Anndra Neen Talk Sisterhood, Statement Pieces and Expanding Into Home

Photos courtesy of Anndra Neen

Two pieces from Fall 2012: the Quilted Satchel and Seaweed Cross Choker.

Anndra Neen designers Phoebe and Annette Stephens are quite the sister act. The two sat down to chat with us about art, their two-and-a-half-year-old jewelry line, and their plans to expand into home goods.

You come from a family of artists [their grandmother is the artist Annette Nancarrow and their father is a painter.] How did that influence you in terms of getting into design?

Annette: Our grandmother was a huge source of inspiration, especially when it comes to jewelry design and design in general. We were just surrounded by her art and her jewelry. We saw the kind of woman she was. She was very lively, she was larger than life. The way she dressed, the way she adorned her body with [her] jewelry. Our father is a painter. So, we just always were taught to see the world from a visual perspective and also from an artistic and creative perspective, and we were encouraged to have that follow-through in our lives. So, I think that definitely influences us every time we create a new piece. 

Who were some of the artists who inspired you for fall?

Annette: We were really inspired by Maxwell Gordon, an artist we always take reference from. One of our inspirations was actually from a painting by my mother. She's painting nature scenes, but they're sort of abstract, and they have geometric forms in them, so we were inspired by that.

How does your family feelpresumably, they're really excitedthat you guys went into design? Do you get any feedback from them?

Phoebe: Oh, all the time. [laughs]. They call us the Neens. They're so excited. I think that, especially for our parents, because they always surrounded us with art. We definitely always consult with them. We show them designs. They have opinions; they try it on. They're really a big part of our lives. We're a close-knit family. So, they're super-proud, I guess.

Annette: And really supportive.

You go back and forth to Mexico a lot for the collection, right?

Phoebe: Annette was just there for a month, overseeing production. We're there every two months or so.

And the collection is made by artisans there?

Annette: We have our own workshop there. We work with an artisan and two other young guys. They handmake everything, and we really collaborate with the artisan to see all the possibilities of what can be made using the metal. He's a true artist. He's not just making the jewelry, he also has a vision. So we do most of the design, but it's also a collaboration, and it's a really amazing working relationship.

Phoebe: For them, it's also super-exciting to be able to see their pieces in New York and in this international market. Michelle Obama wore one of our clutches, and we printed out a picture and put it in the workshop. They were so excited. We have a lot of those moments. Besides just doing it for ourselves, we feel like we do it for them as well. It's a great relationship.

How did Michelle Obama come to carry your clutch? Did you work with her stylist at all?

We were contacted, actually, by her team. They had seen it somewhere and then they requested it.

What have you learned about your customer? I would assume it's a woman who is artistic and who isn't afraid to make a statement. And have you made any changes to the line based on customer feedback?

Phoebe: You know what's interesting? It's obviously someone who has vision and dares to wear it, but it sort of does translate to different worlds. We've had a lot of [instances] of the mother and the daughter both finding something in our collection for them...There are definitely certain styles that people gravitate towards more, and in that sense we're always looking—we're not going to change our style, but we see what does well, and what things we need more of, what we need less of. But in general, it feels like it's trafficked to a wide audience.

Annette: Yes, absolutely. It's interesting, we were talking to one of our stores, Browns in London, and [the buyer] was saying, 'I was really surprised to see the variety of people that were drawn to your pieces and who actually bought [them.] We had thought it was going to be a very hip, youngish girl, late-twenties, early-thirties girl who's very fashion-forward. We found there were older women, international women, art gallerists, as well as younger women, younger girls, professional women. So it kind of reaches across the board to a variety of different people and that's definitely something that we definitely love about the line.

Yes, it definitely seems like something that reaches across age categories, which you can't say about a lot of things. It doesn't seem like jewelry that's just for a twentysomething. I could see Iris Apfel wearing it.

Phoebe: We love her. She actually has one of our pieces. She's amazing. When you see a collection—and I guess it would happen with ready-to-wear stuff—you see the items that are more commercial and then the items that are going to be bigger, or they're going to be more statement pieces. What we've learned is people really love the statement pieces. You would think, Oh, they're going to want the smaller, cleaner pieces. But actually, sometimes what they come to us for is sort of that big statement piece. And then once you wear it, you get so much attention from it. People have told us that they sort of become addicted and then they come back. A lot of our customers come back again.

Photos courtesy of Anndra Neen

More from Fall 2012: the Seaweed Scalloped Bangle and Bow Ring.

Are you working with any artists?

Phoebe: We're having a project in L.A. actually, at the end of June, where we're working with a gallery, and we're actually designing a piece for them in their workshop. And that's [going to be] fine jewelry, and the gallery's called Grey Gallery.

Annette: It's a really cool gallery. They have a combination of art, sculpture and jewelry. And it's absolutely beautiful, in Los Angeles. So that's a collaboration with artists that we're excited about.

What's it like working with your sister? Is there one person who's more business-oriented and one person who's more design-oriented? How does it kind of break down in terms of responsibilities?

Phoebe: We literally do everything together. We both sort of complement each other. I think it really feels like a team.

Annette: We really trust each other implicitly, which I think is really important when you're working so closely with somebody. we both do equal parts. We're feeding off of each other and discussing everything, and I think without that trust, it would be impossible to do. But because we're family, and we know each other so well, we really deeply trust each other. 

The fall 2012 collection is inspired by nature, with seaweed bags. How did you come up with those ideas?

Phoebe: We began with the idea of the perfect geometry of nature, so we wanted a combination of texture and then a clean surface. We just started talking to the workshop, and saying, OK, what can we do to convey that feeling? We just started playing with different possibilities of what the metal can do. Some of them are variations of things we've already done, but pushing them a little further. So the seaweed was one of them. For spring we had done this dotted story, and the seaweed was little a bit of an extension of that.

You currently produce bags in addition to the jewelry. Do you have plans to expand into any other areas anytime soon?

Annette: Yeah, we definitely do. We want to expand into home. We would love to have freestanding stores in the future.

Phoebe: We also want to do fine jewelry.

Annette: Eventually, maybe we will do furniture design. I think, definitely, expanding in all sorts of directions is what we want to do.

Phoebe: The way we envision, if we ever do have a freestanding store, we'd sort of have a whole concept of what we envision. It includes antiques and textiles, just the stuff that we love, and that can be furniture or art or home [decor]. It's kind of this whole world, an Anndra Neen world, I guess.