I just knew I’d love urban legend the moment I read the shop’s tag line: Please don’t eat the jewelry. Well, that tiny preview most definitely did not disappoint — it offered the perfect glimpse into the world and mind of Kateri, the Portland-based designer extraordinaire who is a firm believer that all jewelry tells a story. And that story is a pretty cool one too — a beautiful candy-like confection of color and inspiration in the form of necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I got the inside scoop on Kateri’s colorful world when I chatted with her recently. Read on for the inspiration behind her shop, her favorite trends and her tips for looking chic on a budget! xoxo
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Tell me a bit about urban legend. What’s the inspiration behind its launch?
I love color. A good, unexpected arrangement of color can stop me in my tracks and have me reaching for my phone to capture that feeling. Before I opened urban legend, I’d been making jewelry and selling it on Etsy for about two years. As I did that, I got more interested in vintage plastics and began collecting Lucite beads. I loved the color and the smooth depth of quality in original Lucites, but their style didn’t really fit with what I was doing at the time. So urban legend came into being to give me a playground for color, and give a home to the bright, chunky pieces I wanted to make.
It gives me great pleasure to put colors together in ways that express joy or in a combination of textures that create happiness. A lot of my clients seek out pieces that have a tactile component as well as for specific colors: one matte bead in a line of glossy ones or something with nubbly patterns. Another of my favorite things about what I do is taking old pieces of jewelry apart and giving them new life in a different form. I’ve had many clients and friends send me costume jewelry that belonged to their mothers or grandmothers, and it makes me so happy to be able to give those treasures a new form and watch them carry on in new jewelry.
What are some trends we’re seeing as we move into the fall? What are some of your favorite fashion trends?
I’ll be honest, I stared at this question for a long time. And then I googled “style trends for fall 2016,” where I found out that ruffles and chokers are among the things people are excited about. Neither of which I like very much (I like making chokers, very much, but I find them unpleasant to wear for more than about 10 minutes). You’ll gather from this that I don’t actually know much about fashion trends. The recent fashion trend that’s excited me the most is the rise in popularity of elderly women of tremendous style — Iris Apfel, most of all. To me, she is the ultimate style icon. She’s always worn exactly what she wanted, in great abundance, and she looks fabulous in big-name designers and dime store costume jewelry alike. She dresses for joy and to be comfortable. That thrills me more than anything else: seeing someone wearing what obviously makes them feel happy and in their own skin, whether it’s Alexander McQueen (I do really love McQueen), a kimono and 20 chunky necklaces or Old Navy jeans and boots (my personal approach). Whatever you wear, own it. And keep an eye out for the gorgeous old ladies; they’re appearing in haute couture ads more and more often and they’re amazing.
What are some things people should keep in mind when shopping for jewelry?
My best answer to this is my mission statement that I keep on my website: “I believe that jewelry tells a story. It can be a secret story, a reminder to yourself; it can be a story you tell to the world around you; it can be a costume or a talisman or a suit of armor.”
Jewelry is so personal. I think, like anything else you wear, it should be something that speaks to you or for you. My worst fear when people buy something from me is that it was a fleeting love and will sit mostly unworn on their dresser. My favorite thing is when a client emails me that they lost an earring they bought four years ago and asks if there is there any way, please, please, could I possibly make another?
As far as shopping advice goes, though, I do say look for good workmanship. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, but if you’re going to wear it, it should be kind to your body and it should last a while. I’ve passed up lovely bits of sparkle or fascinating chunks of steampunk because they had badly wrapped wire or unfiled bits of soldering. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is; if it’s going to snag your clothes or scratch your skin, it’s probably going to end up in the dreaded unworn pile on the dresser. (Or on the Christmas tree. I have a friend whose grandma hung tatty rhinestone costume jewelry on her Christmas tree, and I love that.)
What are some ways that people can still look chic for less?
My roommate is one of the most stylish women I’ve ever met, and with the exception of her shoes, everything she wears is secondhand. She looks stunning, always, but everything she owns is thrifted. I definitely recommend her approach, but it takes some practice and some patience, and it also requires living in a place where secondhand is readily available. That’s not the case for everyone, is it? For me, the key to looking good without spending a fortune lies in accessories and in careful curation. Clothes that can be mixed and remixed into new combinations over and over again.
I do have one secret weapon that people often overlook: hair accessories. No matter what your hairstyle is, there are gorgeous or adorable or fierce accessories that will ratchet your style up by whole points. They’re generally inexpensive, and they can function as a great finishing touch or as a sparkly distraction if you dressed in a hurry on laundry day. I’m usually in jeans and boots, but I’m also seldom without a little feather clip or a flower bobby pin. My hair gets in my eyes, but don’t let the practical element distract you. Be fancy every day.
What is your favorite piece in your shop and why?
Oh gosh, I do not do well with favorites. Ask me again in 10 minutes and my answer will be different. I do really love this necklace, though!
Antique celluloid jewelry is so beautiful, and I’ve often wanted to recreate some of the spectacular vintage pieces I’ve seen in films and photographs. About a year ago, I got really lucky and found some never-used vintage lipstick red celluloid flowers. A few months later, a stash of vintage red enamel chain followed. So I got to recreate this beautiful belle of the ball necklace, which is an exact copy of one in ivory white that I saw years ago when I first started making jewelry. Every time I look at it, I debate keeping it, but so far it’s still available in the shop!
[Shop header photography by Bettie Newell Photography]