Yael Sonia is somewhat of an anomaly in the fashion world. The Brazilian designer has a passion for both art and design (normal) and math and physics (less so), and it's that juxtaposition that comes through in her fine jewelry line. After training at New York's Parsons School of Design, she launched her label nearly 20 years ago in São Paulo, where she is currently based, with a focus on highly sculptural, metal pieces. As she developed her signature, architectural styles into something a little more functional, she earned a dedicated fan base of chic women throughout Brazil. In more recent years, she's made headway in the American market, landing in top luxury boutiques like Fivestory in New York, By George in Austin, and on celebrities like Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson after opening her New York showroom in 2013. As her business expands, her focus remains on the uniqueness of every single piece. To give you an example of just how much craftsmanship and time goes into one of her works, the first-ever Spinning Top piece she made, which is now one of her best-selling styles, took over a year to make. For women with fashion-forward, avant-garde taste, this is a name you need to know.
How did your jewelry line come to fruition?
I started 19 years ago. I started here in Brazil and then worked on it while I was still at Parsons—I graduated there with a major in Metals and Jewelry Design, which they don’t have anymore as a major. The way it was taught was more metals as a medium for expression and art. It was a little more towards art jewelry. That’s really how I started. The first exhibition I did in 1998 was extremely personal and conceptual about femininity, the creation of life and art, and the parallels between both.
How did it evolve from being a very sculptural, conceptual collection to more wearable pieces?
By the year 2000, I started making pieces that were a little less personal but still very conceptual. I was keeping in mind something that is a little more wearable and thinking about the functionality a little more. Being in Brazil, what’s great is that I wasn’t just introduced to great goldsmiths but also to gemstones and gemologists. From there, since 2000, the brand has really evolved even further. All my jewelry is really fine jewelry and the importance of craftsmanship is very high. A lot of my stones are custom cut for me here in Brazil. At my fingertips, I have access to this great variety and skill.
Your mom is a gemologist. Was she the biggest influence on you wanting to be a jewelry designer?
Yes, my mom is a gemologist and she opened the first jewelry gallery with a few other women in Brazil back in 1997. She also represented fine artists as well. In terms of influence, the jewelry always fascinated me. When I was growing up, things like Rene Lalique with his one-of-a-kind creations, those influenced me. I am very inspired by architecture, movement, mechanisms, and São Paulo is a city that I find incredible. There are lots of contradictions and juxtapositions of different cultures and architecture; the city is incredibly vertical with all these great skyscrapers and there’s just a lot of contrasts.
What places in São Paulo do you find most inspiring to your work?
The São Paulo Museum of Art, which is smack in the middle of everything. Then you have the Museum of Modern Art, which is also quite inspiring. There are obviously galleries that I love, like the DAN Gallery, which has more Brazilian artwork from the 1950s and the great masters of Brazilian art.
What are some of your best selling silhouettes and styles?
We just launched the Spinning Top, which has been incredibly successful. There is a very subtle movement and the stones are cut specifically to mimic the shape of a spinning top. People are really drawn to those pieces. I think it’s because there is mystery behind it. Then there is the perpetual or spinning wheel bracelet. That’s a signature piece, which I think is still the most successful piece. Then we have other collections, like the Reverse Fit Earrings, which are part of the Deco Collection. Those are very minimalist, inspired by Deco movement, and the stones are cut so that looking at them from the front you have this illusion of great depth.
How would you describe the Yael Sonia customer?
Someone who loves art. Somewhat of an art buff, a lover of contemporary architecture, travel, and somewhat fashion forward as well. It definitely takes that more avant-garde appeal. I wouldn’t restrict it age-wise. I would say I have an older clientele, but with time I have really hit all ages.
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