// OPENING CEREMONY BLOG
Back in ‘94 a young Sean Carter would find his rap name on the JMZ during his commute to NYC. Inspiration and style still remain as prevalent to this MTA line today as it did more than a decade ago. We take a moment to get to know new To OC designer Martine Ali and find the synonymity between her pieces and the interlocking train cars filled with the eclectic style that is New York.
You only have to be on the J train for five minutes before you realize: chains are a thing here. Disclaimer: I'm a Brit who moved here from a town in South-East London little more than a few years ago, where urban style doesn't dare too much outside of a Nike tracksuit and some squeaky clean white sneakers. Subtlety reigns in the UK. So when I moved here, I loved that the "dripping in chains" look had lived well beyond its late nineties MTV screen days, and for a while had a small obsession with the brash pawn shops of Delancey Street and the rows of Canal Street jewelers. More recently, I saw an older guy with a cane on the subway (in a scarlet velvet tracksuit) drowning in hundreds of enormous chains. I wondered if he bought the cane as an accessory in '98 and the heavy chains had weighed him down over the years which then made the cane practical—a true veteran of style. The curiosity a chain can inspire can't be denied. It makes you want to know the story behind the chain, the story of the person wearing it.
Martine Ali had the same obsession, she's a child of the MTV generation and grew up wanting to be "the next Jacob the Jeweler." Completely self-taught, she has a (secret) unique technique that give her chunky chains a special burnished finish—her trademark. I went to her Brooklyn studio where we chatted chains, romance, and the story that sits behind each piece and at the heart of the Martine Ali brand.
ELOISE MORAN:When did you first get into making jewelry? - Do you remember the first piece you made or experimented with?
MARTINE ALI: I started making jewelry when I was a kid. I had this babysitter who would bring me to the local hobby shop for projects to keep me busy. Once we started dabbling at the bead counter it was a wrap. I started making these awful seed bead necklaces with blown glass beads for my mom. She was obsessed with them and would wear them to work, and pretty soon got her friends to start buying them from me. Thanks mom!
CAN YOU DESCRIBE TO US WHO THE MARTINE ALI CUSTOMER IS?
I WOULDN'T SAY IT'S A GUY OR A GIRL, IT'S MORE A STATE OF MIND. I DESIGN FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE A REALLY STRONG DESIRE TO CULTIVATE THEIR OWN PERSONAL STYLE. THEY'RE LOOKING FOR THAT PIECE, THAT SIGNATURE, THAT EDGE. THEY'RE EXTREMELY SAVVY CONSUMERS AND THEY VALUE THE BRAND, THE DETAILS AND THE STORY.
HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN MAKING CHAINS. WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION COME FROM?
I GREW UP ON MTV JAMS, THE JEWELRY, THE SWAGGER. IT WAS EVERYTHING. I WANTED TO BE THE NEXT 'JACOB THE JEWELER'.
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TECHNIQUE?
IT'S ALL ABOUT A CONSISTENT APPROACH. THERE'S A RHYTHM TO MY PIECES THAT GIVE THEM A REALLY UNMISTAKEABLE IDENTITY. I HAND FINISH ALL MY METALS, WITH A 'SPECIAL SAUCE' THAT GIVES THEM A PARTICULAR LOOK AND LUSTER. IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS—THE DETAILS—THAT REALLY GO A LONG WAY IN DIFFERENTIATING A PRODUCT.
WE'VE SEEN YOU WORK A LOT WITH THICKER, CHUNKY CHAINS. DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS ON WORKING WITH MORE DELICATE JEWELRY?
I DO, I'M ACTUALLY DOING SOME MORE DELICATE PIECES FOR MY NEXT COLLECTION FOR OC! I HAVE A TENDENCY TO WANT TO DESIGN REALLY HUGE, ALMOST EDITORIAL PIECES, SO IT'S A CREATIVE CHALLENGE FOR ME TO SCALE MY IDEAS DOWN FOR COMMERCIALITY WHILE STILL MAKING THEM JUST AS IMPACTFUL. SOME OF THE NEW PIECES FOR OC ARE MUCH MORE DELICATE, BUT THE DETAILS AND FUNCTIONALITY ARE STILL NEW AND FRESH.
DURING YOUR CAREER SO FAR, WHAT'S BEEN A BIG BREAKOUT MOMENT OR HIGHLIGHT?
I SEE MY CAREER AS THIS NEVER ENDING HIGH SCHOOL. FRESHMAN YEAR, DKNY PUT MY STUFF ON THE RUNWAY AND SUBSEQUENTLY PUT ME ON THE MAP. SOPHOMORE YEAR, I WENT OUT ON MY OWN LIKE A BADASS. JUNIOR YEAR WAS ALL ABOUT STAYING IN IT TO WIN IT—FINDING THE INNER STRENGTH TO STICK TO WHAT I WAS DOING WHEN IT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE AND WHEN EVEN THE CLOSEST PEOPLE IN MY LIFE WERE DOUBTING ME. SENIOR YEAR, I GOT GAGA AND KENDRICK IN MY JEWELS AND OC CARRYING ME!
For Fashion week you made a pop-up in SoHo— Can you tell us a bit about this and where the idea came from?
I've had this idea swirling around in my mind for a while. It started really because I had all these people even from various countries that found me on Instagram and hit me up to come by my studio. It became almost like this destination. I realized that the studio wasn't just a place, it was an experience. Consumers need an inspiring experience. I wanted to take this concept and really push it. I want to create a retail experience that doesn't feel like retail at all, but mimics a studio visit. I want to really bring people into my creative process, and I want them to feel the creative energy and the ideas that make the jewelry so special.
Generally, where do you look to for inspiration? OR What has given you your best idea?
My best ideas come from boredom. Creativity creeps in just as you want to claw your eyes out. I think we are always looking to be doing something, to stay busy. Do nothing. Let yourself go. Let your mind wonder. All of these ideas live inside of us and we need to let them come up to surface.
What piece of yours would you suggest for the guy/girl who wants to get their loved one something a little different?
The Cuban Link bracelet is my classic. Guys, girls, everyone loves this piece! I basically live in mine because no matter what I wear it always gives every look that special signature. It really just takes it there.
SINCE YOU’RE IN THE JEWELRY BUSINESS … WHAT’S THE MOST ROMANTIC THING ANYONE HAS DONE FOR YOU?
I HAD A VERY SWEET SOMEONE PLAN A WHOLE COACHELLA GETAWAY FOR ME LAST YEAR. HE PICKED ME UP FROM LAX WITH A BOUQUET OF ROSES WRAPPED IN A COACHELLA READY BANDANA AND BOUGHT ME THESE COOL SHITTY STEAMPUNK GLASSES (I AM OBSESSED WITH SHITTY GLASSES). THEN HE DROVE ALL THE WAY OUT TO THE DESERT TAKING THE LOCAL ROUTE, BECAUSE DRIVING ON THE FREEWAY WAS FREAKING ME OUT AFTER THE LONG-ASS FLIGHT. WHAT A NICE GUY … DIDN'T WORK OUT THOUGH. STILL SINGLE.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU? DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO GO INTO WORKING WITH SOLID SILVER?
I’M WORKING ON A SOLID STERLING COLLECTION WHICH YOU WILL LOVE IF YOU ARE FANCY. I'M DOING MORE EARRINGS, SOME THINNER PIECES, AND SOME MORE REFINED MINIMAL STACKING RINGS AND BANGLES.