Meredith Kahn is due to give birth in nine days, and still looks every bit the in-demand jewelry designer that she is. With Dead Man’s Bones playing in the background, she’s seated at her desk wearing 30 rope bangles piled on her arms, an Hermès Medor Watch, her line’s layered Marquis Pendant Necklace and a Gauntlet Chain Ring on each ring finger, and small claw studs in her ears. “Everything is in yellow gold—I’m having a huge yellow gold moment,” she explains.
Actually, Meredith does a lot of things based on how she feels—it’s how she comes up with new collections, whom she decides to collaborate with, and why she dropped a coveted design career at a top company to start her own homegrown jewelry line.
“I have this habit with going with my gut in everything I do. I am just that way. I trust my intuition, and my intuition knew it was time to make the break,” admits Meredith. “And I always knew having my own line would be my fate somehow.”
See, most of the women in Meredith’s family were either always drawing or painting. “My mom and I took drawing classes together and she taught me how to sew. When I was about six years old, she told me that I always had my own way of putting things together, and let me know that if I wanted, one day I could make my own clothing as a designer.
“That was my very first understanding that there was an actual job out there where someone would pay me to make clothing. I will never forget that moment—I think I was washing my hands before dinner and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be a dream?’ And the dream kind of stuck. Jewelry came later.”
That’s right, you were actually a denim designer for Old Navy, right? How different was life back then?
A slew of things happened before Made Her Think. While studying fashion design, I interned for William Calvert, an American Couturier, who not only became one of my life long friends, but taught me everything, from how to work in a professional environment to how to pull a thread from fabric in order to execute a proper blind hem. I worked alongside 70-year-old European women from the houses of Halston, Balmain, and Oscar de la Renta. It was spectacular pulling pre-show all-nighters with these ladies.
After school, I opened my own shop for a minute in Alphabet City. I learned the hard way that owning a shop is more then I realized… I was holding two other jobs, while running the store with a partner, and we were making everything we sold.
So I started working in a Levi’s concept store, and dove into my passion for denim. That’s when I met my boss from Gap Inc. I never pictured myself working at the Gap, but after three and a half years there, I can honestly say they are really fantastic and totally embrace raw creative talent. I was designing, traveling all over the world, learning about production, and really loving denim and all of its quirks. I also launched Made Her Think while I was there, and quickly left after it started picking up momentum.
The leap from employee to entrepreneur—what convinced you to do it?
I am the last person to ask this question to. I have this habit with going with my gut in everything I do. I am just that way. I trust my intuition, and my intuition knew it was time to make the break.
I always knew having my own line would be my fate somehow, and I guess what convinced me that it was going in the right direction was all the attention from the press and stores from the very start. I got lucky. What I was doing at the time I launched was rare, and people were so hungry for it. Now, you can throw a dart at anything with a blindfold on, and you’ll hit an upcoming jewelry line with an edge.
You’ve often said you’re a designer, who just happened to focus first on jewelry. How did you go about learning the craft?
Well, with my clothing background, I studied a bit of leather—I kind of fell in love with it actually, and began making belts, book traveling cases, and small bags and things. When you have a basic knowledge of construction and patterns, and you can’t help but want to constantly make things with your hands. Your brain is on creating autopilot. You start to venture into other mediums, I guess.
I always had tons of jewelry. And because my apartment at that time was so small, I knew I didn’t have the room to make a full line of clothing. I also had no money, so I just started taking the things I had collected and made jewelry for me and my friends. I just pulled things apart and dissected their construction. My friends used to be so freaked out by how the pliers and cutters became extensions of my hands and fingers, sort of like watching Edward Scissorhands cut hair or sculpt the landscaping.
I have really amazing memories of when MHT first started. It was such a whirlwind. The press picked it up, the stores picked it up, and people were wearing it! I had no idea what I was doing while I was doing it, so it all came as a happy and unexpected surprise.
Made Her Think is a pretty nice name for a jewelry line. Is there a story behind it?
The name Made Her Think kind of came before the line was born. I did intend to have my own collection, but always thought it would be clothing. I fantasized what it would be called, knowing it would never launch under my own name—I love a bit of mystery behind things, like Oz behind the red curtain. So I had a weird crazy list going in one of my many notebooks.
One night, about ten years ago, a girlfriend and I were sitting around, finding ways to entertain ourselves while our boyfriends at the time, who were in a band together, were on tour. We spent hours mixing our names around into anagrams. Mine came out perfectly to create the phrase “Made Her Think”. I fell so in love with it that I wrote it down in my little book, and when I went to launch my jewelry line, it was like a match made in heaven.
Wow, you kept the name for ten years? Come to think of it, your pieces also have an old, sort of “found” charm about them, like they were from another time.
For whatever reason, I can’t really explain, I feel so swept up with other times and history and stories. Maybe it’s because they were simpler and slower times, when people weren’t in such a rush and actually took the time to put love into things. There were hours spent talking in cafes or on the street, debating theories or painting techniques. Groups of artists, gathering and being inspired by one another. People wrote with pen and ink on paper—that within itself is romantic. You can’t smell an e-mail or an e-Book the way you can smell ink on paper.
Can you walk us through what happens when creating a collection—the ups and downs?
I think design-wise, I sometimes live in my own little MHT bubble. I look to the line to inspire its next stage of evolution. It’s created such a strong persona for itself that I always want to be sure I respect that with every new collection.
For me, the most difficult part is putting the fantasy of an idea onto a one-dimensional surface, like a sketch. Sometimes, the ideas are circling around so fast, I have to really work hard to wrangle them in and focus them into single ideas. There is never just one concept—I love too much and have too much to say. I have no jewelry experience, so I only have pen, paper, and my words to convey to the person who then translates it into a three-dimensional piece. I usually begin with a vision of something that has to get made, something I need to release into the universe. That usually spawns into a group of some kind—rings, earrings, cuffs, etc.—that evolves from the original concept.
Then, the renderings come through. This is usually the most exciting day for me, like Christmas morning when you wake up at 6am to see how many presents are under the tree. Actually, I’m getting my final round of models for the new collection today, and I’m jumping out of my seat because I saved all the best for last! Once the models are perfect and ready to go, I start deciding on the different materials, like metal, finishing, and stones. Hopefully, it all comes out the way I envisioned it. That’s when they really start to come to life.
So what’s the telltale sign of an MHT piece?
My stamp on things usually comes through the dichotomy, the irony—that the two opposing parts exist. People have said that my pieces look like they can hurt someone, but are so sexy. Or that they appear really tough, but so elegant at the same time. I love messing with opposites, challenging things, and provoking thought and question.
I see the kind of person buying MHT as myself, being in the middle, with other more extreme types of people on either side. I want to push things, but not too much in one direction. I like the happy medium of combining all things, like both the sex appeal and punk of the 70s, the pop edge and clean look of the 80s, the minimal and grunge of the 90s.
What are the best designs you’ve seen lately, not your own? Any favorites currently taking up your closet space?
There is a bracelet right now that I am obsessed with by Miansai, called the Screw Off Cuff. It was designed after some kind of nautical mechanism, I believe. It’s the kind of design that makes you feel bummed you didn’t come up with yourself! There are a ton of antique and vintage pieces, mixed with a slew of designers, like Alex Wang, Kim Ovitz, Isabel Marant, Tim Hamilton, and menswear designers. Probably way too much denim and white cotton Victorian pieces. Lots of boots and of course, tons of heels that I don’t wear.
The top row of my closet is all black, while the bottom row is a mix of everything else. I wear a lot of black, leather, and denim. My drawers are filled with a plethora of antique and vintage jewelry and lots of sunglasses—I love a good vintage tortoise shell. The fall hats, usually a pile of vintage fedoras, come out in September.
I know you’re also a “diehard romantic”… can you share with us the story of how you met your husband?
Our story is kind of ridiculous actually, it’s a true fairytale. Our common friends had set up to all meet, as one of my friends claimed that he had to meet me because I was his future wife. When he arrived, he looked around the bar and was like, “Which one of you is my future wife?”
I was mortified, but apparently not for long because we hit it off immediately and talked each others ears off until 4am. We had our first date a week later and immediately fell in love. Our courtship lasted eight months before he proposed to me on an airplane midway between New York and Los Angeles, where he is from. He had the flight attendant make an announcement! It was perfect. He worked with one of my jewelers and designed my engagement ring.
It’s great that you can mix both family and work life. How do you manage to fit everything into a day?
I usually wake up to smell of my husband cooking us breakfast and the sound of my daughter’s feet marching her way into my bed, along with her umpteen stuffed animals and pillows. She sets up camp and we all have breakfast in bed while watching cartoons.
After we drop her off at school, my husband and I take the train together. Sometimes, we pretend we’re strangers on the train and don’t know each other, just for kicks. Working with my husband on Dess Homme is great. Rocky at first, as we are both very competitive, but once we found the vein of the line, it was smooth sailing. He knows quality and knows how to edit, and that really helps with a men’s line.
I pick up my provisions along the way—water, coconut water, green bars, whatever fruit is in season and looks good. Then, depending on the time of year, I either go right into sales appointments, editor appointments, design meetings, collaboration meetings, emailing, or lunches. There is very little time I spend just sitting and designing. Most of that happens in my head, especially as I’m closing my eyes to go to sleep, and gets spewed out at various times over the course of a few months.
I wrap it all up around 5:30pm and run home to my daughter. Sounds like an early day but really, my day is just getting started, there is a whole other half that will take place.
Speaking of which, with another baby on the way, how has being a mom affected your designs?
Grayson is three and a half years old and really loves jewelry, dressing up, clothing, makeup… all of it. It’s taken me two years to explain to her that wearing my five-inch heels is dangerous, even for me! Being a mom only makes you better at everything you do. You want to do everything better. It’s never good enough because it always has to be good enough for your family, and in a way, that’s just impossible.
WORDS BY KATRINA TAN.