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Interview: Karen Lindner on jewelry design and Miranda Lambert Part 1 of 2

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Jewelry designer Karen Lindner’s exquisite collections are one-of-a-kind pieces that blend centuries old artistry with sleek, modern design. Each custom piece is born from reimagining a historic relic in a new way. The stones, precious metals, antiques, and other physical elements in her pieces were all previously part of a person or place’s story at some point in history, centuries ago. Since 2009, Karen has committed herself to carrying this history forward to a new generation, so that the legacy of the original owners, craftsmen and artisans will live on and inherit new meaning in the lives of the people that own and wear her unique jewelry designs.

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Everything from sterling silver purse handles and love tokens, to napkin holders and chandelier crystals finds new form in bracelets, cuffs, pendants, earrings and more. Karen pours her passion for family, love and history into every facet of her personal life and professional career and this dedication resonates in all of her finished pieces. Her spectacular collections are red-carpet, wedding, or special event ready with a very personal, intimate feel.

Karen Lindner grew up in Columbus, Ohio and cites her father, who loved to paint and draw, as her biggest artistic influence. Her husband Bob and two daughters, Christina, 21, a student at Ohio University and Erika, 18, a student at Miami University (Karen’s alma mater) are her life’s joy.

Her extensive design career started in visual merchandising doing department store window displays. Then a friend steered her toward interior design, which she did for 20 years. Multiple projects reworking chandeliers with semi-precious stones and antiques eventually led her to jewelry design.

Along the way the charismatic and humble artist forged some wonderful working relationships with antique dealers who source elements of her pieces here in the U.S., London and Paris. Her collections can be found in boutiques and shops in Ohio, South Carolina, Kentucky and Ontario and online via these stores and her website.

Her pieces have been featured in national magazines like “People,” “US Weekly,” “Seventeen,” “InStyle,” “Indulge,” “Beautiful Brides,” and more. Her prestigious list of partnerships include doing bridal jewelry for Grammy winner Miranda Lambert for her 2011 wedding to Blake Shelton and a runway collaboration for New York’s Bridal Fashion Week with couture designer Anne Barge. Her pieces have been worn by reality star Theresa Caputo, hostesses and actresses at a variety of red carpet/award events, and in TV pilots. Most recently, she’s introducing an exclusive line of jewelry for Detroit native singer/songwriter Jeff Gutt’s global fan base, the JAGarmy.

Karen graciously took time out of her schedule on March 6 to talk with me about her career, the design process, Miranda Lambert, Jeff Gutt and other creative endeavors in the following two-part Examiner exclusive interview. In part one, we discuss her creative process, bridal line, Anne Barge and Miranda Lambert.

E: How did your jewelry line evolve?

KL: I've always been an avid lover of history and historic things and little things. I didn't collect a lot of them. But, I had a few pieces that were not originally meant for jewelry, but I thought, oh, this would be a really cool piece of jewelry. So, because I had done some very minor antique collecting, I had a few contacts in the world, a couple offshore in London and Paris – people I had bought personally from and I contacted them. I said this is what I’m looking to do. I know these are one-of-a-kind pieces and they’re limited but could I come to you, kind of like an antique store uses pickers. I just needed to know if there was a way for me to source these things that was a one contact thing as opposed to going online. I established these really amazing relationships with people here in the United States and a couple other countries. And found people who specialized in the kind of antiques I wanted to start working with. I liked a lot of different things, but I found out there were definitely certain things that resonated with everyone else; like love tokens and little pencils. They seemed to really hit a chord with people. These incredible sterling purse handles that were on these amazing purses, but then inverted become these almost Aztec-like collars. It was through those contacts that I was not only able to start sourcing things but looking at what they could find that would work for me in creating before I started doing any bridal or any bling.

E: Have you traveled a lot for your jewelry line?

KL: I wish I traveled more. I love to travel, all over the world travel.

E: What is your favorite city?

KL: My favorite city would be wherever I would be with my family. I love Chicago. My in-laws are in Chicago and I didn't really know Chicago until I was married. But, I’d have to say London would be my favorite city. Some of my favorite antiques that I've worked with have been British 15th and 16th century Tudor Era pieces. You’re just holding these things and realizing how much history you have in the palm of your hand and it’s almost overpowering. That’s how I felt when I was over there and looking at these buildings. It was life-changing.

E: Are some of your pieces costume and some fine gem?

KL: Actually 99 percent of the things that I do that have a stone in them that’s more like a rhinestone are costume jewelry, early-to-mid 20th century, because there was a different level of quality then. There are still really finely crafted costume jewelry pieces out today. The majority of them are mass-produced in China.

There was a time when stone setters would set the stones individually in a rhinestone piece just the same way as a diamond would have been set by jewelers. So, those pieces that I use more in what I term my Bridal and Carnivale, those collections are the costume jewelry pieces. Some of the rare and unusual sterling and gold pieces I've used in my Refinement collection have had semi-precious stones in them. But most of them are not. Most of them are strictly metalsmith, artisan-made pieces from the 1800s.

E: Everything is just so unique!

KL: They all look different, but in my mind’s eye, they’re all from specific categories, like the watch fobs. They all look completely different, but they’re all watch fobs. I source those all from fob dealers. The love tokens are such a fabulous part of our history and that tradition. Those are mostly from coin dealers. They all look a little different, when I buy the pencils and the vestas, which are small boxes that they used to keep matches in. Matches were such an important and critical part of everyday life. They were also easily damaged and combustible, so they needed protection. You needed to be able to carry them with you all the time and they needed to be protected. So these boxes were developed in the 1300s. But they became very decorative for the more elite and then made out of precious metals like silver and gold and stamp cases, which were very similar and just a tad smaller. And those I thought were such logical pendants. So I source those.

E: What are “you after” to create your pieces?

KL: I’m totally after a piece that’s wearable. So it can’t be a seven inch pencil. So, size and aesthetics. I have a certain aesthetic that I go right towards. I love old monograms. I love something that has a high level of craftsmanship because I know these pieces were made by master jewelers, even though they were part of everyday life, obviously for the elite. I love Edwardian detail. I love certain design elements of certain periods in history, so I look for that. Then in my mind’s eye, I want to be able to reinterpret it in a very modern way, because I have a huge love for sleek and modern. So, I kind of fight myself on my divided loves. I take those ornate love tokens and I put them on very simple contemporary chains and I do that with purpose. I could put them on something equally as ornate, but I want those pieces to shine on their own. I think by combining their ornate or intricate nature with something more simplified, it only amplifies their beauty. That doesn't really apply to my Carnivale pieces. The mosaics where I’m layering brooches, there’s nothing simple about that. Those are full on bling. That’s a whole different mindset.

E: Do you sketch a concept for a finished piece?

KL: I’m a percolator. I have to pick the pieces that speak to me. There’s no hiding things in light boxes and drawers. They’re all laid out and I start pulling them together just as I see them relating to each other and it’s a very engineered thing too. They have to be able to lay together and be assembled so that they stay together in the pattern that I want. I’m not a sketcher of those pieces. But, I am a restaurant napkin sketcher when I see something in my environment that I want to recreate.

E: How did the bridal line start?

KL: The bridal line started through a contact I had in Chicago, a gal who owns two of the top couture bridal shops in downtown Chicago. A friend of a friend showed her my things – mostly the sterling pieces and she said this is nice, but it’s not really bridal. But, if you go back to those chandelier crystals that you showed me that you wanted to design around, that would make a great bridal collection.

So, with her influence, I started looking at antiques that had historic relevance to Chicago itself and there is a line of costume pieces called Eisenberg that originated in Chicago. They were the top of top. The Eisenbergs studied under Cartier before they went out on their own; some other high ends lines – Boucher was my favorite, and he too, was sitting under Cartier. These designers created these incredible rhinestone-based pieces; 3D flowers, big fur clips, and just gorgeous things. I created an entire line of jewelry, my first line of bridal jewelry for her, for her shop, based on these pieces and it just started from there.

E: How did you connect with Anne Barge?

KL: My pieces became paired in a photo shoot with an Anne Barge gown and actually the gal has the pieces in her hair, which is so funky and cool, I made a small comment online saying how honored I was to see the photo shoot with their beautiful gowns and they contacted me immediately and said, would you want to collaborate on our runway show, for New York Bridal Fashion Week and I said, Gosh, okay. It was a real honor!

E: And you did wedding jewelry for Miranda Lambert! How fun was that?

KL: In the spring of 2011 and as I was sort of creating this line for [Anne Barge], along came Miranda Lambert’s stylist, who knew my PR girl and said, I have an opportunity that I think your things would be great for, so each of those huge-career changing moments happened within 15 days of each other.

E: Were you given a direction to go on or did you create the pieces and suggest them?

KL: It was both. They said she’s planning her wedding to Blake Shelton next spring and her stylist thinks your line could be perfect for her bridesmaids. So from fall 2010 through January we had conversations and we Skyped and emailed and she told me about her 6 bridesmaids and I was given confidential photos of these girls in their muslin mock ups of their custom bridesmaids’ gowns and swatches of fabric. I knew in January of that year they were all going to be in shades of peach and pink and coral and kind of a mixed pallet and would I base things on that and I did.

I was told in the middle of the spring, maybe April, that she was going to have a bridal shower prior to the wedding and then another one was going to be at Kentucky Derby. At one of those times, could they have a jewelry party and pick all the stuff out? I sent cases of stuff, over 200 pieces.

E: How fun! What did they pick?

KL: These are southern, stylish women so they each wore like three pieces. I did all their earrings and they all had big necklaces on and bracelets. Then I had sent a couple more special pieces, not knowing what Miranda was gonna wear herself, in case. And she did choose my favorite piece. I called it the songbird necklace. It had an incredibly rare sterling three-dimensional bird brooch on it that I've never seen another one like, just so beautiful! She ended up wearing it during her seven hour reception. It was just a real thrill. I also had pieces on both of the mothers.

E: Are you still in touch with her or her stylist?

KL: Her stylist has contacted me since then for videos and award shows. It’s been a gift. She’s been great to work with.

Check out the slideshow of Karen Lindner’s stunning work, including her Miranda Lambert wedding pieces.

In part two of our interview, we discuss Karen’s new JAGarmy jewelry line for Jeff Gutt, as well as advice for aspiring designers and Karen’s favorite pieces. Go to Part 2 now.

Visit Karen Lindner’s website at karenlindnerdesigns.com and follow her on Twitter @KLDDesigns.

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