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Over the past few months, the jewelry designer Colette Steckel spent time isolating amid the pandemic outbreak at home in Los Angeles. Typically, her family is spread out between L.A., Paris, and Mexico City, so for the first time, she was able to create memories with her husband, her three children, and her my mother all under one roof.
She spent her days cooking and swimming between conference calls and sketching in the backyard. And she practiced a few mantras she’s held close for years—finding joy in the little things; surround yourself with art; and laugh often.
During that time, Whitewall spoke with Steckel to hear how she was doing, what art surrounds her at home in L.A., and how her designs over the years have mirrored her dynamic heritage.
WHITEWALL: Tell us a bit about your background leading up to creating your eponymous label.
COLETTE STECKEL: My French Mexican heritage plays a huge role in who I am today and how I approach design in all aspects of my life—from my jewelry collection to how I create my spaces at home. The delicate, romantic details reminiscent of Paris (and the impeccable style), coupled with the drama and vibrancy of Mexico City, have always guided my aesthetic.
Growing up, I was always very creative and had a fascination with gemstones. My father would bring back geodes from Brazil that I would remove the crystals from so that I could polish them and make my own jewelry with copper telephone wire. That’s where it all started.
As I got older, my love for gemstones and design continued, and I studied graphic design and trained as a GIA gemologist before launching my fine jewelry brand in 1995.
WW: When did you know jewelry was something you would pursue as a profession?
CS: I was an entrepreneurial teenager, and when I was 13, I started a business making Swarovski crystal hair accessories. It was really successful, and I sold it six years later. I used the money I made to buy white gold and peridots (my favorite stone at the time), which I used to make my first jewelry collection. That’s where the business aspect really kicked off, and I’ve been working in jewelry ever since.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your two recent collections, “Santos y Cielos” and “Penacho”?
CS: “Santos y Cielos” is a collection of talismans inspired by the medallions I gave to my father to wear for luck and protection prior to his passing. The pieces are made from vintage medals and watch chains that I sourced from antique markets in Paris and London, along with small charms I hand-painted myself with little saints or religious motifs. Each piece tells its own story and is meant to serve as a source of strength, faith, and protection for the wearer.
“Penacho” is an homage to my Mexican heritage. The pieces are my interpretation of the vibrant feather headpieces that ancient Aztecan warriors wore in honor of the god of sun and war Huitzilopochtli, whose name roughly translates to “Hummingbird of the Left.” Legend has it that warriors who lost their lives in battle would return as a hummingbird. I wanted to pay tribute to the warriors’ beautiful story, and created the collection around severely cut malachite, lapis, onyx, and mother of pearl stones, that form a striking silhouette that mimics the headdresses’ feathers.
WW: You have a love for art and design, too. What’s seen in your Los Angeles home?
CS: My home in L.A. was built in 1951. It’s very midcentury modern in terms of architecture, with clean lines and an open floorplan. The interior, I would say, is contemporary.
I love to create contrast by introducing pops of color among neutrals. For example, we have two sitting rooms –one is a dark graphite grey, and the other is off white—both spaces are accented with whimsical accessories—like Jonathan Adler’s cheeky vases and Alexandra von Furstenberg’s acid bright Lucite pieces—and colorful art. I’m also a big Kelly Wearstler fan.
Most of the artwork here is photography, including Stephen Wilkes’s day-to-night image of the Santa Monica Pier, and a few of Tierney Gearon’s works. All of the art here is oversized and creates a certain energy in the space—it’s almost like you can step into it.
WW: Can you tell us a bit about your art collection? What are some special pieces seen in your Paris apartment?
CS: Art has to have layers and speak to me on a deeper level in order to be a part of our collection. I’ve always collected works by forward-thinking emerging artists—those that have a clear vision and are not afraid to experiment, whether it be in subject or medium.
We have two beautiful works by Ilhwa Kim in Paris. I’m amazed by the way she creates little intricate “seeds” of colorful paper, and I can’t imagine the time it takes to put one of her pieces together. When the time and effort shows is when you know you have something special.
Zhang Hong Yi, who also does incredible work with paper by building canvases out of rolled rice paper, is another one of my favorites. His 2017 painting Storm is in our apartment in Paris. I love how the colors change depending on what angle you’re looking at it. It injects the space with such vibrancy.
We also love Joseph Klibansky’s sculptures—they’re filled with nostalgia and a sense of humor. We have a great Pinocchio! Other favorites are Damien Hirst, Romena Ressia, Anthony James, and Emmanuelle Rybojad.
WW: What type of art and design do you gravitate to? What speaks to your personality? How is that exemplified in your home?
CS: For the house in L.A., I gravitate towards photography. The two works I have by Tierney Gearon speak to me through her creativity. Her double exposure work is really interesting and captures a sense of free-spiritedness that resonates with me. I also like Romina Ressia’s portraiture; it’s playful and infused with a sense of humor, which is something that I try to emulate in my home’s décor as well as my jewelry design. After all, laughter is always the answer!
WW: You mentioned that during COVID-19 isolation, you were trying to take the time as a blessing to be home with family. What especially kept you inspired?
CS: Being outside. Nature, aside from travel, which I can’t do at the moment, is my biggest source of inspiration. And I’ve always found joy in the little things—from indulging in a croissant and latte first thing in the morning or arranging flowers.
My daughter is one of my muses, and I love that we get to spend extra time together. We’ve been having little photo shoots at home, and working alongside her always sparks new ideas. Also, wearing my jewelry! Even if I’m in loungewear, piling on my jewelry keeps me feeling motivated and inspired.
WW: Tell us a bit about how this pandemic has impacted the way you view your business. Have you “learned” anything from working from afar that may be implemented moving forward?
CS: It’s about flexibility and being able to pivot strategies. With our showroom and Melrose Place boutique closed, everything has had to shift to digital. We’ve always used Instagram as a sales tool, but it has become more important than ever as a way for us to stay connected with our clients – and to be honest, I’m loving it! I’m connecting with them on such an intimate scale and it’s been so much fun. We’re doing a lot of virtual client appointments and I think it creates a really special experience for them when they can shop directly with the designer.