Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Richmond, Virginia and I grew up in a small town outside of Richmond. I studied art and art history, specifically pre-Columbian art history and Incan architecture and Spanish colonialism. I’m still really, really obsessed with it. Since school, I’ve been working with galleries and with Need Supply Co.. I started Academy three years ago, and I still do a lot of side projects, collaborating with other people and working on just about anything I can get my hands on.
How did you go from being in art and studying art to jewelry?
Sort of accidentally, really. I didn’t intend to make jewelry. I still don’t identify myself as being a jewelry designer. I consider myself in the art world. I started it [Academy] as a way to create something for myself. It just so happens that jewelry is the form it took. For me, art and fashion are married together. I’m not the typical fashion girl, so I like to add my own little art spin to it.
How did you start Academy, and how did you pick the name?
I actually just celebrated the three-year anniversary of the company. It had been sitting with me in my brain for a while. I sat on the idea for a while and figured out what form it was going to take. When I chose the name, it was pretty purposeful—I really wanted that strong letter “A”, and I also really wanted something simple, straightforward smart, and snappy. At the same time I read an article about the California Academy of Sciences and it just seemed to fit perfectly. I still think it’s a really great representation of the brand. I’m really happy with the name.
What is your primary inspiration for your jewelry?
It’s almost always art, still. Even though I studied more ancient art, I’m still really inspired by modern art and just about anything. I get really obsessed with one idea, or one type of thing for a long time, and then everything I do revolves around it. That happens in my collections, also—for example, Fall 2013 was all about Richard Serra. Even though that may not be obvious in the finished product, that was all I was thinking about. The textures, the colors, and the scale of things, some of the names behind the pieces, and everything like that. It’s almost always art based.
Do you think you have been influenced at all from living and growing up in Virginia?
Probably. That’s a great question. I have traveled all over the place, have been all over the world, and I spend a lot of time in New York and elsewhere, but I always come back here [in Richmond]. I grew up in a small town. I have parents that worked their whole lives for everything they have, so I have that sort of instinct. Being in a small town forced me to look other places for inspiration or figuring out whom I am and what I’m going to do. But like I said, I love it and always come back here.
How did you get involved with Need Supply Co. and what’s it like working with them?
I have been involved with them in some capacity since the launch of their website a few years ago. I just happened to know the founder. The creative director who launched the site was a friend of mine, so I got in pretty early. I started out with them in the early years working on photo shoots. None of us really knew what we were doing so we were all figuring it out together. I still work with them. I am now a writer and editor for them. I work mostly on content, writing the blog, working on our magazine and things like that. I just really love it.
Can you tell me a little about the Community Artist Collective?
I can. That started with myself and three other girls. So, a group of four friends and Jess of Willow Knows and I previously met and did some projects together. Each brought a friend into the mix, and then we just sat down one day over margaritas and had this crazy idea to do something. Within a month, we had a space and we just did it! It’s still one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on. I really love the fact that four female friends did it together. We had the opportunity to help a lot of unknown designers and small artists. We produce studio visits and put on art shows and openings. We hosted workshops where people could learn how to weave or learn how to do some sort of craft like that. I’m still working with them, and I still really feel inspired and supported by them. It’s probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done and it’s very close to me.
You’ve mentioned how big of a part art is of your life. What does it bring to your life, and why do you think it is so important to you?
I’m not sure, that’s a tough one. I’d like to think that it should be important to everyone, but that’s not the case. As a kid, I understood art from an academic viewpoint. I can really get lost in art. Art is something that can make people happy or sad. Sometimes art is seen as some sort of frivolous thing. It’s really important to keep art in your life, even though it’s really [unclear] to people in general. It’ll always be in my life.
What is your creative process like?
I just observe a lot, I look at a lot of things, and certain things just resonated with me, and I hold onto them for a while. I mentioned Richard Serra earlier, and I actually saw a Richard Serra exhibition in Spain years ago. I never thought twice about it until this summer, when all of the sudden, I couldn’t stop thinking about it again. I just started to read all this research on him and started making things based on his work and him as an artist. I work a lot. I work a lot of late nights and early mornings, though a lot of it is in my own head. I appreciate that though. It allows me to really dive into what I’m doing.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
That’s so hard! It changes all the time. I would probably answer that differently depending on the day you ask me. Right now, I’m really into Richard Serra, environmental art and large-scale sculpture, like Donald Judd.
When you do make your own art, do you like to make sculpture?
I do. I still consider my jewelry to just be small sculptures. I make it all by hand with clay and by shaping wood. I’m also making home goods and all kinds of other things, like mobiles. I like to think of them as small, weird sculptures.
What is a piece of advice you could give to someone who is looking into going into art or some other creative field as his/her job?
I think specifically to women, I would say just to never feel like you have to apologize for having success or power. There’s some sort of idea that women should be humble and meek, perhaps because there are very few girl bosses out there, but you need to own what you are doing. Work hard for it and be proud of it. Don’t apologize for accomplishing big things.
What is beauty to you, and how do you define beauty?
I feel like I should study for this. [Laughs] I think this will sound cheesy, but I think it’s being happy and being sure of yourself. As someone who works in the fashion industry, I’m surrounded constantly by exterior beauty, and it’s just not at all as interesting as someone who has a lot of ideas, thoughts, and wants to do things. It’s about making a dream a reality. I think that is beauty. To me, that’s pretty damn beautiful.
Describe your perfect Saturday.
My perfect Saturday involve sleeping in a little bit—I’m typically an early riser, but I really want to not have to be anywhere in the morning. So, I’d sleep in a little bit, I’d definitely have some coffee. It’d be even better if it was delivered in bed by a handsome man. I’d probably get brunch with some friends and have a few Bloody Mary’s. I would spend the day anywhere outside—on the balcony, on the porch, with my friends. I do like to work, but if it’s a dream day, I’ll try to leave work out of it and just hang out all day. Saturday nights are usually reserved for friends and tacos and tequila, so that would definitely be my perfect Saturday, to top it all off.
What are some songs currently on your personal playlist?
I am a very, very big Dolly Parton fan. So, I listen to a lot of Dolly Parton, a lot of old blue-grassy type stuff. These days, I’ve also been listening to a lot of Cat Stevens, a lot of Neil Young, anything that sort of makes a nice background working soundtrack.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Oh wow. Just work hard and not expect anyone to give me anything. I mentioned earlier that I grew up with parents who worked for everything they have, and I really learned that from there. It’s huge for me. It’s important, especially with young people today, to not expect anything to be handed to you, whether you think you deserve it or not. You just have to go out and get it yourself on your own accord, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
What is something you would tell your younger self?
Probably to grow out my bangs. [Laughs] Just to really believe in what I’m doing.
Are you a night person or a morning person?
Somehow I’m a little of both! I don’t sleep very much in general. [Laughs] I trained myself to be both a night person and a morning person. It’s a strange thing.
Do you have a favorite quote?
It’s not so much a favorite quote, as it is an idea, an outlook. I recently read Kelly Cutrone’s book If You Have to Cry, Go Outside. It’s not so much a quote as it is her idea of power girls, these girls who like herself are in powerful positions. At first they are seen as bitches but they are just the boss and owning it. They’re smart and successful and know they are. It’s more of an idea and outlook, but it’s very inspiring to me these days.
What’s your style mantra?
I think it’s wear whatever you want all the time! I totally subscribe to the idea of the Man Repeller: not dressing for a man. I’m the least sexy person on Earth. I like to dress really masculine and I like to wear really weird things. So my mantra is to wear whatever you want all the time, as long as it feels right to you.
For more of Rachel’s work, check out Academy. Interviewed by Erica Polle.