SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT
How Jewelry Designer CHRIS HABANA Goes Against the Grain
By Eden Herbstman
Stepping into the apartment/studio of New York City-based jewelry designer Chris Habana is a modern-day fall down the rabbit hole. Something about the portrait of a pregnant Mother Teresa that hangs in the intimate spaces of his bedroom makes sense in this designer’s world. Habana’s one-of-kind statement pieces gained popularity for their bold, gothic aesthetic, showcasing heavy metals, clean lines, crosses, and cage pieces. By incorporating his fascination with the twisted within each collection, he stamps his individuality and craft into the work. Known for his use of youthful and playful elements, such as bright-colored bones and monster-sized eyeballs, Habana launched the diffusion line My Enemy, which collaborated with Urban Outfitters. Over the years he’s expanded his vision by introducing a more romantic, Victorian-inspired direction into his collection, which consists of ornate enameling, pearls, and stones, in collaboration with Swarvoski elements. But within each collection lies traces and moments of the designer’s life, the fuel that feeds his inspiration and design process.
Eden Herbstman: Your personality is embedded within your studio, apartment, and also the East Village as a whole. How does this impact your design process and work enviornment?
Chris Habana: For me everything feeds into each other. Consequently, when people look at the jewelry, they feel the same as they would being in my apartment and seeing my personality everywhere. The jewelry is always affected by my life. I’m not necessarily the type of designer that gets inspired by going to an art show or traveling; those things are all great, but I’m inspired by my life. I based one of my collections off of a break-up I had, and my experiences from that break-up were translated into the jewelry. Another collection I based entirely off of the sexual freedom I felt after being with this other dude.
EH: Do you ever feel vulnerable having your life directly displayed within your jewelry?
CH: It’s the only way I know how to operate. In my work there has to be a sense of honesty. It has to feel real. If I’m going through it, I show it.
EH: Before you began strictly focusing on jewelry design, you were a clothing designer. Why the switch?
CH: It’s becoming more and more apparent, unfortunately, that clothing design isn’t so much about crafting something artistic as it is about making something that looks good and is flattering on the body. When I was doing clothing, I was doing a lot of prints. The customers would complain, “Oh my god, it makes my hips look big,” because the print was on the hip, and I would be like, I don’t fucking care. I just wanted to draw and put it on a body, and whatever happened, happened. With jewelry the scale is so much smaller, so you can kind of go crazy with the content within that space. I feel like I get the same message across with a piece of jewelry as I would with clothing.
EH: Where does your gothic aesthetic originate from?
CH: It’s funny, because I wasn’t an industrial goth dude in high school, or even when I was younger. I’ve always been drawn to the twisted. Part of the goth style emerged because I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school hardcore, and what stuck with me from that experience was the imagery of it. When I look at a cross now, I see it as a really beautiful symbol that can be flipped around, put on its side, and changed in a bunch of ways.
EH: Crosses and other gothic imagery are signatures in each of your collections. How do you reinterpret and recreate these themes?
CH: Everything moves along organically for me. Instead of thinking of a cross as an example, I think about what it means as a religion, cult system, or belief. I would like to think that even if the goth trend completely went away, I would still be doing my crosses. I believe that once you have an aesthetic, you stick to it.
EH: What are some future plans you can share with us for your brand?
CH: I plan on continuing with the themes from my previous collection. Two ideas I enjoy are the romantic, jeweled Swarovski elements paired with a sense of decay, and the floral rose imagery against spikey shapes. I want to challenge myself every season. I feel like the idea of settling and being fine with this middle-of-the-road aesthetic is becoming too prevalent for me to be comfortable with it. Instead of me wanting to go with it–which is the easy route that people take and can make a shitload of money off–I tend to rally against it. I like putting sense of drama into the work, along with a sense of craft. I want to show that off. With every season I feel I need to challenge myself, and that is what sets us apart from other jewelers. Other designers’ settling is a part of our current economic climate, and the reality is you have to keep your business afloat. One solution can be to design things a bit more middle-of-the-road, while another can be to come up with something unique that stands out. I tend to follow the latter.
Chris Habana is a New York City-based jewelry designer. His pieces are sold internationally at Joyce in Hong Kong, and at New York City boutiques including Owen, OAK, ODD, and his My Enemy line can be found at Urban Outfitters.
Written by Eden Herbstman
Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar
Photography by Hadar Pitchon
Design by Jillian Mercado
Chris Habana, at Studio, NYC, 2013, Photography by Hadar Pitchon