Interview | Justine Cullen Jewellery
1. When did you realize you wanted to start a Jewelry line?
I’ve always loved design and fashion for as long as I can remember. I used to daydream about being part of the fashion industry and what that would look like and how or in what capacity I could fit in. It was during the time that my previous company, FAB (Forever and Beyond), which I owned with best friend and talented makeup artist Sarah Fab, came to a natural end that I came up with the idea of designing jewelry. Not knowing anything about the industry, or if there was even a career to be had, I began attending adult evening classes at a local school in London before moving to Kent in the English countryside. It was a slow process to learn the basics and a majorly challenging set of skills to acquire, from working with tools all the way through to understanding how to be a designer. To make an amazing piece of jewelry is one thing, but to also make it comfortable to wear and fit the body is the next level up. I am proud to be part of a traditional trade. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and needless to say, once I discovered the world of jewelry it quickly became my all-time biggest obsession.
2. What's it like being a female designer of edgy jewelry in a male-dominated lane?
Being a woman in a male dominated lane is empowering and exciting. Male energy and female energy are very different, and I value each in my life tremendously. I don’t feel the need to compete, as the jewelry industry is one of the largest in the world with many amazing designers, there is something for everyone. I look more to align myself with my customers and growing list of clients. Mens jewelry is becoming an increasingly popular part of my brand and an amazing new part of my design journey. As more and more men have started to shop with me and order custom pieces I quickly realized that there was a gap in the market for men’s jewelry. Men are looking for something unique as much as woman are these days. I never imagined that I would have a popular men’s collection and am completely humbled by it. I love designing for men and woman and value both in equal measures. My true belief is that whether you are a man or a woman, if you treat those around you with respect and positivity you will go far. Fear is one of the biggest challenges that can hold you back in life and especially in career. One of my biggest life lessons is that obstacles only exist if you allow them to.
3. What gives you inspiration when creating new Jewelry?
Inspiration comes to me in many forms, from people-watching to story-telling. When I’m working on a new collection my focus shifts to the person who will wear it one day. That thought always sparks a story to form in my mind, and that story expands to reveal the pieces that shape the collection. Certain styles are very influential in my designs. I love a utilitarian meets punk rock aesthetic, which gives me room as a designer to incorporate and explore rough and smooth textures with dark undertones to bring out the essence of a piece. Then there is the other side of my personality that is in awe of the glam movie star – man or woman - dressed to glitter and shine. For me, the fine jewelry side of my collection is all about that edge between soft and fierce, bold and rebellious and celebrates those willing to step outside the norm to express themselves.
4. What was your favorite Jewelry collaboration and why?
My favorite jewelry collaboration took place with a creative couple, Model Nancy Sorrell and her husband, actor / comedian and artist, Jim Moir aka Vic Reeves. I have had the pleasure of working with Nancy and Jim on my biggest project to date, Midnight, a very special necklace crafted in 18ct white gold with 21 black sapphires and 215 pavé set white diamonds. Nancy and Jim are both amazing to work with. When designing Midnight Nancy was very much part of my design process as I could see her wearing the piece as it took shape into reality. Jim is a true master artist. I love the way he was able to capture the essence of Midnight and Nancy’s natural beauty bringing the whole project to life.
When designing Midnight Nancy was very much part of my design process as I could see her wearing the piece as it took shape into reality…
5. What's your favorite material to use in your Jewelry?
My favorite material to work in is precious metal from sterling silver to gold and platinum. I also enjoy using gems to add detail or feature in certain pieces. Working in this variety of materials ensures that my collections will always offer something for everyone. From a small purchase all the way up to an investment piece.
6. The names of your jewelry pieces are interesting and eclectic how do you come up with them?
When a new design idea forms in my mind, it’s often intertwined with an inspired story of strength, courage and rebellion. The names come to me along the design process or just after completing the piece. I look at jewelry as an expression of personal taste but also feel that the piece can become a symbol to the person wearing it. There’s often a mythology that develops around the design, such as the story of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes symbolizing strength and undying love. This type of vision inspires me most and connects me to the pieces I’m creating. A special piece of jewelry is very emotive, it can makes you feel lucky, protected, strong, fierce, happy and much more. Whatever the story, I hope my jewelry helps to bring it to life for the person wearing it.
I look at jewelry as an expression of personal taste but also feel that the piece can become a symbol to the person wearing it…
7. What challenges do you face in your work?
One of the biggest challenges I face in my work is the hot topic of the moment, life-work balance. This topic is extremely relevant to my business, as I work both in the UK and Los Angeles, meaning that when one city sleeps the other is awake. I have worked carefully to incorporate the balance aspect into my work life by pinpointing a few healthy outlets to add into my workflow. The big one for me is fitness, which is very important to me for my well being mentally and physically. It is officially part of my business strategy and is just as big a part as the other aspects of running my company. I use fitness to combat stress, give me energy and help me focus. This is just one of the many ways that I incorporate balance into my schedule.
8. What is your bestselling piece of jewelry and why do you think that is?
The Phoenix Rising necklace is my best-selling piece of the moment, and in the last few months it has quickly become the top selling piece in the men’s collection. Born from the ashes, the Phoenix symbolizes strength and undying love. We live in a changeable time, from unpredictable world politics, to financial and social pressures, gender awareness. It’s definitely proving to be a time of rebirth and transformation. A new beginning in a challenging time. The Phoenix symbolizes all of this and more.
9. What's the craziest custom inquiry you have received?
One of the most unusual custom pieces I’ve been commissioned to make was a design which would incorporate a trident symbol mixed with a hint of ballet. It definitely took some time for me to visualize how to express both of these elements in one piece. When I’m designing for someone I haven’t met before, or a gift for someone’s partner, I always ask to see a photograph of the person who the piece is for. This really helps me imagine the style they might enjoy most. This piece was for a client’s partner, whom I had never met before. After looking at a picture of her, I soon realized that she was very petite and feminine. Many of my female customers love chunky statement jewelry, but with this client in mind I had the feeling that the line between soft and bold had to have a very careful balance. The interesting thing about this design brief was working out how to blend this patriotic trident symbol, which was in itself quite a masculine shape, and add a flow or movement to represent the ballet aspect. I worked closely with my client to create this special piece full of personal symbolism and nostalgia. It was an exciting surprise gift for his loving partner. Working on commissions is one of my favorite parts of my job.
The interesting thing about this design brief was working out how to blend this patriotic trident symbol….
10. What was it like working with model/actress Anabelle Strut on your editorial project?
Working with Anabelle Strut was amazing. She’s a true talent as a model and also as a budding actress. Her career is quickly going from strength to strength, and the energy from that is electric. When I got the call from talented photographer Allison Wallis, I couldn’t wait to shoot together. She put together such an amazing team for the day including makeup artist Katherine Shaw who created stunning and captivating looks on Anna throughout the shoot. Allison’s unique photography style captured Anna’s striking look which made this shoot such a great fit for my brand. The day was really creative and fun with an all-woman team. It had a certain magic to it. Once in a while you get that dream team in a shoot where it all works so well from model, photographer and make-up. Our creative flow was on high that day.
11. If you couldn't be a jewelry designer, what occupation would you pursue?
Before deciding on a career in jewelry I was seriously considering cake making. I have a love for sweet things and am always trying to figure out a way to make my obsession with that healthier. I love baking so initially thought I might make a good baker specializing in high-end specialty cakes. I’m glad I chose jewelry, I was definitely in danger of encouraging lots of cake eating otherwise.
12. Have you ever considered moving to LA or would you like to continue to be bi-coastal?
In the next few years there are definitely plans to be in LA for longer periods of time. Although I will always remain a British brand, it would be such a thrill to have longer in LA to explore creative projects. I love living in the UK as well so it’s defiantly always going to be a case of two favorite places to live and work. Best of both worlds!
12. What's your favorite go-to spot when you come to LA?
When I’m in LA I have a few favorites places. Top on my list is my home town, Topanga Canyon. I always spend time there with my best friends Jenny and her wife CJ. It’s very grounding for me and inspiring to go back to my roots. I also love spending time in Venice Beach, having coffee mornings with my dad at Zelda’s coffee shop off of Speedway as well as enjoying walks down the colorful boardwalk taking in the view. And of course, always fun running around LA exploring all the new places to eat and have fun. The list is endless.
13. What's next for you?!
I am currently working on a very exciting collaboration with Indigo & Goods, a British Men’s clothing brand, in partnership with model/actor Ricki Hall specializing in retro sportswear and work wear. I love the style and direction they are taking and was super excited to have the opportunity to collaborate on a jewelry line for them. The first piece we are releasing is completely inspired by something special and sentimental to Ricki Hall. The design revolves around taking that initial inspiration and combining it with Indigo & Goods sports line, RHGYM. The whole project ties into a fight night happening in London with Ricki Hall. The dedication and fitness training that has gone into this has been intense and I can’t wait for this momentous event! This project is so unique and creatively exciting with a mix of lifestyle, fitness, goal reaching and well-made British garments and now jewelry. It’s an honor to team up with this brand. We release our first piece together Sunday October 7th UK time (GMT).