Though Vanessa Montiel was born in Mexico City, raised in L.A., educated in London and based in Santa Cruz, California, she spends most of her time in Bali designing exotic buffalo horn and gold jewelry (check out her creations at vanessamontiel.com). It's been so successful that Oprah Winfrey has worn it on the cover of her magazine, and the line is sold in over thirteen countries. And she'll be showing a mini-collection for Project Las Vegas and it runs from August 26-28th. For the fall, she'll be offering lots of stylish hoops, charm necklaces and bangles all with charms that tell a unqiue and personal story.
We overcame the incredible time difference and linked up with the surfing, jewelry-making bohemian to ask her about her life's work. Here's what she said:
Tell us about your childhood in Mexico.
I was born in Mexico City and spent my summers as a child in Cuernavaca—a magical wonderland of endless spring with all of its creatures, frogs, butterflies, fireflies and amazing botanicals. I used to spend my days collecting endless specimens. I believe that is where I got my start as an artist. It cultivated in me a wandering creative mind.
What were your favorite pieces of jewelry as a child?
As for my favorite piece of jewelry, it was no doubt my beautiful and eccentric aunt who started me on my path as a jewelry designer. As a
child I used to steal her costume jewelry, dig out the stones and rearrange them to my own liking. I would then present them to her
dressed in these fabulous out fits that only a seven year old could conjure. I'd make the outfits from scarves she had collected while traveling the world; I wanted to be just like her. She encouraged me.
How did you get into designing jewelry? What were you doing before?
I grew up surrounded by artists and eccentrics, so making art seemed like the only natural thing to do. For years I was a dedicated conceptual artist. This resulted in sculptures which were purposefully at the mercy of time--they tended to decay as time passed. They acted as a kind of offering to death and its regenerative power to transform. Finally, the rigor and austerity of that practice got old.
I'm Latin so I love passion, expression and I discovered that it was more fun to be reckless. At thirty, I dropped out of the art world and dedicated myself to surfing. I followed my heart. Then while on a surf trip in Indonesia, I met someone who designed jewelry. I thought, "I love Bali, I love to surf, I can do that and here I am." Making jewelry just seemed more fun because the only aim is to make something beautiful. I figured that, combined with living in paradise, it seemed like a good deal. I now live part time in Bali.
How would you say your spirituality impacts the philosophy of your jewels?
My spirituality involves following your dreams with a reckless abandon while maintaining integrity and striving towards right action. If you are true to your vision, life unfolds beautifully. It's a practice of looking inward while opening to the world and having fun in it! For me, my jewelry reflects all these principals.
How does a Santa Cruz based designer like yourself become so widely sold in the international arena?
I've never been able to stay put. I've lived in Mexico, Brazil, India, London, Italy and now Bali, which has helped me in the international arena as that just feels like the right place to be. The new world is global and I want to be part of its dynamism. I hope I can do that in a way that is beneficial to all of the people I work with. All of the travel has also helped me develop an eye for style that is not uniquely American but rather has more of an international flare.