The dramatic, chunky necklaces by 27-year-old Miami jewelry designer Karen Keith are certainly not for wallflowers. One piece might be designed to sling halfway across the body in an elegant tangle of different-colored and -textured chains. Another might rework a vintage cameo with very 2011 hardware. Another still might work vintage bullet casings or even tiny Matchbox cars into items that almost look like personal talismans.
In any event, no two Keith pieces are alike, and none recede into the background, making her creations some of the most exciting to come out of the local young fashion scene. While Miami is full of talented accessories and fashion designers, there is definitely a certain expected aesthetic to much of their work — flowing, upscale bohemian, beachy.
Not so with Keith. Inspired by iconic musicians like Patti Smith and David Bowie, the former/occasional fashion stylist and visual artist opts for a markedly darker, but opulent aesthetic. With a sort of high-fashion goth, updated Victorian feel, she refashions one-of-a-kind elements collected from antique stores and estate sales into entirely new items.
Working around the energy of the original element — a jewel, a skeleton key, an old, gear-filled pocket watch — she builds outward with new chains, metalwork, and hardware, for a marriage of old and new. And though Keith creates a new line for each season centered around a specific repeating element, each necklace, bracelet, or pair of earrings is 100 percent handcrafted and 100 percent unique.
Another element adding to the specialness of even getting a piece is that Keith sells only to select area boutiques, and if you want the really good stuff, you’ll have to visit her newly opened atelier. The location, off Flagler Street, is a bit of forward thinking on her part. Rather than head for the trendier areas of Wynwood or the Design District, Keith chose a high-rise in the bustling-by-day, deserted-by-night ground zero of downtown Miami. Cheap rent, though, means that a slow trickle of artistic types are moving back into the area after being priced out of the aforementioned burbs, but not too far away.
The space also functions as an extension of Keith’s aesthetic itself. A little steampunk, a littel Hollywood glamour, she’s decorated it herself using a mix of styling ingenuity and works by other artists. The jewelry itself is displayed on rescued, slightly worn dress forms, and customers can also sprawl on a chaise longue and drink port while paging through a look book. The experience is entirely personal and relaxed, but that’s part of the fun. In a world all about fast-paced technology, it’s refreshing to see a designer making work exciting by, in many respects, looking backwards.
See all of Karen Keith’s designs at karenkeithdesigns.com