Artist Profile: Xenia Mara

Xenia Mara is a Seattle-based jewelry designer who handcrafts all of her pieces using vintage materials and semi-precious stones. Each necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings she makes is one of a kind, feminine, and glamorous without being over-the-top. Much of her jewelry can be easily layered and all of it is extremely versatile. We are so fortunate to have Xenia’s collection here at Hitchcock Madrona. Thank you, Xenia, for continually inspiring us with your beautiful and creative designs!

How would you describe your line’s aesthetic? 

Short answer: vintage inspired, with a modern yet classic sensibility and of course, one-of-a-kind. Well, and did I mention patina? I like a warm, worn-in, well-loved feel, so a fair amount of my work has patina.

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One of Xenia’s iconic and dramatic “waterfall” necklaces.  AMAZING!

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When you design your jewelry, is there any particular woman whom you design for? 

To be perfectly honest, I design every piece so that I love it first. But at the same time, I’m always thinking of a bright and confident woman who is inspired to look and do her best at whatever she does in life. As I’m designing, I sometimes reference icons like Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Elizabeth Taylor, Chanel, and even the Wilson sisters and Janis Joplin when my mood swings to vintage rock-n-roll …

What is your favorite way to style your pieces? 

Each piece has to stand on it’s own. That’s just a given. But I have a penchant for making things that are convertible: two clasps on a necklace allow multiple lengths, from long and draped to short and chunky when wrapped a few times around the neck; belts convert into necklaces and back; a long layered chain necklace turned sideways on itself transforms into a short looped chain neck piece. Why not have options? I love to engineer [the piece] so that the customer can customize the necklace to fit [her] needs or [her] mood of the moment.

But speaking to the question of styling, I love the way that Hitchcock layers my pieces. Their display work is inspired. But everyone knows that!

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I have doubled up!  Wearing two of Xenia’s chunky necklaces.

Where do you find inspiration for your collections?

My inspiration stems from the materials first and foremost; I design based on what chains and gemstones catch my eye. Sometimes I just play with a chain, draping it into different shapes. Possibly this method of working comes from my background as a clothing designer. To further explain it, my favorite reality TV show is Project Runway: I can totally relate to being given a project with a day or two to source and design and sew before having it reviewed by my instructors in front of my peers. In design school I could never sketch an idea on paper before having picked out the fabric and trims—the materials always inspired the design and I continue to work this same way as I drape the jewels and chains into their final forms.

What do you particularly love about designing jewelry? 

Designing jewelry is like making sculpture. I always wanted to try throwing pottery and sculpting because those disciplines involve working in three dimensions and I love working with my hands. Designing, as well as actually hand-making the jewelry, lets me express myself in this way.

What would you say are three key pieces of jewelry that every woman should own?  

I think this can change over time and certainly may differ from person to person. But elementally, jewelry that makes you smile, feel confident, sexy, womanly, edgy, empowered, beautiful and elegant would be key pieces. From my own collection, I would suggest a multi-chain layering piece as a foundation. On top of that, throw [on] a chunky strand of natural rock crystal or maybe a long pendant with some color. Swinging the other direction to a more delicate approach, what woman doesn’t deserve raw diamonds or sapphires on a fine gold or silver chain?

What aspect of the design process do you find most challenging? 

Committing to one particular idea when a material is in limited supply is the toughest challenge for me. For instance, if I only have a short length of a very fabulous vintage chain [then] I have only one chance to get the design just right … to do justice to that “bit” of the past that is awaiting a rebirth. I can agonize over it. I would also like to note that I do not scavenge intact vintage jewelry. I only use broken or discarded items or vintage chain factory over-runs.

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Speaking of fabulous vintage chain….

What clothing or jewelry designers do you admire? 

This is actually a very tough question to answer. I have a wide range of influences and find inspiration all over the design world. For vintage, of course I could not miss mentioning Miriam Haskell, Tiffany, Fortuny, Erté, Madame Grès, Vionnet, Balenciaga and everything Deco and Art Nouveau … no surprise there! I would have to give Ralph Lauren kudos for creating American classics (and what an empire!). Karl Lagerfeld is brilliant and prolific. Because I find pleating so cool, I have great respect for Issey Miyake and I’ve even gone so far as to hand-pleat silk using the Japanese technique of shibori pole-wrapping. I’ve always loved John Galliano, whether he’s being good or naughty. When I had the money, I could never resist Prada boots and heels. Because I love clever draping, I must now hail Haider Ackermann. And because I could go on forever with this list, I will end by saying that I’m still in mourning for the loss of Alexander McQueen (though his Sarah Burton is doing well holding down the fort somehow). 

What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect of being a jewelry designer? 

I love what I do. Re-purposing vintage chains and other found items into new forms allows me creative expression, and I wake up excited each day to get to “work”. As Robert Frost describes in “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” “my vocation is my avocation.”  I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is good!

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