BARE – beautiful, authentic, refined and enigmatic is not only the name of a very special jewelry collection but also a very apt description of the woman behind it. Los Angeles designer Jeet Sohal, creator and craftsman of BARE Collection, shares her fascinating story. She has a beautiful way with words that makes this interview such a pleasure and has deeply inspired me.
As a special treat, you can meet Jeet this week in NYC where her jewelry will be featured on the first floor of Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship store. She will be in Saks on Wednesday and Thursday, November 16 and 17th.
How did you become a jeweler?
JS: The path to becoming a jeweler began in the forth or fifth grade. My mother had a broken coral chip necklace and I volunteered to “fix” it. The meditative restringing of the necklace spoke to me. Shortly thereafter, I began dismantling jewelry my parents had given me from India and refashioning it with seed bead jewelry picked up on a Grand Canyon vacation. My mom’s dismay at this quickly turned into support for my early entrepreneurialism. I was selling the bracelets to classmates for Valentine’s Day and using that money to buy beads at the art store. I graduated in love with metal work.
Gina Woodruff, my high school art teacher, would humor me (or pacify me) and let me tinker in the studio for five years. At Dartmouth, there was a jewelry studio, but I never set foot inside it. In fact, I graduated with one class shy of a studio art minor because I refused to take sculpture. Ironically, now I basically am a sculptor who works in a miniaturized medium! After I wrapped up my job as a strategy consultant and was biding my time until the start of law school, I found myself making jewelry again.
I set up a bench under a skylight in my parent’s attic. No one ever went up there and the ventilation was great because the skylight opened. I made myself earrings inspired by an old National Geographic image of a woman who had modified her earlobes to look like gigantic water droplets. The effect was striking, but it also reminded me of the droopy earlobes of old Indian ladies who wore heavy jewelry. From that creative seed, I fabricated 14K nested teardrop earrings. Since the teardrops were hammered until they were paper thin, I was able to create a large, voluminous earring that would never give me a droopy earlobe but had the beauty of the earlobe from the woman in National Geographic.
A boutique owner bought the nested tear-drop earrings while I was out shopping with my mom. When I dropped off the earrings, the owner asked me for my brand name. After much thought, I landed on BARE because the earrings were minimal and inspired by body modification and because BARE represented the women that I was drawn to for friendship and inspiration. They were all Beautiful Authentic Refined and Enigmatic.
After making jewelry for a few years, I was limited by my skill set. Gina was a great teacher and my basic fabrication skills were strong but I had never carved wax or cast metal. I began to use any down time over the next two years traveling to San Francisco’s Revere Jewelry Academy to hone my skills and work on new ones. As life continued moving forward, my investment in Revere paid off; during all three of my pregnancies, I was able to plan all of my bench work around the pregnancies and wax carve during them.
What do you most love about making jewelry?
JS: Making jewelry combines creativity with meditation and handwork. I love finding the creative seed, sitting at the bench and turning it into reality, and then honing the original idea until it’s a finished piece. It always feels like a flurry of commotion when I start a piece until it begins to work. After the form starts to develop, the process is more meditative until completion.
Which pieces do you wear most often and why?
JS: I always wear my constellation pendants. At most, I’m without them a few hours a month, when another necklace demands to be worn solo. With that exception, I tend to change my jewelry often because I’m always testing new pieces I’ve fabricated to see how they work with my wardrobe and lifestyle and if they are comfortable or need additional tweaks.
Even though I’m a jeweler and have access to my whole collection, I always find myself going back to pieces that commemorated a moment in my life. I love my twinkle ring because I remember when a friend first gave me the idea to take the twinkle toe ring and turn it into a standard ring in 2003. I also wore a twinkle ring in lieu of my wedding ring through all three of my pregnancies. It’s just a nice little bit of sparkle.
I love my nested teardrop earrings and the Calder earrings, both part of the flutter collection because they are the original gangsters of Bare. The dome ring is my first carved piece from my Revere Days and it packs quite a punch so I often put it on when I’m in a rush and need a little bit of polish. The duo teardrops are perfect for tired days when I need a little pop of distraction to draw the eye away from my fatigue!
Tell me about your studio.
JS: My studio was designed in collaboration with Tracy McCormick, a very talented LA designer. There is so much clutter in a working jewelry studio and since I also take freelance product design projects, I have a lot of materials. Tracy designed a shelving system and cabinetry that is more than just functional, it provides visual order and calm even when there is clutter. I can look past all of the little bits and focus on the shelving or on the benchtops. The benches and counters are all standing height since that’s always been my preference for a work environment since I’m always moving from one station to the next. I have dental chairs that help me get close to the bench pin or soldering block and provide my arms with support. I love that my computer tucks away behind a cabinet so I just turn music on and work without any distractions.
What inspires you creatively?
JS: Creative inspiration comes from everywhere – nature, table objects, sculptures, patterns in architecture. Generally, I see a shape or negative space that starts the inspiration process. Wouldn’t it be cool if???? From there, it’s time at the bench. I create by making, not by sketching. Each creative nugget turns into a few concepts and I start making. Playing with gold, playing with wax, until I hit the nail on the head.
As a mom, how do you create time to focus on your craft?
JS: For a time, it was definitely difficult. Planning around my pregnancies and maintaining the quality of work I wanted to deliver scaled my business down to a handful of local specialty retailers. Now that all of my kids are in school, the school year is pretty routine. It’s morning drop-off and then into the studio to crank out as much work as I can until 2:15 when pickup starts. I also have help with the kids two days a week to stretch my studio time until evening. It’s amazing how much you get done at work when you only have a limited amount of time.
What is next for BARE?
JS: BARE has a lot of new things in the works. We just did a brand identity refresh and are doing a trunk show at Saks in New York City. We are building out the studio to accommodate more private appointments. We can go through the archives, look at my collection of books on jewelry for visual direction, and take our time discussing a new piece. I’ve always envisioned BARE as becoming more than jewelry, a bit of a lifestyle brand with a great edit of home and accessories. I’m not quite there, but maybe in another 15 years!
Any advice for other creatives?
JS: I think that the most important thing is to understand who your client is, and what makes your brand unique. The biggest mistake I made was not working in editorial or at a big brand when I started out. The professional network that you develop when you are “in the trenches” with others in your field is invaluable. I’ve made some of these connections over time, but taking the solitary jeweler route from the get-go was a little naive. The smartest business decision I’ve made is to hire the right person to work with me. This is a two-woman shop and I’ve always had someone good working alongside me, but Katherine is great. She just delivers and is such a pleasure to work with!
What are your BARE suggestions for gifts?
JS: You can never go wrong with the constellation collection or the #barepink BCRF loop earring. Those are quick go-to gifts in different price points, but both incredibly meaningful and personal.
Please share your favorite spots in LA.
To Eat: Lunch at Sycamore Kitchen unless I’m on the westside where I either pick up a sandwich from Bay Cities or stop for lunch at Milo and Olive. Bestia has been a favorite dinner spot since it opened. I also love Otium for a drink in their garden patio. These are great places for date nights/girls nights, etc. For something more intimate, I like Angelini Osteria or Petit Trois. Angelini just opened their alimentari which I love bringing the kids to after a soccer game since they have the most amazing gelato. It transports me to Italy.
To Shop: I love doing a walking loop where I walk up from La Brea and Third to Beverly/Melrose, loop up to Robertson/Fairfax and then head back on Third. It’s so much fun and there are a lot of retail/restaurant/galleries/cafes to make the day more digestible. If I need a quick wardrobe refresh, I stop in at Des Kohan. For gifts OK and Ten over Six are my go-tos.
To Discover: New neighborhoods. My husband and I go on day dates to celebrate our birthdays or anniversary and pick a new neighborhood and walk around until we pick up the kids. A lazy breakfast followed by a long walk and another lazy lunch and yet another long walk. These walks are punctuated by pop-ins wherever our feet take us. It’s like being a tourist in your own town. We then pick up the kids and either go on an LA adventure or make them walk with us.
With the Kids: I love taking them to LACMA and the surrounding Hancock Park gardens. Another fun adventure is taking the subway. We live about a mile from the subway stop and its such a novelty/adventure for the kids to take the subway downtown to the Central Library or to the beach and the Santa Monica Pier. If I just need a few minutes out of the house, we head to our local library or a family owned bookstore on Larchmont called Chevalier. On a long long weekend, we have a vintage airstream that we park near the beach or in Joshua Tree.
I find creative types ate often well tapped into a community of up-and-coming designers. Are there any you can share with us?
JS: It’s definitely great to be tapped into a creative network. Shaina Mote, Nancy Stella Soto, and Calder Blake are a few under the radar designers doing interesting basics that have become my wardrobe mainstays. They are all at available at Ten over Six. I’m always looking for clothing lines that are made of natural fibers, fit my active lifestyle, are washable and make me look put together. Meenal Mistry just did a round up of my favorites for WSJ Off Duty. The only one she forgot is Heidi Merrick who does the most beautiful statement dresses all made in LA.
If I were to visit LA for a long weekend, what should I do?
JS: I would split my stay with one night at the beach and two days in the city. It’s nice to arrive, unwind near the ocean and take in a hike, but I really love downtown LA and East Hollywood.
Since the beach is near the airport, I would find a spot in Venice to stay, rent some bikes and take in the neighborhood. If you are feeling ambitious, you can bike from Venice to the Brentwood Country Mart which is a fun place to shop and eat. From there you can bike down the beach bike path and head back to Venice. I love long nighttime bike rides!
In the morning I would head to Temescal or Solstice Canyon and take in a sunrise hike followed by an early brunch at the Malibu Pier. I’d pack my bags and then head east, stopping for lunch at Milo and Olive en route. Driving down Wilshire takes longer than hopping on the 10 west, but it’s nice to see so many LA neighborhoods.
I would stop at Melrose Place and La Cienega to walk around and explore that pocket of LA. Relax in the garden or by a pool for the afternoon, head out to Mama Shelter or Otium downtown for a drink and a little to eat. Take in the LA Philharmonic for a concert in the Gehry designed Disney Hall and call it a night.
In the morning, I would walk around Griffith Park and then head to Sqirl for breakfast. I’m always the first person at these breakfast spots since I enjoy them more when they are quiet. If Makers Mess is in session, I would meet friends for a workshop there. I’ve taken the Shibori class and the Tablescape class. It’s nice to just sit down and be creative and catch up with friends. Lunch could be something light like M Cafe and then late afternoon wandering around LACMA or the Craft and Folk Art Museum. My only must stop of the day would be Des Kohan. Destination retail is difficult to squeeze in but always worth it! DK has been carrying BARE since it opened and I never leave there without a wardrobe staple that is ultra chic and comfortable.
I mean, how lucky are we to be let in to Jeet’s world? I know I’m throwing on my own constellation necklace and planning a trip to LA soon. You can find BARE Collection at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Des Kohan in LA, and BARE Collection online.
Photos: Todd Westphal