studio space :: leoworks

Where to begin with the lovely Nicole… at the beginning, perhaps? We first met as teacher and student. She was the instructor for an introduction to jewelry making class I took before settling on my path as accessories shop owner. We got along tremendously well. She shared her experiences, schooled me on NY’s thriving artistic community, spent many an evening helping me rearrange and refashion my shop, gave insight on life, and was always ready to lend an ear with troubles, concerns, or news about extraordinary things. Nicole’s jewelry line, Leoworks, was a Clarabella staple, available in the shop from day 1. Trunk shows, sample sales, jewelry classes… we tried it all. My customers loved her, loved her designs, loved her energy. She is a skilled teacher… an amazing woman. She has a special knack for creating beauty, both in her designs in and her day to day life. She exudes strength.

Back in May, a weekend visit to New York coincided with an open studio event at Nicole’s new Redhook, Brooklyn-based studio. She had shifted to the new space after I moved away from NY, so I saw the event as a chance to take a peek and catch up with my girl;). We both took a few photos and Nicole was kind enough to answer a few questions for me after the fact. Lovely people… Meet Nicole.

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Leoworks

the website :: the etsy shop :: the fan page

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Just Plain Lovely: Hi Nicole:) Thanks so much for taking a moment to chat with me!!

Nicole Gagne, Owner of Leoworks: Hey Erin, my pleasure!

JPL: Let’s get started by finding a little bit about you… where are you from?

NG: I grew up in Montpelier Vermont, which seems like the smallest capital in the Country.  There is something wonderful about living your childhood in nature, spending your summers happily lost in the woods for whole days.  I’ve just past the point where I’ve lived half my life in nature and the other half in culture: New York City…I came down for college and haven’t left!

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JPL: Where do you live now?

NG: I’m in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I’ve been for the last 7 years.  This is the first neighborhood I’ve lived in the city that hit it’s trendy period at the same time as I hit it… I have usually moved out of a neighborhood before it’s ‘cool to live there,’ but I like Billyburg still.

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JPL: Where is your studio and how long have you been there?

NG: My new studio is in Redhook. It’s an artists’ studio building called ‘Screwball Spaces’ and I’ve been there for almost a year.

JPL: Tell me a little bit about the building and the community of artists within…

NG: As you have seen Erin, it’s quite a nice scene at Screwball!  It’s a whole floor above a storage unit with a gallery and a ceramics studio, next to a big city park.  There is an amazing collection of artists ranging from painters to sculptors, wood workers to ceramicists, photographers to jewelers!

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JPL: What do you like most about being a part of a community of artists?

NG: When I first started designing my own collections, I had a loft in Manhattan where I would get up, make coffee and go in the next room to work.  When I moved to a studio space, I realized how nice it is to be creating within a group of common energy and not in a bubble.  What I love the most about these new studios is the way in which the artists are really committed to the community.  The owners built 99 nice spaces, set up a gallery space to be able to show the artists’ work and have openings.  They really put their hearts into it everyday!

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JPL: Take me through your studio a bit… what is your favorite piece there?

NG: My studio is a corner space with windows on two sides and a beautiful view of the freeway!  I’ve been told it’s very homey there, but I feel like I’ve set up a very functional space with a lot of ornament…how could I not, since my work is inspired by beautiful things?  Oh boy, what’s my favorite piece?  I still have a neon hand-blown glass teardrops lamp that I made in college. I keep it visible to remind myself how much I like to create lighting and to blow glass.  And the die-formed oil votive, pictured, I made as a sketch for a candelabra commission.

JPL: You’ve got quite a collection of antiques… furniture, tools, etc… where do you find all of these pieces?

NG: I’ve been a scavenger of uniqueness since I can remember…growing up in a rural setting, I would spend my Saturday mornings with my grandmother hitting all the lawn sales and flea markets looking for the perfect piece!  I really have to go piece by piece in my studio now to tell you where I got each one…but even my tools have a history and have had others people’s hand working their magic!

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JPL: The windows in the studio are amazing… do you find that having such an abundance of natural light affects your designs at all? does it make you want to be in the studio more often?

NG: I absolutely have to have natural light to work. It’s easier on my eyes while working so close up.  Having the windows and the view is also healthy for my eyes to be able to focus on distance throughout the day.  It doesn’t affect my designs as much as the making of each piece by hand but I am able to add detail that you might not be able to see otherwise.  I can consider the texture on my metal pieces to be what makes them truly unique.

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JPL: How long have you been practicing your craft?

NG: I got my BFA in metalsmithing in 1994 from Parsons School of Design and immediately began a 6 year career designing for other companies.

JPL: How did you get your start?

NG: In 2002, a collaborating designer (from a former Jewelry job) and I decided to create a collection together.  We had a trunk show at my loft, then decided to try to sell to some of the local store. The representatives in one of the first stores that we went into said they were Japanese reps looking to launch a group of New York designers in Japan. Two months later we had a huge order…it was 0-60!  Since 2006, I’ve been on my own with Leoworks and continue to have a solid following in and around Tokyo.

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JPL: Do you turn to friends and family for inspiration and have you ever designed a piece for someone in particular?

NG: I’ve done many one-of-a-kind pieces for my friends and family in addition to other commissions.  One Christmas I made a series of necklaces for each person in my family. They each had a hand-cut sterling silver key on a silk cord to remind all of us that we have the key to each others’ hearts.  I’ve made many engagement and wedding rings which are especially fun because, as with all custom pieces, I’m creating something truly personal to the wearer.  I love to get the chance to look inside a person and reflect that beauty through my own aesthetic.

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JPL: I’ve seen you work with casting, hand-hammered designs, wire-wrapping, beading… what is your favorite method of design?

NG: There are endless techniques to create jewelry and endless possibilities within each technique!  With Leoworks’ jewelry, I’ve found the hammering of raw metal to be inexhaustible and still can’t wait to see where it leads me next.  I’ve been able to maintain the exclusive use of cold connections too, no soldering, fusing or casting.  With custom work, I like to explore all techniques, but I especially love die forming, a way of making a 3-dimensional shape using a die to form two identical yet mirror opposite shapes.

JPL: Where do you find your inspiration?

NG: My collections are usually drawn from the seasons and upcoming trends, but I always find a distinctive theme that works in the genre of Leoworks.  One of the ways I’ve found solid inspiration is to travel, find something indigenous to a place or create a collection around the culture itself.

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JPL: Do you have a favorite metal or stone that you like to work with?

NG: I really love bronze for it’s warm color and hardness factor. It looks as precious a gold, but antiques beautifully.  And I love stones, all of them!  I’m so glad I get to also work with color and combinations of colors.  I prefer to buy beads that are Indian made because they are hand cut and have an unassuming quality to their preciousness.

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JPL: You’re not only a designer, but a teacher as well. What types of classes have you done and would you consider offering private instruction?

NG: Well, that’s where I met you isn’t it?  I started teaching about 7 years ago at a workshop in Manhattan, specializing in basic jewelry techniques.  It’s amazing to me that some of those initial students have gone on to start their own collections!  I gave instruction of some specific techniques that one of my previous students wanted to learn, which she has now incorporated into her pieces. I got to teach some one-night workshops at the beautiful accessories store Clarabella, which were also very successful!  Since the move to the new studio, I haven’t been focused to set up group lessons, but am certainly available for one on one.

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JPL: I know you and know that types of friends that you keep close. Do you feel that having so many artistic people in your life affects your own designs? Does is foster a stronger spirit of independence?

NG: I’ve always believed that you attract the same kind of energy you give out.  Having so many friends that are successful artists confirms that my actions are moving me in the right direction.  They also give me the motivation to take the risks that come with supporting yourself with your art.  You also see that your individuality is what brings you together and you can take from their experience and apply it to your own.

JPL: What advice would you give up and coming designers?

NG: That it isn’t all about what you’ve made… it’s about You, the person who created it and your conviction behind it.  From the pragmatic business side, again it’s not only about the actual pieces made, it also helps to complete the process by having photographs, line sheets and press kits.

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JPL: If you could pick anywhere in the world to visit right now, where would you go?

NG: Oh that’s hard!  I started traveling back in high school, my first trip was to the former Soviet Union, and I haven’t stop since.  India has been high on the list for years now, but Africa has been calling me lately.  I went to Marrakech in April and only got a taste…

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JPL: Who are some of your favorite designers?

NG: First and foremost, Alexander Calder. He has had a huge affect on me, even long before I knew he had done jewelry.  Current jewelers include Philip Crangi, Ten Thousand Things, Padma Laksmi, Ted Muehling, & Gabriela Dela Vega.

JPL: Define your personal style… how do you feel that affects your own designs?

NG: I like simplicity and color.  I think the way I combine colors in my jewelry is similar to the way I put outfits together.  I’ve often called this ‘asymmetrical balance’ in my work and the same could be said for my style.  Even when I wear patterns, I like to combine them in unusual ways.

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the favorites

Author: At the moment it’s Steig Larrson with his amazing trilogy, but before and usually: Murakami.

Musician: Jose Gonzalez is in my headphones every other day.

Drink: A favorite for years and hard to get in just any bar: Negroni Sbagliato–Campari, Martini Roso and Prosecco (translates the ‘wrong negroni’)

Flower:  Lilac for it’s scent

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[a special thanks to Nicole for being as lovely as always and for some of the pictures you see above. ]

Readers… stay tuned for a second feature this Fall. I’ll be showcasing Nicole’s new line for Leoworks!

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