|THERE'S MORE TO BLING THAN ICE.|
It's Tuesday afternoon, and while jewlery designer Jules Kim has a bunch of pieces she needs to start -- and finish -- she's busy manning the phones, trying to get people to pay their bills.
Such is the life of an underground jewlery designer, but Bijules, as
Kim's line is known, is rapidly developing a cult following and can be found in 10 stores, six in good ol' Gotham. In the last year, she's done pieces for some of hip hop's most underground acts, like M.F. Doom, and a bunch of mainstream ones, too. Gwen Stefani and Janeane Garafalo are fans, although P. Diddy might not be.
And that's just fine by Kim. In her mind, hip hop's bling is in the middle of a style crisis, with rappers sporting six-figures worth of jewlery that has all the style of a
fourth-grade art project involving glitter. On the eve of her latest line of jewlery -- which will be unveiled on Saturday, June 12 at the Aurora Gallery on 515 W. 29th Street -- The Black Table sat down with to talk with Jules Kim about her work.
BT: You made jewlery for Gwen Stefani, a well-known fashionista in her own right. What did you make for her? How much did it cost?
JK: I made her a "Gwen" nameplate. I didn't charge her. It would have cost somethin'-somethin', but when you have an opportunity to communicate with someone of that status, you're like, "Fuck it! I'll do that shit for free!" She was slated to be wearing it in Lucky with her
on the cover but that didn't happen. It was a disappointment but it'll turn in my favor. It's got to. I'd like to believe that karma works, ya know?
BT: Totally. We're giving this interview away for free.
JK: A hard work ethic has got to somehow pay off or else none of us would be doing this.
BT: True. Then again, kids making soccer balls have a solid work ethic and well, um, so what got you into making jewelry, you know? I mean, did you grow up surrounded by bling?
JK: Fuck no. I grew up with my twin sister and my single mom. Our gourmet meals were "yummy noodles," which is tuna, cream of mushroom and pasta. The fact that we were raised by an artist made life for me an independent venture with a lifelong best friend. My mom worked hard to make her single life a worthy one and told my sister and I that we should reach for the stars. So I know that shit will work out even when it fucking stinks, even when you have no money. I remember I tried buying a Slurpee with food stamps and I didn't think anything was wrong with that -- um, hello? It's food! -- but it wasn't a big deal. Those were the cards we were dealt. There ain't nothin wrong with it.
BT: So, how does a hard working broke kid get into the jewelry biz? Especially the iced-out hip-hop jewelry biz...
JK: By catching the door before it shuts. The whole getting your foot in the door thing is true, but it's not like I waited for it to open. I knocked hard and forced myself in. There is nothing to be afraid of because if I didn't put myself out there I would never succeed. Failure only happens when you don't try.
BT: What door opened for you? Where'd you get in?
JK: I'd have to say when I was spinnin' records at Ludlow Bar. A chick spinnin' wasn't that big a deal, but I guess it was here. Anyway, a friend of a friend fell for my bar ring -- and she was like "Oh my God! I'ma tell my friend who so-and-so at Lucky mag." I was all okay and she did. I got a phone call while I was working at this stupid fucking restaurant and it was Lucky's creative director. They wanted to shoot a piece for her, specifically. I knew the style of pieces I was doin' wouldn't cut it -- I'm no graf artist and I never claimed to be, but I'm a supporter and it's been part of my life for so long -- so, I made this piece. I remember showing everyone before I
gave it to the mag and I was just so proud. Something had to come of this and so did my first store, Atrium. They were really supportive
BT: So, let's back up a bit. You've done stuff for Gwen. Explain a bit about who you've worked with? And what you made.
JK: Okay. I made a piece for Beans from Anti-Pop Consortium. He's a cool muthafucka. I was wearing a collaboration piece after a trade show at one of those balls out parties when people are pissing on fake trees and smoking weed in the free beer line. So, Lime, a graf artist from here, and I worked together on this piece called "Julz." I was sporting that and my friend Danny from Apollo Heights dragged me by Beans and he was like "Shit! I want one!" I was, like, "Well, fuck yeah ya do -- Gimme your diggies." He did. Now, he wears his piece all the time and I thank my stars for his support. People call from L.A. and say they saw Beans wearing the piece and I just send him thanks wherever the man is. Actually, he's in Barcelona right now I believe. That's what makes it worth it. Lord knows it's not the money. It's all about the fact someone chose to express themselves with something my hands made, whether it be an iced-out 45 medallion or a pair of coke straw cufflinks, which work thank you very much.
BT: You mention money ... How much are these things? Say we wanted to get two knuckle rings, one that said "Black" and the other that said "Table," like Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing. What would that run us?
JK: It's $170 for the ring and $40 for each letter, so "Black" would run you at $370 and it would be $740 for them both.
BT: And you make these by hand?
JK: Yup. By my hands. All my nails are sawed down at this fucked up angle. There ain't no point in me getting any manicures. I have a studio downstairs in my house and also a finishing studio in Williamsburg.
BT: Aside from the coke straw cufflinks, what's the illest piece you've ever had to make?
JK: No question, it's the doom belt buckle I'm working on right now. A friend in L.A. runs Female Fun Records and he commissioned me to make it. Again, Lime did the design because he's an avid fan of Doom. Basically, if you've seen Doom, he wears this silver mask while performing that covers almost all of his face. The buckle says "DOOM" and the eyes are part of his mask.
BT: Doom's pretty underground -- as are many of your clients, actually. How does underground bling differ from the mainstream Jacob the Jeweler crap?
JK: Well, you said it right there: It's crap. It's like the bling is an easy sell. It's just so over the top and too much. You know the saying, "too much of a good thing..." That totally comes to mind. It's a class thing. You can go to Chinatown and buy a plastic medallion of a shitty cross, throw in a hanging Jesus, encrust that shit with plastic "diamonds" and bam -- you a gangsta! It's just lame. There's no thought involved. It's not even pretty or classy.
I met P. Diddy at a Nike party, once. I was serving him mini cheeseburgers -- or maybe it was cow-shaped finger sandwiches, I don't remember -- but dude was surrounded by his baby thugs. I was towering over them and I was wearing sneakers! So, I was wearing one of my pieces and I threw it in their faces, in a positive way, like "Look, I got one too" because they were all iced out. And the li'l man entourage sucked up all their manliness and replied "Well shiiit ... Did Jacob make yours? I didn't thank so! Sheeeyat niggah!" Then they high fived. I came away convinced I won't make stupid ass jewelry.
BT: Boy, I bet you think Li'l Jon is a walking disaster. Would you ever make a pimp cup? Or teeth?
JK: Fuck yeah, but it would be cool. You could drink from it. And the design wouldn't be emblazoned with that common look. The cup would be shaped differently. The diamonds would be strategically placed. And maybe I'd rock a fade from the bottom of the letters up, instead of how it is now, like in kindergarten when you cover the shit in glue and pour glitter all over it. I'm thinking a more gradual bling. Shit, you're getting me started here
BT: That's an interesting point, the way you look at something like a pimp cup, or a cross, they're all the same. Why is that? For a genre that prides itself on creativity and originality like hip hop ... Shit's kinda tired, no? Why?
JK: Because the demand is there and God forbid you stray from the accepted way of making money! That's what's happening. Commercialism has taken over. I'm not trying to take any industry by storm. I'm not trying to infiltrate any certain market. I'm just trying to serve as a designer who can help people identify themselves. That's what makes people different. Who the fuck wants to be the same as the next one?
BT: By and large, your work has a very minimalism component to it, which flies in the face of hip-hop's baroque excess. For example, you have a rather dainty knuckle ring for women that's just a simple quarter-inch bar that stretches across all four fingers. Given that you're bucking the trend -- where do you draw your inspiration?
JK: From the street. From the gutter. From the "do not do this" and the "do not do that" signs on the subway. From the ear lobes of 13-year-old girls smackin' on gum. From Dutch underpasses. From life experiences that I know other people live through. And from my imagination. I spent some time in Paris and there styles trickle down from haute couture. Here? Style comes from below. It comes from the gutter. And there's beauty down here!