Why you should care
Because not knowing who J.L. Schnabel is will make you a whole hell of a lot less fashionable.
There are certain things that have reached casual critical mass. We see so much jewelry these days that all but the most studied eyes are just not noticing it anymore. No police blotter takes on what kind of watch the perp was wearing, or what kind of brooch that model over there was wearing? Brooch? Nope. It all kind of melts into this melange of ring-pendant-necklace-bracelet … stuff. And unless it’s making the papers for price-related reasons, we’re displaying a marked lack of interest in jewelry these days, with some even proclaiming that jewelry is dead.
Not so much, it suddenly seems. The 20-something J.L. Schnabel — no relation to the other Schnabel, a Philly-based artist and designer — didn’t start designing jewelry back in 2008 because she wanted to reverse any industry trends. She started designing jewelry, called Blood Milk Jewels, largely as a grief response to the death of her father, and her work, tinged as it is with skeletal suggestions and twisted vines, makes manifest a kind of mausoleum Goth — quirky but sober — that’s drawn the attention of celebrity fans like tattoo queen Kat Von D, singer Chelsea Wolfe and a raft of fellow travelers looking for pieces a little less traveled.
Schnabel’s insistence that her Victorian-tinged, neo-Goth jewelry get made is good for her and even better for the rest of us.
Making jewelry can be painstaking, but some of the best stuff is “the kind that you can tell someone killed themselves over, for — and this is important — no clear-cut gain,” says Camille Paradise, metalworker, sculptor and associate of Oddities star Ryan Matthew Cohn. “Schnabel’s line succeeds precisely because it seems labor-of-lovey and just because it’s so personal.” So whether we’re not noticing or caring, not wearing it or spending money on different things, Schnabel’s insistence that her Victorian-tinged, neo-Goth jewelry get made is probably good for her and even better for the rest of us. Even if her sometimes-you-see-her-stuff-and-sometimes-you-don’t sales pages on Etsy speak to a deeper ambivalence about commerce. An ambivalence that doesn’t extend to the prices of the pieces she sells, frequently in the $200 range, via her website.
But Schnabel’s work in her studio, fulfilling existing orders, taking new orders and doing her special order stuff forms the framework of a how a modern jewelry designer makes it pay. And if you’re expecting some sort of “What makes Sammy run?” hustle, you’re unlikely to find it here. Schnabel’s preoccupations seem to be the boundary between the material world and the spirit one, magic, and the nuts and bolts of crafting that into a cohesive body of art that can be worn. All in sterling silver, phantom quartz and obsidian or polished lava. Small lots, and many pieces that are completely unique.
And her most popular purchasers? Couples getting married. “Unique, timeless and transcending death,” Schnabel says. So, not for everyone, but for whom these are dear and dire preoccupations: jewelry that pops. We like. We like.