If you only knew Kay Wang through her Instagram — and chances are you might, considering her 33,000 followers — you wouldn’t necessarily immediately know what she does for a living. She could easily be a baker, a stylist, a ceramicist, or a woodworker; in December alone, she posted pictures from her Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, apartment of the frangipane tart she’d baked, the cherry cutting boards she’d sanded and oiled, the canvas bags she’d dyed with onion skin, and the silk cord necklaces she’d strung with hand-carved brass pendants. (And you’d certainly never guess that she spent nine years before moving to Brooklyn as an online marketer in Los Angeles and Seattle.) What she is, very clearly, is a restless creative spirit; so much so that even though her main focus right now is as a jewelry designer who crafts under the moniker The Things We Keep, she has trouble pinning herself with a specific label.
“It’s not that I don’t consider myself a designer, but I think there’s a big difference between people who design and people who make,” Wang explains. “I do things from start to finish. I design and I also fabricate, and though jewelry’s specifically what I do, it’s not beadwork. It’s casting, it’s working with wax, it’s working with metal. It has traditionally not been considered an art. It’s traditionally been considered skilled labor, which adds another layer of complexity. So I guess the short version is I don’t have a particular label. It’s more that I find a lot of value in designing something — seeing it in my mind and being able, with my two hands and through a craft that I’ve honed, to make it into something tangible that I can feel and I can show you.”
No matter what it is she’s doing, though, it’s found her a good deal of success in the time since she switched gears three years ago — or at least enough success that she felt brave enough to make jewelry a full-time gig. Wang says she felt inspired by the small community of makers in Brooklyn who seemed to be in the same boat: “It’s incredibly liberating to find that people you think are doing really well still had day jobs that they didn’t let on before they made the leap. To know that you can do something and a number of years down the road, you can say this is not for me and move on to something else.”
We recently caught up with Wang in the live/work space she shares with her boyfriend, her dog, and her two cats, Sushi and Chops, inside a converted textile factory. Her apartment seems of a piece with her jewelry line — a small space that’s been carefully edited to let each item breathe and show off its quiet simplicity. Also: a space to chow down on flourless peanut butter cookies topped with sea salt, which Wang had baked the day before we arrived. Either way, it’s a nice place to spend the afternoon.
On a shelf in the home office designer Kiel Mead shares with his girlfriend, the performance artist Sarah Boatright, sits a set of drawers stuffed with backstock of his Forget Me Not rings, little string bows cast in precious metals. Mead’s breakout design when he was still studying furniture at Pratt, the rings were the genesis of the 27-year-old’s fascination with casting objects into wearable reminders — of childhood, of holidays, of lost loves, of an old car he once drove. Boatright, 23, also deals with the preservation of memories in her work, dressing up in goofy wigs to make reenactment videos of family Thanksgivings or furtively recorded interactions between strangers, which go on to enjoy eternal life on YouTube. So if you’d expect the couple’s Brooklyn apartment to be decked out with the kind of overstyled chicness typical of two young creatives, one of whom practically runs the Williamsburg branch of The Future Perfect, you’d be mistaken: Like their creations, the possessions they keep on display are more about storytelling than status.
Caitlin Mociun may have been the author of a cult-hit fashion line for only a few years, but the lessons she learned from that stint — about the way she wants a customer to feel, or about the way a body moves in space — inform nearly everything she does today. That first becomes clear when she talks about her massively successful fine jewelry line, which she launched almost as a palliative to her days as a clothing designer. “I never really liked doing my clothing line, and when I switched to jewelry it was such a different response,” Mociun told me earlier this fall when I visited her year-old Williamsburg boutique. “It seemed to make people feel good about themselves as opposed to clothing, which often makes people feel bad.” But it’s when she talks about her boutique that you realize that nothing in the shop could be the way it is if Mociun weren’t first a designer.
Midway through our visit to Erin Considine’s Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment earlier this summer, we began talking about her parents, who — no surprise here — are interior designers. She told us a story about her father being on a job site in Connecticut in the 1980s, where a company was giving away all of its Knoll furniture. A set of Mies van der Rohe Brno chairs here, a Saarinen Tulip table there — these are sorts the things the Brooklyn jewelry designer grew up with. When my jaw dropped, she shrugged. “It’s just being in the right place at the right time,” she says.