s where I work by myself right now,” Dugan says.
Well, somewhat by herself. Dugan has four-legged co-workers, i.e., her puppy, Rosie, and her parents’ dogs. They keep her company as she works in west Houston building her jewelry business, Jessie Dugan Designs.
She officially launched her brand last fall and has found a way to reflect those creative family ties in her jewelry, starting with the geodes – some of Dugan’s best-selling pieces. The use of them in her own line today dates to when she was a kid, inspired by an uncle who majored in geology.
“He left me his rock collection, and a lot of them were Texas-based rocks. I was always fascinated with that because I don’t think you really see that much natural stone,” Dugan says. “It’s got a little bit of glitz and glamor to make it more elevated, and it’s an easy way to make a statement.”
And making a statement is what Dugan says her jewelry is all about, whether it’s the size of the stone or the color. In fact, she’s been seeing green, in particular, ever since she sold her first piece – a malachite necklace with tassels and gold sparkles. Malachite is a gemstone known for its rich, green hue that can range from a pastel shade to almost black.
Dugan says those elements of the mineral, combined with the landscape of Houston, shaped her brand.
“It kind of helped form who I am. My logo is green, and I use a lot of malachite and green in my pieces,” Dugan explains. “Houston is so green to me. We’re by the bayou, and we have a lot of different shades of green going on. I’m inspired by that.”
But Dugan also points to the different cultures in the Bayou City for inspiration when it comes to blending materials.
“I have an African vendor from Ethiopia I buy brass from, and it’s interesting how well it pairs with the glitzy components from a Chinese vendor,” Dugan says. “Even color-wise, I use a lot of sparkle and I make my pieces a little bigger because Texans aren’t afraid to take risks.”
Dugan says that’s obvious in the juxtaposition that exists within Houston, from having high-class, structural places like the Museum District or Texas Medical Center to being part of what some would call the Dirty South.
“We’ve got a nice mix, and I try to express that in my designs,” Dugan says. “I use a lot of stuff that you would find in Texas, like turquoise, bones and teeth. I want it to feel interesting and fall into a lot of categories.”
A New Dimension of Jewelry
Part of that diversity might come from her range in the arts. Dugan studied painting at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, before attending graduate school at Parsons School of Design in New York City.
It was during this period that Dugan says what she wanted to do as a designer became clearer.
“I got an internship in handbags, and I just loved it so much,” Dugan explains. “Then I looked around at my own wardrobe. I wear a lot of basics, but I pair them with intense accessories. I thought, ‘Of course, why didn’t I think of this earlier?’”
She would go on to spend five years in New York, working first at Henri Bendel and later, Tory Burch.
“My boss was the design director, and we would make handmade items for runways because we needed bigger pieces that made more of a statement,” Dugan says. “The other special project was designing jewelry for the Met Gala. Tory herself wore them and whatever celebrities she had at the time.”
A job opportunity for Dugan’s husband brought the Houston native back home and set up the next move in her career.
She connected with designer David Peck, who owns the brand Miles David, on how to tap into the Houston fashion scene. “He does a lot of beautiful gowns and ready-to-wear cocktail, but he didn’t have many accessories for his boutique and atelier at the time,” Dugan recalls. “He asked me if I would make some accessories that would coincide with dresses.”
Since then, Dugan’s line has expanded to include crowns, headpieces and clip-on earrings (a practice carried over from doing runway shows, where the models didn’t have pierced ears). However, Dugan is also working on adding pierced pieces that are lighter, such as her statement tassel earrings.
She recently launched a ready-to-wear collection for everyday looks and is now stepping into another dimension – a 3D-printed jewelry line due out this fall.
“It’s not just plastics anymore. You can do straight gold or straight sterling silver,” Dugan says. “3D printing lends itself to being more casual, so I’m going to fold that in and do cuffs and bangles.”
Aside from the bold necklaces or statement earrings featured on Dugan’s website, you might notice that her work isn’t all about her.
She says one of her goals is to collaborate with other local brands and companies to not only raise awareness of the products but to also show Houston’s fashion scene does exist.
“I love to show people that you can wear it with a gown to a gala or even dressed down with yoga clothes like I did with Define Your Inspiration (DYI),” Dugan says. “I even work with musicians to create pieces to go on their tours. We want different culture icons to be wearing local pieces. I just think it needs to be cultural cohesion.”
On that note, Dugan has collaborated with Kam Franklin, lead singer of the Suffers. She also says she’s ready in case another Houston powerhouse needs a fierce piece of jewelry.
”I’m just waiting for Beyoncé to call me!” Dugan laughs.
Until then, Dugan says she’s happy pushing for a cohesive platform that presents designers to the public and earns support for them.
“I just want people to think about buying local, and hopefully by the summer and definitely by fall, we’ll have something where we can just really let people know what is here,” Dugan says.
You can order Dugan’s pieces through her website, jessiedugan.com, or buy them at Miles David and Define Living. Ready-to-wear jewelry starts at $75; Couture and custom pieces start at $250. Follow Dugan on Instagram, @jessie.dugan.designs, for deals.