Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Interview Series #6: Meghan Farrell

Meghan Farrell has pursued many projects in her nearly 27 years --- from studying theater and psychology at Sarah Lawrence College (where we met); to creating her own jewelry line; to contributing to music blogs and DJ-ing; to acting in films and plays; to working as a buyer and store manager in Soho; to helping challenged teens and kids. 

Meghan has interned at Teen Vogue and Miramax, and worked for companies lik
e Touchstone/Bad Robot, Miu Miu, and American Apparel. Most recently, she was an assistant buyer at 
Opening Ceremony --- "a multifaceted environment comprised of retail spaces, showroom, and gallery that establishes a new international creative forum in downtown Manhattan... and brings together emerging American talent with both young and established designers and artists from abroad." 

created and launched her jewelry line,
MF, which has been featured in such publications as Harpers Bazaar, Lurve, Stylecaster, Elle.com, and Vogue.com. She's already been interviewed in Lucky  for the line, and profiled in Paper Mag for her role at Opening Ceremony. The jewelry is sold exclusively in New York at Opening Ceremony,  at Tenoversix in LA, and now also in Denmark. She maintains a blog called Evidence of Existence, which not only showcases the jewelry, but also her photography, music mixes, and bits of this and that  --- the blog is nearing 2000 hits a month! Below, Meghan provides some very in-depth answers to my questions.

Quick Look
August 7, 1984
Living in: Manhattan, New York
Originally from: Brookville, New York

How and when do you first get into jewelry design, and has this always been a passion?

Growing up, I would have never imagined I would be working on a project like this at all. Even in college, I don't think I could have ever pictured myself carving or sawing --- the idea would have probably seemed way too crazy, and I am always one to think that I'm not good at anything. Sometimes I feel like I can barely sketch! Despite this, I definitely was always crafty and artistic, and most certainly loved any accessories. Growing up, I loved to perform and make videos --- so I inevitably found the theatre, which was my focus at Sarah Lawrence College. Drama is still definitely a love of mine.

But Sarah Lawrence was the beginning in the discovery of the fashion and art worlds. I had come from a private Quaker school on Long Island, where everyone dressed the same and there were a lot of trends...so you can imagine the shock in being exposed to a student body where everyone had an individual and unique sense of style. The friends I met there took me shopping in the city often, and I discovered new small boutiques and brands, along with vintage stores.

I was always drawn to jewelry; I loved how it could change the look of a garment, and how some pieces could be worn multiple ways. On a whim my sophomore summer, I applied to the accessories department at Teen Vogue, which opened the door to this whole new world, it seemed. I learned so much during that period, as I was always seeing new brands and pieces of jewelry before they were in stores, and the people there in the accessories department were just so crafty! That was also inspiring to me. If a stylist had a vision for a certain accessory, it was up to the team to make it. The editors I worked for were really good at that, and so working in that environment really got me thinking. I stayed at Teen Vogue through my junior year, and then until I graduated.

During this period, I had been getting compliments on my jewelry a lot...my collection of accessories ridiculously grew, and people kept telling me: "Take a class!" "Learn!" "Start a line!" The idea seemed daunting and intimidating. I was also working for a television director at the time and was on the set of Rescue Me sometimes 12 hours a day in between my internship, and so it just seemed improbable.

So I worked various places, found myself at Opening Ceremony as their assistant store manager, and used my free time wisely. I started taking a Jewelry Design 101 class during my nights, made friends with my teacher, and just kept taking the same course and used the studio there. I did that for about two years. My teacher was wonderful, and really helped me bring my visions to life, and helped connect me to people in the jewelry district.  The rest is sort of history. Most of my line I actually developed in my class there. Now I have a workbench at home!

How does your jewelry line, MF, represent you as a person?

All of the pieces, without a doubt, are a reflection of my upbringing. When you look at the line, you'll see that it's primarily heavy and has a very clinical feel. You'll also undoubtedly note medical references. That said, I think that the biggest influence on the line was the fact that so many of my family members are in the medical field. My dad is a surgeon, my mom is a registered nurse, and there are so many of my aunts and cousins who are nurses or dentists or something! Growing up, I spent a lot of time in that environment --- there were a lot of wall diagrams and reports, stainless steel and crazy magazines. I remember being drawn to the equipment --- you know, the X-ray machines and such! 

Having studied psych in college, and having always loved the brain, my first collection was about psychology and neurology. As a whole my jewelry is a collection of literal representations of things, and then also symbolic representations of things. So, the neurology was seen in literal representations of the brain, and psychology, since it is more theoretical based, manifested itself into symbolic representations of these theories and ideas.

The other thing is that I really don't always know what I am going to make. Also, I always have a certain vision in mind, but my model never ends up looking how I intended. I guess that the same holds true for most people who create anything. I feel like my jewelry is sort of like my handwriting.

What sort of art, fashion, architecture, photography, or even literature, inspires your design aesthetic?

: Rothko, Modernist stuff, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois

: Believe it or not, a lot of very very old vintage jewelry form the late 19th century:  filigree pieces from Italy and Edwardian rings are in mind when I create my pieces. I think it's ironic because most of the jewelry from that period is extremely delicate, and the pieces I usually create are very heavy. Looking at Edwardian and Victorian jewelry makes it feel so personal, as though it has a story. I find that really cool.

Architecture: Art Deco buildings and the Chrysler Building come to mind. And nearly ever bridge I see. I don't know much about architecture.

Literature: Gray's Anatomy, Tom Stoppard plays, 1984, The Metamorphosis

: Star Wars

Other things: Chaos Theory, Fractals, Math

What's currently in the works for MF and how would you like to see this brand grow, change and evolve? Are you currently working on a new collection?

Though it is my business, I treat everything surrounding the company very delicately and never rush through anything. There is nothing that annoys me more than being forced to produce or create a piece under constraints or limits in time or ideas. For me, the most exciting part of creating a piece is WHEN I feel so excited to make it. It feels like an itch, and after that point, I will spend a lot of my time on it, for days and days!

Then sometimes, I just sit down without an idea in mind, and cut a piece of wax and carve and carve. This is perhaps more rare --- but I have created some of my favorite pieces just sitting down and not knowing what is going to come out of what I am doing.

Sometimes pieces come slower than others...and sometimes I hit a dry spot. No matter what, I never finalize it until it feels right.

This summer I spent a lot of time working with the pieces I have. The collection has always been very ring heavy, and so this summer I really started to look at the pieces I created and think about how to work them into different types of jewelry. For instance, I made my cross ring into a necklace, and it is currently being worked into a bracelet.

I am also learning Rhino, which is a 3-D Rendering program for your computer. I can't wait, as a lot of the new ideas I have require this program, as it is all based on measurements and being as exact and accurate as possible. I also think I want to start delving into new sciences, theories, and medical areas. Lately I've been reading a lot about astronomy, cardiology, and marine biology...and I've also been thinking a lot about religion and astrology.

You've mentioned sketching and taking photos as prep work for your designs. Can you talk about how you go about doing this, and how it leads to designing the actual jewelry? 

I am terrible at sketching! But I do always keep a notebook with me. When I do have an idea I do tend to sketch it out. When I had the idea to make the brain ring, I was so intimidated by the whole idea of carving the creases and such. So I found a few images of a real human brain that felt appropriate, got some tracing paper, and just started tracing all the images to see which folds felt right. When I think back on that it sounds kind of gross.

Then, if I'm out in the city, if I see anything that I find really interesting or inspiring, I always take a picture of it. There is this star that someone carved into wet pavement on Howard Street that I noticed every day when I walked to work. So I took a picture of it. When I did this little sub-collection of pieces inspired by the city, I used that image to create my star ring.

Let's talk about acting, since you've spent many years studying theater. What have been some of your most memorable projects, on stage or on film? And do acting and design ever cross paths for you?

I did this film in Williamsburg with this interesting Swedish film production company called Governess Films...it was shot on all Super 8 and Björn Dixgård from Mando Diao did the soundtrack. I sort of just stepped into that project very randomly! It had a very low budget but a great crew, and a crazy fun cast.

The other most memorable project was probably The Good Person in Szechwan by Brecht when I was a freshman in high school. I played Shen-Te/Shui-Ta, and so it was like playing two roles at once, and the dialogue was heavy and tough. I don't know how I managed to get through that, but it was a very intense learning experience, very physically and mentally demanding --- and performing the show was draining but also sort of like getting on a ride. So in the end it was a really huge learning curve for me in acting, as I learned how to develop a character and sustain energy throughout a show. It's always cool when you're in a class or performance and feel like you lose yourself in the role. That feeling is what I really like, and just the overall energy of performing --- particularly in the theatre world. Design and acting never really cross paths for me, though --- I consider them to be two entirely separate interests and areas.

What have been some of your biggest challenges as both an actress and a designer? And how have you overcome, or currently handle, such challenges?

I think that the biggest challenge is that I do still consider myself a novice at jewelry design! As I mentioned before, the whole process at first seemed really daunting to me, and so stepping into it, I really had to learn techniques and the process from square one. It's the same with anything you learn...you do it over and over until you do it well, but then you realize that the piece would be perfect "only if" it had this feature, or connected to the chain like such, or was a little more angled --- it could be any feature! And that tiny thing that seems too easy to learn opens this whole new can of worms --- an entirely new class, technique, or area of jewelry design you still have to learn!

At this point in time, since I am not in school, I rely heavily on the people in the jewelry district. I have learned at this point how to navigate that world, who to trust, and who I work with best. It's like a fine recipe or something, and someone either gets your visions and really wants to help you, or just doesn't get it at all! No matter what, when it comes to art and design coupled with something so heavily driven by equipment and technique, there is always something new to learn. So it's super frustrating, but it's all a process! Like building a vocabulary. You need to learn or at least have knowledge of the techniques in order to make your visions come to life.

In regards to acting, I always find comedy super super hard! I take things very seriously in life, so most of the roles I have played or gravitate towards have been drama heavy, or dark and mysterious. Which is funny because my whole life I have been that silly, funny kid or teen that ends up wearing a bucket or lampshade on my head. So I'm currently finding roles to explore to develop this side of me.

Your blog often showcases your photography, which offers a glimpse into your family and personal life, as well as your interests in fashion. Can you talk about your desire to share your experiences through photography, and why this has been important to you?

My blog and photography are so very important to me, as I really do enjoy putting all of my posts together. Some people look at my blog and really like it, and some don't understand it at all. Some people just follow the mixes, and some the photos, and some fashion or jewelry posts. People have started to write me about it, about how much they like it or follow it, which is a new thing for me, and I find it really interesting.

I guess the majority of blogs out there are really more focused on appropriation of images or writing about something like celebrities, fashion, or music. With my blog, anything goes in terms of subject. The posts are photo heavy, and the throughline is telling a story through evidence --- bits of paper, letters, old photos, favorite passages from books, and scans of lost objects from my life. And then current photos, mixes I make, and things that inspire me. I also like to showcase my friends who are involved in the arts as much as possible.

In the end, it's all about the personal stuff. So I call it Evidence of Existence, because ionce we are gone, all we have are these physical objects, scraps of papers and notes left behind as proof we were here. I kind of feel like it is a museum, as most of what I put together or choose to post is curated in some way.

And it's all because of this, I guess: In an age that is dominated by computers and the media, I find that a lot is getting lost or being phased out, particularly physical objects (like CDs, books, etc.) and also a sense of a direct personal connection. So now that I've had my blog for two years, I guess it's like me saying: don't forget about these things in life!

In terms of my photos and how most are family driven, I am most inspired by my grandmother and father, but also my nieces and nephews. My nieces and nephews are the coolest little people and it has been the most insane thing to watch four of them grow up and discover the world.

In terms of the process, I'll be with my family or in a moment and just have this feeling that I have to capture it in some way. It can be something happy or sad or uncomfortable, but I'll be looking at something from some angle, and it's just a sharp feeling. It's sort of like another sense. So I'll take like 30 pictures of that one moment from that angle. In the end, there's usually one image that just sums it up. I think it's important to document things always in our family, and especially kids. Children really grow and change so incredbly quickly, so I don't want to forget the small details along the way.

As if all of this weren't enough, you're also DJ-ing in the East Village every Monday night. What kind of music do you play, and what role does this particular music --- and this gig --- play in your life?

My parents have always been into music of all forms. At dinner, when I was very young until I was in high school, my parents always played music while we ate our dinner in the dining room. On heavy rotation were a ton of classical composers, The Beatles, Carol King, Frank Sinatra, Gershwin musicals, Elton John, among others. My mom was also a huge music fan in the '60s --- she has this whole scrapbook of Beatles memorabilia and pictures as a 12-year-old sitting with The Searchers and stuff. All of my sisters and I studied classical piano from an early age, and were taken to a ton of musicals and ballets, then I studied musical theatre in high school, so it was always around, and I've always loved it.

I DJ for fun, and only because I like it. Sundays are my days to just listen to music all day, and I really love re-discovering music for myself and others, and also just discovering music (old or new) in general. In terms of what I play, it's really '50s and '60s heavy, doo-wop through your '60s girl groups and garage stuff. But then I mix it with new music as well --- my favorite mixer is Beck. But anything goes, and it heavily depends on the crowd and energy that night, which is always hit or miss. The bar I DJ at is very homey and feels like the TV room where I grew up!

You also spend some of your free time volunteering --- can you talk about what you do, and how you got started?

When I was in high school were all required to do some sort of independent service project of our choice in order to gradate. AHRC of Long Island had a school right down the road from me (AHRC for those who don't know is an organization and school for children who are mentally challenged, their diseases or disorders ranging in severity), so I decided to volunteer there. I really work well with children, and I volunteered there for about 2 months. It was overall a really big experience for me. You have to have a lot of patience and be really strong. I learned a lot about strength of the body and overall being.

Now that I am focusing on jobs that are independently driven, I decided to get back into volunteering. There's this organization called New York Cares, which is member driven and gives the people of New York the chance to lead and begin service projects and recruit volunteers all through an online database. All it takes is to sign up and attend a one-hour orientation.

I recently started volunteering in Chelsea at VISIONS, which I found through NY Cares. VISIONS is an organization that leads programs for the visually impaired. So on Wednesdays, I go and teach visually impaired teens how to cook.

The other day one of the kids wanted to play the piano during a mini break, so I led him to it. I kind of wasn't prepared for what I heard --- the boy could really, really play. It was mainly jazz and gospel, and he explained how he was learning classical from a friend. I asked what classical composers he liked and he sung the graduation march. So he asked if he could play another song, and he started to play a cool version of the bottom part of "Heart and Soul." And so I started to play the top part and he just started getting excited and was like "Is that you?" It made him so happy. That little moment clearly had nothing to do with cooking, but that's a perfect example of why I volunteer. The other volunteers are also really kind people of all ages, and I've already started to make new friends.

(all photos provided by Meghan Farrell, all jewelry by MF)

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