Though the cutesy factor looms large, for some of these labels there’s a genuine connection between name and creator. For artist–turned–objet designer Derrick R. Cruz, the circuitous path he took to return to his birthplace of Manhattan resulted in Black Sheep & Prodigal Sons, a cache of meticulously crafted wares with an old-world feel. Kicking off with animal-head stickpins and scrimshaw necklaces made from vintage ivory piano keys, Cruz has since conjured 24-karat gold-plate “jaws” that double as ashtrays and trinket holders, and straight-edge razors with handles carved from woolly mammoth tusks. Currently he’s curating “A New Hive,” a multimedia exhibit he hopes will draw attention to the plight of endangered honeybees.
With so much going on between the ears, it makes sense that Cruz would deep-six the notion of a run-of-the-mill moniker. Instead, he drew inspiration from Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir by Anatole Broyard. In the book, says Cruz, Broyard describes meeting people “who had either shunned family to come to New York City, or they had been shunned by family and fled to the city. He said that these are paradoxical black sheep or prodigal sons. And I thought, Well, this hasn’t changed.”
For jeweler Alexis Bittar, the decrepit cool of one of Charles Dickens’s most colorful characters informs his Miss Havisham line. Something about the jilted bride of Great Expectations, who sports her bridal gown until it’s in tatters, spoke to Bittar, manifesting in a range he describes as “Memphis art sprinkled with Grace Jones.”
“Miss Havisham’s so dark, but so glamorous,” adds Bittar. “There’s a bird in her hair; she’s in this ancient wedding dress. But in my kind of Eighties brain, she seemed a bit gothic punk. And for me, this line always had a punky vibe.”
Although there was also a short-lived fashion line called Havisham a few years back, not everyone shares Bittar’s enthusiasm for the sour would-be bride. Some folks, including a few jewelry buyers, have never even heard of the old gal. “They have no idea who the f--- it is,” Bittar says, laughing. “They think Miss Havisham is Miss Sixty’s sister.”
Indeed, along with a bunch of “thread” collections (A Common Thread, Denim & Thread, Thread Social), several new Misses are in our midst. And one of the buzziest, the Miss Davenporte line by celeb stylists Cristina Ehrlich and Estee Stanley, almost started life as another Miss entirely. Originally, the duo had their hearts set on the name Miss Robinson, a by-product of their fixation with Katharine Ross’s character in The Graduate. Though there are other influences in the collection (it borrows heavily from the personal styles of Ehrlich and Stanley, spliced with a little Belle de Jour–era Catherine Deneuve), Elaine Robinson was pretty much visual shorthand for what the stylists envisioned.