Myrna Halpern’s work as a jewelry designer is a creative adventure. She travels extensively, always returning home with renewed inspiration. In fact, we caught Myrna as she was packing for a summer stay in Port Townsend, WA, overlooking Puget Sound. Her jewelry is artsy, eclectic and multidimensional. Like a montage, each piece is a heterogeneous composite using varied materials. The largest body of her work is called The Montage Collection, and it comprises the pieces that are sold at wholesale by the Sola Showroom in New York to stores across the country, and now in Canada, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and most recently, Paris. She designs at least six collections per year, including two Lexie collections, named after her granddaughter, which are only sold through myrnahalpern.com and private trunk shows. Welcome Myrna, one of Memphis’ worldliest jewelry designers, as today’s FACE feature.
Have you always lived in Memphis?
I was born in Chicago and grew up in the city. When I was 10, my family moved to the Chicago “’burbs.” At the age of 15, we moved to Memphis, and I have lived here ever since. I married a native Memphian, and I now feel like one myself.
When did you begin designing jewelry?
I’ve always loved fashion, especially vintage. When I was in college at Tulane in New Orleans, my girlfriend and I would go to an antique shop in the French Quarter and buy antique enamel buttons, put safety pins in them and wear them as pins. I never made any other jewelry until after I retired from teaching gifted children in the CLUE program. My first jewelry designs were bracelets with beads from vintage jewelry I had collected. One day in 2001, I wore three of these bracelets to the hair salon, and a lady there loved them and offered to buy all three. That was my first sale, and I haven’t stopped since. The inspiration to start a new career came very unexpectedly and without forethought, but I quickly discovered that I was hooked. I had an unrelenting passion for jewelry design.
Do you have a mentor in your design work, or who was the first person to encourage you in this work?
As a child, I had always looked up to my mother’s very stylish, lifelong friend who ran a wholesale jewelry showroom in downtown Chicago. When I was 12, she invited me to go on a business trip with her to New York. I was ecstatic, loved the energy of the city and quickly became enamored with all things fashion. Although I never thought about designing until much later in life, I know that she planted the seed. “Aunt” Jane is the one who impressed upon me that a collection always needs to tell a story.
What are a few characteristics of your jewelry designs that are apparent in every piece?
One of my signature looks is the hand-woven beading that is often an element in my designs. Some designers weave glass or plastic seed beads on a loom, but we do everything painstakingly by hand using faceted semiprecious gemstones for a luxurious look. You can also recognize my designs because of the combinations of unexpected elements I use, the varieties of textures and the quirky color combinations.
Over time, you have made your jewelry business a means for supporting local charitable causes. Tell us a bit more about combining jewelry design and outreach.
The Lexie Collection was launched with a specific purpose. A portion of the proceeds from these retail sales is donated to the Herb Kosten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research in memory of my sister, Shari Meyers. In addition, I often donate special jewelry pieces to charitable silent auctions like the Art of Caring, the Kidney Foundation, the March of Dimes and The Exchange Club, to name a few.
Please highlight your creative process for developing a new jewelry line.
As an educator of gifted students, I guided them through stages of the creative process, and this has proven to be invaluable. I have used this process in so many business-related endeavors, including designing a new line. Renowned educator Jean Piaget refers to this as the “formal operational stage,” in which you consider your past experiences and balance them against your present demands and future consequences. To design a collection, you have to utilize a wide gamut of past experiences. I have developed a keen awareness of emerging fashion trends by spending countless hours on fashion websites and blogs, collecting ideas and images for mood boards, attending trade shows around the country and in London and observing as I travel. This knowledge is then balanced against my present demands, such as the target audience, budget constraints and availability of materials, as well as future consequences, such as changes in personnel or expenses. Though it would be fun, I never design in a vacuum, and I always think about the impact that a new collection has on the bigger picture.
Where does the inspiration for a new collection begin and end?
In my case, the inspiration almost always begins and ends in Port Townsend, WA, overlooking Puget Sound with the Cascade Mountains on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other. I utilize my summer days in Port Townsend to incubate new ideas, reflect over past experiences, source new materials and get inspired by nature. For me, it is an uninterrupted spiritual cleansing, and I feel very fortunate to have that opportunity.
Describe your newest collection and the inspiration behind it.
My newest Lexie Collection follows the bold and gold look that is currently trending. This look was so evident in Lisbon and Barcelona when I visited in May. The collection also features shades of turquoise that contrast with the gold chains, and I predict that turquoise will continue its popularity going forward into fall. The colors of my summer collections were inspired by beautiful scarves I saw at the Sola Showroom, with lots of bright, neon colors played against a neutral linen background.
Do you have a few words of advice or perhaps a favorite quote you would like to share with our readers?
I would encourage anyone to have the perseverance to follow their dreams with the knowledge that pursuing those dreams is a slow and tedious process. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as an overnight success.
I have two favorite quotes. They came in the form of encouragement from each of my sons: “The sun will come up tomorrow,” and “’No’ really means not yet.” Keep those thoughts in mind, and, when life gets ridiculous, keep your sense of humor.
Are there any Memphis events coming up that you are especially looking forward to?
What are three lighthearted things you could not live without?
My husband’s high-octane morning coffee, the Google search box and spinning classes
Thank you, Myrna! Follow Myrna’s creative adventures on her blog, located on her website, www.myrnahalpern.
Myrna also designs one-of-a-kind jewelry specifically tailored to each of the six stores that she sells to directly, four of which are in Memphis, plus one in Jonesboro, AK, and one in Atlanta. In Memphis, Myrna Halpern’s pieces are available at Oak Hall, Kittie Kyle, Joseph and Bella Viaggia.
All of today’s photos, except for the final shot in Port Townsend, were taken by Micki Martin.