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The jewelry designer Yael Sonia is currently home at her upstate house in Newburgh, New York. She’s passing time amid the pandemic with activities like the rest of us—like listening to music, cooking, and reflecting on life’s priorities. But for the first time in a long time, she’s getting back to her roots.
For years, she’s relied on skilled goldsmiths to transform her drawings into finished pieces. Numerous are kinetic, all are beautiful examples of craft, but not many were created by her actual hands. So, when she arrived in Orange County with just a sketch book, she ordered basic tools to personally start creating pieces by hand again.
Sonia also recently released a new collection called “Ellipse”—a return to her early focus on metal, exemplified by Akoya pearls wrapped in yellow gold. And in response to the pandemic, 20 percent of its sales benefit CityMeals on Wheels. The collection’s title eludes to the smooth sphere silhouettes, but also, somewhat figuratively, to her return to hand-craftsmanship.
Whitewall caught up with the designer to hear more about how she’s spending her time in isolation, and how she’s staying connected to nature and the ones she loves.
WHITEWALL: How are you doing?
YAEL SONIA: I was in Paris the first week of March. You could feel what was coming as people started social distancing. I was impatient to get home to my fiancé and isolate in our second house in Newburgh, and worried as I would have to come back to Paris at the end of March for Paris Art & Design (PAD), which obviously ended up getting postponed to October.
Overall, I’m doing well. My loved ones and I are all safe and staying connected. Once the first few weeks of intense anxiety in the face of uncertainty passed, I was able to focus on the positive. Using this forced retreat as a time to reflect on what life’s priorities are and give value to what we have.
WW: What are you listening to, reading, watching, or listening to?
YS: If I were in the city, I would probably have CNN on all day. Luckily, we don’t have cable in Newburgh, so I’ve been able to restrict my news intake to a couple times a day. That has really helped calm the anxiety. I’ve been listening to NPR in the mornings while reading news from various international news outlets.
Music really brightens my day. I’ve been listening to a mix of everything from Barbra Streisand to Etta James and Cigarettes after Sex. I’m also listening to the “Indigo” playlist on Spotify. Love it! I never really paid much attention to podcasts before, but I’ve been listening to some great industry ones on Business of Fashion (BOF).
I’ve been trying to find what to watch next, but I end up watching movies I’ve already seen and loved like the 1979 film Being There with Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. I’ve also been catching up on shows. I really enjoyed “Grand Designs,” seeing the creative process and construction of fabulous homes.
I also never used to look much at Instagram Live videos before but a lot of art galleries around the world are doing really interesting talks with curators, artists, etc. Museums are also doing online exhibitions.
I’ve found it difficult to focus on reading for extended periods of time, so right now, reading is limited to news articles, some industry analysis and social media posts from artists, galleries and designers. I like to let posts I find interesting lead me to discover new artists, galleries, etc.
WW: Are you cooking anything of note?
YS: I know a lot of people who have been eating and drinking more with the quarantine, which I totally understand, but I’ve been trying to eat as healthy as I can and keep to my diet. I’ve been intermittent fasting since January, and in the past few weeks, I’ve moved to two meals a day. The first is usually more of a brunch meal of fruit, yoghurt, avocado toast and/or eggs. Dinner is usually more elaborate.
Upstate, we have been able to stock up on great local organic produce. We’ve been cooking a lot. Last night I baked layers of fresh wilted spinach, kale, sautéed mushrooms in garlic, roasted Kabocha squash, and potatoes with thin layers of oat milk béchamel with grated Romano cheese in between. Last week, I finally made my banana chocolate chip cake that I hadn’t made in years. Twice a week we order food to support our favorite local spots.
WW: How are you staying connected?
YS: Facetime and Whatsapp have been crucial to my staying connected with my family and friends around the world. It’s amazing how the frequency and depth of our connections is so much greater during this pandemic. When faced with the uncertainty of when or if you will see each other again, you crave the contact and closeness even more.
WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?
YS: When I came upstate last month, I only had my sketchbook with me. I just received a delivery of basic jewelers’ tools, wax, silver, and gold wire, and small freshwater pearls to get me started on some wax models and small woven pieces.
Right now, I feel the need to go back to creating pieces or prototypes with my own hands. For many years now, I have relied on skilled goldsmiths to transform my drawings into finished pieces of jewelry. Since most craftsmen and ateliers are closed, I’m taking this time to change my process. It’s difficult to tell now if I will continue once production resumes, but it’s a needed phase to reconnect with the materials.
WW: Where are you finding hope or inspiration?
YS: I’m lucky to be upstate where, not only can I isolate more easily, but I can enjoy the early Spring outdoors. Being connected with the people I love, and nature, have really helped me stay hopeful and inspired. Little things like walks with my fiancé and our dog along the Hudson, passing by Dia:Beacon and looking forward to the day we can go back inside and explore, walking in the woods on Storm King Mountain, planting our tomato seeds, organizing my books in the studio, etc.