It’s impossible not to love Nektar De Stagni. An accomplished jewelry designer and sought-after DJ with a laid-back, magnetic personality, she’s a self-made, self-taught success. The Miami native founded her first company—a fashion brand focused on ready-to-wear and accessories—and opened the Miami Design District’s first-ever fashion shop at the ripe old age of 21. Three years later, in 2008, she launched NDS (Nektar De Stagni), an eclectic brand of jewelry and accessories inspired by unexpected material and conceptual juxtapositions. Her vibrant, beautifully balanced designs have led to collaborations with the likes of KnollTextiles, Design Miami, and The Standard Hotels, among others. This past year, De Stagni opened a studio in New York, and now splits her time between NYC and Miami. De Stagni was kind enough to give us an exclusive look at the specific inspirations behind NDS: from favorite book covers, artwork and architecture to her own fave at-work soundtrack, designed to get the creative juices flowing. Plus, she sat down to discuss her personal and professional background, her creative goals, and the parallels that exist between her two great passions: music and design.
Anna Carnick: Where were you born? And where’d you grow up?
Nektar De Stagni: I was born in Miami, Florida, but raised in northern California wine country. I lived on a vineyard, which also had olive trees and giant sunflowers. My parents were part of hippie communities out there. I remember some strange handmade homes; one in particular had a purple pyramid meditation tower (no joke), which was part of these interconnected wooden domes with large, hexagonal windows, some of which had abstract, stained glass panels. Our main dining table was a solid slice of the trunk of a rich, red Sequoia, and each short, stubby chair was carved out of other solid parts. My dad was a faux finisher (retired now), and he had these large, shallow water baths in which he made the most amazing Malachite and other marble effects with oils and tints. Sometimes he’d call me over and asked me to blow gently into a swirling, floating puddle of color. I’d often get lost by myself in the forest, watching and learning from the nature around. It was a very magical time and place.
AC: That sounds incredible. Where did you study?
ND: I have been a student of design since I was a child. I have sketches of shoes, dresses, and vanities going back to age six! I started my formal training by taking private sewing and patternmaking lessons, but my primary training has come from the hands-on experience of running my own label since the age of 21, as well as owning and operating a retail store in Miami’s Design District.
AC: Do you remember the moment you first knew this was what you wanted to do?
ND: I don’t think there was ever a time when I considered something else; I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t designing in some way. I remember gluing pennies to the bottom of my Mary Janes to mimic the click clack of heels. I would experiment with my clothes, cutting and wearing dresses backwards. I grew up with a lot of books around; I’d spend long hours admiring and studying Erté, Aubrey Beardsley, and countless others. I remember trying to understand every curve, every detail, every gesture—what made it sooo good? And how could I do that too? It feels like I’ve been studying the nuances of style and of design for a long time.
AC: How did you get into jewelry design specifically?
ND: I started with ready-to-wear, making clothes, and with that came accessories and jewelry to complement the collections. Little by little, the jewelry started to take over. There was a great response, and when it was time to begin my namesake brand I decided the focus would be more object oriented: jewelry, accessories, and editions.
AC: Was there a particular piece or person or event that inspired you to pursue jewelry design?
ND: I grew up around a lot of arts and crafts and later shared studios with Miami artists like Hernan Bas and my partner, Martin Oppel. I think this gave me an appreciation for objects made to last, and also rooted in history. I think jewelry can have a kind of sculptural quality; the potential for a piece to become a heirloom or a “classic” is something that I look for when designing.
AC: What do you hope people get out of your designs?
ND: I believe design and art can do many things: They can say something important about who we are as a culture, and can instigate a debate about who we may want to become. They can inspire, but also empower. It is very rewarding to find that someone may use one of my designs to assist them in expressing who they truly are. I also feel rewarded to know that my collections can appeal to many different types of people, of all ages. And we collaborate with forward thinking stores like Opening Ceremony to legendary companies like Knoll Textiles. I think this range is important, in that we are able to communicate something timeless and universal through design.
AC: Are you trying to evoke specific feelings through your work?
ND: When I design I’m mostly thinking about contrasts, paradox (life). We can’t know love without heartbreak, and so forth. It’s a play on opposites, good & evil, etc.; it’s the oldest story in the book. Our primal instincts battling our conscious mind, sex and the intellect. I think this tension—this back and forth, these complementary contradictions—is also what often makes good design. It’s a classic pearl necklace strung with shark teeth, a jeweled statement piece subdued, covered, with silk gauze, it’s your torn old tee paired with white tuxedo pants.
AC: How did you get into music and become a DJ?
ND: I have always been a bit of a music junkie, so I’d always be pushing brand new underground bands or obscure, old, strange finds on my friends. We’d be hanging out, having dinner at whomever’s home, and I’d always become volunteer DJ. Inevitably, it would turn into some makeshift dance party. From there, I ended up hosting and DJing a Saturday party at The Standard Hotel, which led to more cool events, and so on.
AC: In your mind, are there any parallels between being a jewelry designer and being a DJ?
ND: Yes, there are a lot of parallels! When you’re playing music, you are influencing the way people feel, the ambiance, the mood. Music creates a space in time where you can capture a particular emotion in people. Objects can evoke this same type of magic. When someone puts on a necklace, or a silk gown, or sits on a specific chair, these can all be mood altering exercises that can be carefully shaped and crafted by the designer, the maker, or the DJ.
AC: You split your time between New York and Miami. How do you think New York specifically inspires you?
ND: I have so many great, creative friends that are an inspiration, but most of all, the buildings! It’s all about the buildings—all the amazing structures that tell a story about New York’s history through their materials. Walking through the lobbies with great black columns and green marble foors, long bronze escalators. I love these materials and modern forms. I’ve designed so many collections just walking through these great structures.
AC: What’s the difference between New York and Miami for you? How is it different than Miami?
ND: New York is a loud, busy city. It’s in your face all the time; it pushes you to wear armor in a way (black, leather, layers, headphones, and a bit attitude), and this can also push you inward. It’s a place that pro-vokes the intellect, thought, and analysis. Miami is also a complex place—especially with all its diversity, and short but eventful history—but in many ways it is New York’s opposite. Miami as a city is quite new and forming; it is ruled by its landscape, by leisure, and the weather allows light clothing (no armor), so it can be more expressive. Miami’s about the balance of work and play.
AC: Who are your heroes?
ND: Helena Rubinstein, Florence Henri, Carl Jung, Henry Mancini, Jesus, Siouxsie Sioux, Fellini, Herbert Bayer, Coco Chanel, Mark Twain, Erwin Blumfeld, Charles Lewis Tiffany, Rita Hayworth, Tesla . . . I can go on and on.
AC: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned thus far as an artist?
ND: The obstacles on the road often lead to a better outcome.
AC: And finally: Any advice for younger artists or designers starting out?
ND: Be highly curious. Watch. Listen. Learn. And never take no for an answer.