The Indumentarian: Susan Elizabeth Designs

You wouldn’t immediately know it from suburban designer Susan Elizabeth’s sunny disposition, but her jewelry is pretty severe. It’s a nuanced kind of pretty.

To quote Plum Sykes from a March 2008 issue of American Vogue, “Authentic or costume [jewelry is] the smartest investment to make now[.] Contemporary jewelry, modern in design, timeless in appeal.”  I couldn’t agree with her more. There is a time and place for the feminine and pretty and that was a few decades ago. But this time around, with the technology that has set us onto a path of complete and utter disassociation with natural grace, harder and rougher looks more inviting.

Susan Elizabeth’s designs are just that: inviting. They invite conversation and the admiration of passersby whether at a party or on the elevated train platform. They’re also edgy. The rough exterior of many of her ornaments incite a street smart, city style that could be classified as urban combat armor. Her use of oxidization and metalwork is key to the hard and gentle ambiance that these pieces give any outfit. When it comes to pieces like these, the simpler the better. You don’t want to seem too busy. If there is too much going on, you might turn off some prospective suitors and her pieces are definitely stand-alone in their intricacy and fervor. Susan Elizabeth’s jewelry turns any t-shirt-and-jeans into that clean chic look people dream of but are never able to properly pull off in real life.

It’s time to bid adieu to the horseshoes, hearts and bows of recent seasons. Pretty charms have come and gone: first as a retro-chic, high fashion statement to the now with chintzy,  cliché fads that should have stayed on the playground where it belonged.  It all ties into the fashion industry’s push toward Lolita fashions. Cosplay and Harajuku aside, the time for grown up style is now. Many designers and people are opting for more mature looks and there isn’t anything more adult than a bitching statement ring, necklace or earrings (a piece that isn’t extremely multicolored and totally unpretentious). However, the weird does tend to fly over people heads like airplanes and back handed compliments, but Susan Elizabeth impressively moves the fantastically thin line from incomprehensible to interesting.

Susan Elizabeth’s jewelry can be found allover Chicago, in various boutiques. I sat down with her, her agent, and my editor (who is featured sporting her designs in the above photo gallery) a couple of months ago for some coffee and conversation. I arrived early to our tea party and hadn’t even noticed that it was her. She was a blonde, presumably bubbly woman. She seemed so positive and completely lacking of any of the brooding seriousness her pieces suggested. However, if ever a saying rang truer, you really can’t judge a book by it’s cover or a designer from her portfolio.

Susan trained under Fred Fenster and Lisa Gralnick, both highly respected professionals in the world of metalsmithing, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Most of her pieces are made of metal and her most popular pieces involve a type of oxidization that happens when the metal pieces are raised, sautered, and then oxidized to retain the multi-color faceted look, akin to the rainbow that blossoms in a puddle of oil spilled on the ground. That might seem like an odd way to describe something as wonderfully vivid as some of these pieces but it is truly the only way to describe them. They are beautiful renditions and remnants of an overpopulated and over stimulated urban world. She also studied at the Haystack Mountain School of crafts in Deer Isle, Maine under Tina Rath and Robert Ebendorf. Since 2006, she has operated at and owned Susan Elizabeth Designs.

At the moment, she’s focused on including gems in her pieces- an inspiration pulled from an antique broach given to her by her grandmother. She noted that the timeless style of the piece was something that struck a chord with her and she was really interested in revolving the collection’s design around it. Susan Elizabeth proves that what is essentially style is the deconstruction and manipulation of classic processes and procedures. The fact that she continues to do so with such a bright smile and optimistic revelry is proof that all genius is a bit insane, but not all insane is genius.

As always friends (with benefits?), don’t be a stranger, but do be stranger.

Susan Elizabeth’s designs can be seen at
Thanks to Susan Elizabeth and Erin Creaney of Studio 808
Models: Katie Donbavand, Laura Bean, Lynn Marie Kummer
Hair and Makeup by the lovely Laura Bean

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