Today I am very excited to bring you an exclusive interview with Julia Gelfgatt, designer and owner of Raia Jewelry. Her première collection of organic statement jewelry launched yesterday. I met Julia when we worked together designing contemporary women’s apparel, and I have enjoyed watching her transition into a jewelry designer. I sat down with her in her Greenpoint, Brooklyn studio to find out more about her collection.
What made you decide to transition from apparel designer to jewelry designer?
JG: I like the immediacy and intimacy of designing and making a piece of jewelry, you don’t always get that with apparel design. But I think the two go hand in hand, Raia is an extension of the work that I’ve done in apparel. I’ve been making jewelry for myself and for friends for a long time as a side project. This year I took time off from my job and started making jewelry more intensely, initially without the intent of launching a collection, I was just exploring different mediums, like clay, wood, metal, and fabric, and over time the work grew into a small collection and an idea for a business.
What does Raia mean and how does it relate to your jewelry?
JG: Raia is the name of my paternal grandmother. She’s a big inspiration, not only for her eclectic style, but for the strength and resiliency of her character. Raia pieces are quite bold and require a certain strength in character of the individuals wearing them. The second meaning is derived from the Russian word “rai” which means paradise. It’s important to me that every step in the process of creating my work is positive. All Raia pieces are handmade in New York, and over ninety percent of the materials I use are natural. The clay pieces are hand-built and glazed, it’s a very labor-intensive process, but I think it shows through in the final product.
What inspired your first Raia collection?
JG: I didn’t have a specific inspiration in mind when I started working on this collection. It was more about working with different materials and letting them guide the form through experimentation. In general I am very inspired by all the arts; music, film, design, architecture, nature, really the poetic essence in all man-made and natural things.
Your collection is made up of shell, wood and clay, do you see your collection taking on different materials in the future?
JG: With my first collection I learned how to work with clay, and I will continue using it, while also exploring other materials. Raia is a kind of starting off point for all kinds of creative experimentation, and I want to maintain that spirit with future collections.
If you could have anyone wear one of your pieces who would it be?
JG: I would love all my friends to wear Raia because they all have such unique styles and personalities. I would be very excited if Maria Cornejo, one of my favorite designers, wore a piece, and really any woman with a strong and unique sense of style. I love seeing my pieces on women who can transform them with their individuality.
Who are your major style icons or inspirations?
JG: The women in my life and in New York City. My mother who has great style and elegance and always looks very well put together. Also my father, who was a classical pianist. I grew up listening to him play Chopin and Rachmaninoff in the house. All this created a very inspiring atmosphere for a little kid and probably lodged its way into my subconscious.