by Grandin Donovan
Over the past few years, Josh Hickey has emerged as an intriguing young jewelry designer with idiosyncratic pieces that straddle the fashion and fine jewelry realms. Starting from a raw, urban style, his craft has matured into refined, elegant women's collections, and vigorous, personal men's accessories—but we still expect the best is yet to come. Refinery29 caught up with him in Paris, fresh from vacation in the south of France, rested and tan with a good week's worth of stubble. His eyes are bright and wide as he talks about how his work is evolving, and why he needs to step back from the fashion world before he jumps back in again.
Fresh out of Georgetown, Josh—originally from Delaware—moved to Paris, where he spent a year partying before hooking up with Agathe Saint-Girons, a jewelry designer working in the eastern suburb of Montreuil. After a week as an intern he was offered work as a full-time assistant, and spent the next three years as her apprentice. "It was basically like getting an MFA," says Josh. "She taught me everything I know, and I haven't stopped making jewelry since."
In late 1998, Josh moved back to New York to find a job and create his own collections. His early work tended toward "weird, heavy" pieces made with found objects and urban detritus. "I was finding things in the East River and making rings out of them," he says. He began with very small collections, which he sold to galleries and boutiques. Josh spent a year assisting photographer and installation artist Sandy Skoglund before finding work in high-end event planning, a job that gave him the resources to move into more precious materials and finer techniques.
A necklace from the Winter '06 women's collection The Golden Tomorrow
With four collections under his belt, Josh was picked up by Christine Mazza's Parisian showroom, MC2, in 2004, and he began making more serious fashion collections. Around the same time, tired of shuttling between the Big Apple and the City of Light, Josh left his Crosby Street studio and moved to an airy apartment on the back of Montmartre. Exposure at MC2 raised Josh's profile considerably, and he has since done work for Benoit Missolin, all of designer Victoria Bartlett's shows, and two seasons for Betsey Johnson. Most recently, Josh revamped his men's accessories for a forthcoming retail collection from Mario Luisa.
Josh's own collections are very small, tightly controlled productions of about 30 pieces each for men and women. "I do everything myself," he says. "All my hooks, closures, everything is handmade." His latest women's collection begins with simple chains of flat-hammered teardrops, with asymetrical highlights and volume-building tiers. Closures tend to be big and on the side or front, instead of concealed in the back. He handles one large piece, six chains of oxidized silver held by one gold teardrop, hoisted by a gold hook on the right. "This [clasp] is like 15 grams of 18-carat gold right here, so I was like 'put it in the front!'"
From left, pieces from the Spring/Summer '06 Love Africa, Love Soldiers in Love men's collection, works in progress for the Fall/Winter '06 Light, Release men's collection
Josh's work for men tends to be more expressive, incorporating African elements, a lot of color, braided leather, sterling caps, Mediterranean red coral, black chains and—in a refreshing departure from the Chrome Hearts-styles and skulls so prevalent in men's jewelry—cast-silver seahorse totems. "It's just such a strange-looking thing," he says of the seahorse, "It's so weird and bold and skeleton'y, but kind of romantic. To me, it's the ultimate masculine symbol."
Working closely with designers over the past few years has given Josh pause for reflection, especially when he considers the different price points and production cycles between the fashion and fine jewelry markets. "I need to realize that I'm a jewelry maker, and not a fashion designer," he says. "I would like to think of my jewelry as a little sculpture, rather than an accessory," he says, noting that a jewelry purchase tends to be more loaded event than buying a handbag. "Jewelry contains emotion, and in making my jewelry more precious—meaning the handwork, not the cost—there's more of an opportunity to inject poetry into the piece, and it's going to have more longevity. I don't want to make things that are temporary."
Necklaces from the Fall/Winter '06 women's Generosity collection
With that in mind, Josh is preparing ambitious, art-oriented fall collections of only 10 pieces, each one wholly unique and paired with its own handmade box. He hopes to install them at a gallery for Fashion Week in Paris, which would allow him to have more complete control over their presentation than at showrooms, where pieces are simply locked inside vitrines. Although he plans to follow this experiment with larger, more commercial collections, right now he needs this focused approach. "I feel like it is time for me to explore the art side of jewelry," he says. "I want to make something really special, and if I only have the time and the money to make a few, that's all I'm gonna do."
Jewelry-maker Josh Hickey chooses Paris as a home base for designing as well as re-thinking the fashion game.