• Collaborations: Kathleen Whitaker

    Chances are, whether or not you realize it you have seen Kathleen Whitaker's work. The LA jewelry designer's signature dot and dash stud earrings are calling cards for cool girls and guys across the world, and her thoughtful minimalism is a reminder that sometimes pared-down pieces can pack the biggest punch. This month, we were lucky enough to collaborate with Kathleen on a collection of silver stud earrings that are riffs on her signature shapes. Sold individually and meant to be mixed, matched, and integrated into your own personal style, Kathleen intends for her work to be unisex and customized by the wearer. We love how big an impact these subtle pieces can have, and suspect that once you start wearing them, they'll be the lynchpins of your regular jewelry rotation. The perfect holiday gift for picky friends (and we wouldn't mind receiving them ourselves, actually), we stopped by Kathleen's Echo Park studio for a behind-the-scenes look at her process and to preview the pieces from her UO collab.
    Photos by Stella Berkofsky 

    Kathleen works out of her LA home studio to design and create her jewelry. After studying ceramics and Russian history at Tulane University, she moved to LA in 2002 and got into jewelry design when she decided to take night classes at Otis College as a break from her day job. Initially just making pieces for herself and friends, word caught on and Kathleen's solo project grew into a full-time job. 

    Today, she designs the initial look of her pieces (usually in a wax mold). Afterward, she works closely with a very selective group of fabricators and casters in downtown LA to produce the items. Last, when she gets back the pieces from the production team she finishes each one by hand. Previously fabricated only in gold, the UO collaboration is the first time her pieces have been cast in silver. 

    For inspiration, she collects stacks of magazine tearsheets, mostly interior design related. "I have a healthy library of hardcover art and design books that I come back to again and again, and two huge corkboards in the studio hold all manner of photos, lookbooks, event invites, and ephemera," she says.

    Our favorite quality of Kathleen's jewelry is that it really can be worn by anyone. "I love seeing the pieces on men," she says, referencing a story from a male friend-of-friend who wears two of her gold foil studs because "he saw them on every girl and felt left out!"

    She also sells them individually. "It just never occurred to me to sell them in pairs. The ability to wear them asymmetrically always appealed to me and for the person with three or five or more piercings purchasing them individually encourages beautiful combinations." And perhaps the ultimate compliment / testimony of the influence of Kathleen's jewelry? "Several people have reported getting additional piercings expressly for the ability to wear more or a specific combo!"

    Design-wise, the pieces are not refreshed season by season, but come about more organically. Classic styles are intended to be timeless, and Kathleen explains that it's the result of taking her time in the design process that's led to new ways of considering earrings, and how pieces can work with the shape of an ear, and be both beautiful and unexpected. 

    This mentality, of treating her work as one would sculpture, makes perfect sense considering her background in ceramics, which she has dabbled in for years and studied in undergrad. For Kathleen, jewelry and ceramics are intrinsically connected — longtime KW fans may know that for a time, her jewelry was accompanied with very thin, fine hand-built dishes with small perforations designed to hold and display the earrings. "Clay and metal work are symbiotic," she says. "Both are materials for three-dimensional design. And English porcelain and 14k gold are more precious materials that really elevate a design." This connection is the prime example of why we love Kathleen— her ability to see the relationship between mediums, identify the power of minimalist design, and understand how simple designs can evolve to suit the wearer. Less is more, friends. 

    Shop Kathleen Whitaker x UO
    Follow Kathleen on Instagram and her website