“When I was a little girl, I’d be like, ‘Mom, when I grow up, I want to have an empire!’” said Meredith Kahn with a laugh. “That’s my thing; I want to have a whole platform of pieces that really communicate to people, head to toe.”
So far, Kahn’s got the upper body covered, thanks to Made Her Think, the quirky-yet-classical jewelry line she launched on a whim in 2004, which became an instant hit with fashionistas from California to Kuwait.
Known for its use of iconic imagery - skulls, talons, pyramids, roses - Made Her Think was originally fashioned from found trinkets and one-of-a-kind vintage elements that Kahn, a long-time flea market fanatic, had collected over the years. But the line has since evolved to include seasonal costume and semi-precious collections she designs from scratch, along with a just-launched fine jewelry range, dubbed Meredith Kahn, that puts a more luxe spin on her trademark girly-goth aesthetic.
“I think a lot of what Made Her Think gives people is that relationship where they can look at [a piece] and even if they don’t understand its origins, they feel something,” the pretty brunette told The Fashion Informer when we sat down with her at 5 in 1, the wood-paneled Williamsburg, Brooklyn concept studio/store where she works alongside her graphic artist husband, Norman Rabinovich, and the designers behind local indie labels Eventide and Uluru.
“I love when a person picks up one of my pieces, puts it on, and they’re like ‘Oh!’” she added, a quiet shock of recognition in her voice.
So how does Kahn, an FIT grad who designed clothing for Old Navy before launching her quasi-eponymous line (Made Her Think is an anagram of Meredith Kahn), go about creating her collection each season? Does it start with an idea? An inspiration? The skulls and daggers and materials themselves?
“Its a combination,” she replied thoughtfully, twirling the gold diamond pendulum that hung from a black waxed cord around her neck (part of MHT’s upcoming fall ’08 collection). “It’s not only about one thing. It’s like, you go through life and you receive all the things that come your way - it could be carving in a piece of wood, the shade of the sky at a certain time of day, a reflection, some architecture you see while walking down the street - and you grab them and place them in the little box in your brain. And then, when the moment is right - whenever that is, and you can never know - it just kind of all comes together, and then you have your color palette, you have your material, and you have your forms, soft or structured, whatever they’re going to be.”
For spring, Kahn drew inspiration from the idea of a tainted garden, with the elements of nature being, as she put it, “brought into a darker field.” And so the collection, as seen in a look book titled “Sweet Nothings in the Voodoo Garden,” is full of resin cast roses - fashioned into bejeweled-taloned cuffs, feathered earrings, rosary-like necklaces and skull-studded bracelets - along with black diamond Swarovski rings (the stones of which have the grey cast Kahn loves), an edgy-ethereal spiked rose cuff that’s part punk, part princess, and an Art Deco pendant that manages, much like the designer herself, to be both sweet and sinister (not to mention subversively sexy).
For the fall ‘08 collection, called “Faux Illumination,” her subconscious rummaged around the old brain box and found inspiration in a trip Kahn had taken to New Mexico some four or five years ago. “It was amazing,” she recalled, a dreamy smile lighting up her delicate features. “I just love the idea of things that look like they were touched by a hand, so I wanted it to have an earthy, desert influence and the feeling of crystals.”
The latter she accomplished in her usual left-of-center way by casting the shapes in resin so they’d feel “more surreal, like they’re little crystal spears just floating in the element. I didn’t want use real crystals, because that would have been too literal.” Heaven forfend.
She also fashioned silk chiffon into big, ruffled brooches and wove the aforementioned black waxed cord into subtle macrame-like patterns to further invest the pieces with a handcrafted touch. “I wanted the collection to have the feeling of a nomadic woman in the middle of the desert with her rocks and her gems and her fabric wrapped and flowing around her. So that presents the imagery for you.”
It certainly does.
Kahn’s creativity also takes flight via her beautifully produced look books (or Notebooks, as she calls them), which resemble 19th Century writing tablets and come complete with moodily evocative photos and thought-provoking annotations, some rendered in traditional typography, others scribbled by hand with lines crossed out, making it feel as though you’re peering into someone’s private diary.
“I don’t have a specific background in jewelry,” said Kahn. “I have a background in clothing. But I wanted these collections to be these worlds of expression, because I felt like if I gave a story to it, then it would help the person understand the pieces even more, and they would develop even more of a relationship with it. So my first look book was really intense - 24 or 36 pages with hand written notes where I told what the inspiration was and what my purpose was for making the jewelry, along with this huge story about the girl.” She even directed a short film for her fifth Made Her Think collection, called “Illusions of the Heart,” which was shot in a “totally creepy” old house on Staten Island.
For her spring ’09 collection, Kahn - who just gave birth to her first child, daughter Grayson, a mere three months ago - plans to incorporate her current obsessions: Dirty diamonds (“it’s almost like the crushed bits at the bottom of someone’s drawer”) and paste, the term used for lead-and-glass stones that were the Cubic Zirconia of the Victorian era.
Kahn would also “love, love, love” to do a fragrance (something musky, she hints, to be housed in a flask based on the beloved vintage perfume bottles she’s been collecting forever), and says she could easily see Made Her Think jewelry being translated into hardware on a handbag collection. “I want to develop something that fits back to the collection and extends the brand,” she said. “I’m starting to do leather and I just got in some exotic skins for next season, so it’s definitely traveling along that path.”
Her finale? Clothing and home goods.
“You know, you have all these products leading up to that, so it’s head-to-toe,” she explained. “You can be smelling right, you’ve got your jewelry, your bag, the clothing and then into home goods, so you have a whole brand.”
So you want to be the Ralph Lauren of Williamsburg?
“Donna Karan, actually,” Kahn replied with a laugh. “She really embraces it. When you see her, she is the brand, which is very inspiring for me.”
“Obviously, I did it kind of backwards, starting with jewelry, but this is how nature intended,” she added. “I was making something in 2004 and putting it out there and people were responding, and I just listened. I think that’s probably one of the most important things with being creative and trying to sell your product. Because you can be as creative as you want, and you can be locked up in your house creating things and expressing yourself, but if you don’t know how to communicate it to other people, it’s a little bit of a problem. There has to be that relationship.”
Judging from the relationship Kahn has already forged with her growing legion of devoted fans, who seem unable to stop themselves at buying just one (or two or ten) Made Her Think pieces, that empire will be hers soon enough.
Photos © The Fashion Informer/Lauren David Peden