A Conversation with Wing Yau of WWAKE

April 18, 2014

There’s a lot to be said about trusting oneself while singularly moving toward ideas, organically forming them into calm extensions of the imagination. In a city like New York this is left for the highly adaptable with the tenacity to clearly envision and realize the motivations behind what it is to create. Wing Yau is the founder and designer behind WWAKE, a line of jewelry that brings both experimental and fine pieces into the same realm. Through a minimalist praxis she has created a jewelry line of precious metals, stones, and elegant silk thread—the result of a path from her younger years spent in Peru and New Guinea.

I met Wing in the middle of winter at her studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The winds were paralyzing and it was a relief to be greeted warmly by her. Her studio was filled with simple objects and sculptures, complimentary among casually dispersed opulent opal stones, brass and gold rings. Upstairs on a massive rooftop garden laden with overturned frozen shrubs, she pointed out nearby landmarks and spoke to me about balancing life in New York and exacting her own sculptural inspired designs.

AB: What’s your routine like? Walk us through your ideal day.

WY: I’ve come to love waking up early and spending the morning alone. I usually listen to NPR, drink coffee, and watch the morning light change. The rest of the day is spent around a lot of people coordinating production and then designing at night.

AB: How do you find living in New York compared to the West Coast or other places you have lived?

WY: I love New York. The lifestyle is definitely not as comfortable as it is at home in Vancouver, but for a young designer like myself, it’s the place to be. I feel really supported by a community of people who are working toward a common goal – we’re really building something together. The pace of life here allows me to get more done that I would have ever thought imaginable, but I do miss the view of the mountains and the easier pace of life out West! It’s easier to be thoughtful and solitary there. It’s a great place to start ideas, while New York’s a great place to expand upon them.

AB: Is your workspace important to your work or can you create autonomously, on the go?

WY: I can do a bit of both. I used to make so many things on my flights from New York to Vancouver, but that was nuts. I used to find it weirdly empowering or freeing to design & produce like this, but I think I was just going crazy from lack of sleep! I’m learning to appreciate having all of my work in one place. I think it’s important to have a home for your work – you can visit it as a whole and leave it all behind when you need.

AB: You attended RISD and have since started your own brand, can you speak about this transitional process? What challenges do you encounter within your day to day practice?

WY: RISD has this knack of sending kids out of school with a strong idea of how to contextualize their work and evaluate it as a whole. It terrorized me in school, but, as life will have it, it made starting a brand seem so natural. I studied sculpture, video/performance works, and art history – So I oddly ended up with plenty of tools to design and produce product, shoot photography, and creative direct my brand. That said, it’s crazy to think you can do everything yourself. I really need to know how to ask for help.

AB: Do you have any unique philosophies that you often refer to?

WY: “Work hard, be thoughtful.” It may not be unique, but it’s a good one.

AB: When I visited your studio I noticed a Hanna Eshel print on your desk. What qualities do you find admirable in any artistic practice? Who are the artists/creators that have influenced you?

WY: I love risk takers and minimalists. Hanna Eshel’s sculptures are a great example – her sliced marble spheres blow my mind! I’ve thought a lot about Eva Hesse, Richard Serra and Robert Morris over the years, but the actual list is really long. More recently I’ve been obsessed with the cheeky humor and simplicity behind the work of Erwin Wurm and Issey Miyake.

AB: Does it ever seem as though the fashion industry homogenizes designers like yourself? Or would you say it works the opposite? Do you feel an implicit pressure to create outside of how you would if these invisible hoops did not exist? Or do you work well within boundaries?

WY: I think the fashion industry does a little bit of both. A lot of designers I love stick with their aesthetic and somehow define what homogenizes others down the road. That being said, their designs may blend into the trends they set, but they continually put out work that’s inspiring and always 1-2 steps ahead of the masses. (Sometimes 3, but that may be too many steps ahead!) I’m not sure if the invisible hoops exist, but more that they’re created by designers for themselves. Still, I don’t think their work is quite lost to the trends – there are precious details and stories that make them timeless. I suppose those are all key elements to being a great designer.

Evolving with the times is challenging, but I thrive off of it; it’s like predicting the future. My work would be so different if I didn’t care about what the WWAKE woman wants, but I do. It brings another level of meaning to my designs and brings me outside of my own indulgences. I want to make things that are challenging and beautiful, and it’s invigorating when that resonates with her. There’s a way to strike people with something beautiful without compromising what you think’s important, and there’s integrity to that. I don’t feel that when I make stuff for myself.

AB:What is your relation to music and sound?

WY: I secretly love a lot of punk & garage rock. It’s visceral and I like that. My husband’s a producer and mix engineer, so I’m learning how tactile sound is and how it can be stylized and sculpted spatially. It’s a lot like design and I appreciate it on a different level now. I’ve realized this is why I also love big-budget pop, because it immerses you in a “world.” I don’t have a very sensitive ear for music, though, I usually just like what I like.

AB: What books or forms of printed matter do you repeatedly reach for?

WY: As unromantic as this might sound, it’s the Uline catalogue (I can spend days looking at it!) and the New Yorker.

AB: Tell us a bit about your motivation to create, how have you cultivated your ideas through the years and in what state of mind do you usually approach concepts to give them shape?

WY: WWAKE reminds me not to over-think things; everything will naturally come together as a whole. I can’t deal with the pressure of creating the perfect object –it totally stresses me out. I design by making several “gestures,” or iterations, of the same idea. There’s usually a detail that I want to highlight – whether it be a type of texture, a stroke of the finger, a new stone setting, etc. – and I rework it until I have a few versions that feel right. One should make a subtle statement on its own and compliment other pieces in a beautiful, easy way. The idea is that a customer can pick from the collection and make their own artful composition.

WWAKE started as an experiment in wearable fiber sculptures. My debut collection was kind of a one-liner, though – the trick was that it was all made of rope – and it annoyed me so much! I worked for a long time deconstructing the pieces and taking details that actually appealed to me (the subtle shine of silk threads, sculptural forms of the rope, wearable scales, etc.) and channeled them into what’s now called WWAKE’s Closer collection, which is featured at Totokaelo. It showcases the allure of textures using varied techniques, materials and shapes. The forms in Closer went on to inspire what’s now our fine jewelry line – graphic wisps of gold, understated textures and surprising stone settings. This is how I work best; renewing old ideas into something new.

AB: What has led you to use the materials that you do? Are your designs aligned or drawn from any historical or modern contexts?

WY: I started with cotton because I liked how easily you could manipulate it to experience its qualities – soft when lose, hard when wrapped, etc. I’ve learned how to apply these manipulations to metal and stone setting traditions, and work a lot more in these materials for the sake of making more wearable jewelry, which I really like making. My finished designs relate a lot to feminine crafts, but the collections are process-oriented in a way that reminds me of the way Richard Serra’s lead sculptures were in the late 1960’s.

AB: Can you tell us about a favorite piece you’ve created?

WY: The Union Necklace! It’s the ultimate understated showpiece. It’s anti-jewelry. It’s a statement in its form and scale, but understated with its material. It’s also so simple and vexing – it’s hard and extremely soft, has no front nor back; you can see what it’s made of, but not how it’s constructed.

AB: Where do you feel most free, at ease?

By the water.

AB: What’s next for you?

Just a lot more jewelry. I’m experimenting with personal and timeless stone settings that are also surprising.

Follow this link to shop Totokaelo’s collection of WWAKE jewelry

Photos and interview by Ashlyn Behrndt

Mood Board

April 17, 2014

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” — Oscar Wilde

Artists pictured include Sheila Hicks, Damien Hirst, Agnes Martin, Richard Tuttle, and Sherrie Levine

— Allison

Reality Studio Summer 2014

April 17, 2014

Reality Studio’s lookbook for their Summer 2014 collection features stark desert landscapes, rich colors, and inspirational styling.

Follow this link to shop our collection of Reality Studio

— Allison

  • Nate Lowman at Maccarone Gallery
  • Nate Lowman at Maccarone Gallery
  • Nate Lowman at Maccarone Gallery

Nate Lowman at Maccarone Gallery

April 16, 2014

American artist Nate Lowman steers away from pop culture subject matter to explore the abstraction of symbols in nature for his show Rave the Painforest at Maccarone Gallery in New York.

“A flower. A leaf. A rock. A stem. A heart. A shape. A stain. A drip. A memory. A State. An egg in a pan. Lowman presents new works that embark on a significant departure from his previous icons. In lieu of meditations on pop culture and political instants… Lowman’s works here conjure states of memory, modeled on the soft edges of the hand-drawn. Eliminating the reliance on the readymade, Lowman utilizes nature as a lens of fragmented recollection after years of urban experience to explore the fragile ecology of the mind.” — Maccarone Press Release

Rave the Painforest runs through May 10th.

— Allison

Style Drop

April 16, 2014

The indigo color palette, well proportioned sweater, and cropped denim in this look all come together for a fresh and modestly sexy take on Spring style.

Image from Style du Monde

— Allison


April 15, 2014

Where They Create’s tour through designer Shabd’s home reveals a space fully expressive of the designer’s wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Follow these links to shop our collection of Shabd at Totokaelo and Totokaelo Art Object

— Allison

A Conversation With Alma Allen

April 14, 2014

In a recent and rare interview with Alma Allen for T Magazine, the Joshua Tree based artist shares several fascinating stories about his life and upbringing; these stories come together to further explain Allen’s remarkably quiet rise to success in the art world. The article also includes photos of Alma Allen’s home and studio, all of which he designed and built himself in Joshua Tree.

“Alma Allen sees his life as having been defined by a series of risks. His sprawling desert compound in Joshua Tree, Calif., where the 43-year-old self-taught artist creates sculptures fashioned of marble, wood and bronze, is evidence that those risks have started to yield great rewards…His cultish followers often show up in person, buying pieces out of Allen’s living room, because, until recently, he was not even represented by a gallery, and had, with few exceptions, never even formally exhibited his work. ‘My sculpture has always existed in private,’ Allen says, ‘because it didn’t really fit into any category. My carving was very small, from stone fragments or salvaged wood. It was very rough and primitive. I was self-taught. It wasn’t really outsider art because that is really the art of the insane. I sort of defied categories, and now I am a little nervous about ceasing to be a ‘private’ artist, because I have never even been criticized or reviewed.’” — Matt Tyrnauer via T Magazine

Follow this link to view our selection of works by Alma Allen

— Allison

Light and Airy

April 10, 2014

The incoming of new pieces from brands like Black Crane and Cosmic Wonder Light Source has got me thinking about flowing silhouettes, bright whites, and warm weather.

Images gathered from Iko Iko, Tumblr, and Remodelista

— Allison

Style Drop

April 10, 2014

A photo of Michelle Elie on the streets of Paris wearing the Junya Watanabe Patchwork Denim.

Image by Adam Katz Sinding

Follow this link to shop our collection of Junya Watanabe