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Creative Process: Rebekah Price
Max Mosher interviews the designer who's brought costume jewelry centre stage

Photo credit: Anat Moshkovich

I knew jewelry designer Rebekah Price hailed from California and had children, so when I arrived at her home studio I expected some kind of lux bohemian Earth Mother–long flowing hair, long flowing skirts, and bare feet bedecked with toe rings. When Price descended the stairs to greet me, the first thing I noticed was her shoes, shiny gold high heels. She wore dark jeans and a white top, but if her apparel was simple, her accessories were anything but.

Around her neck were multiple strands of the candy-coloured crystals Price is known for, including one with a prominent gold-plated “RP.” When she shook my hand and kissed me on the cheek, her rings pinched the skin on my finger. Price, who you would never guess had three children, could model for her own company. She’s a knock out, I thought. What I said out loud was something much more homosexual, like “A vision enters!”

The window beside her worktable looks out on the Cedarvale Ravine, and Price gushed about how lucky she is to live here. Displayed on the table were her pieces, an intriguing mix of modern and retro-inspired necklaces and bracelets, many made with antique semi-precious stones. As we sat down, I asked where she lived before, which prompted a five-minute summary of her life that saved me a litany of questions.

Price was born in Los Angeles, but left home at 16. She went to Israel for a year, then to university in New York. Although interested in all aspects of the fashion industry, her creative impulses took a backseat when she got married and had children, which is when she moved to Canada. While now she loves Toronto, her first impression of the city was rather chilly. “The coldness went through my bones. I could not get warm.”

Even as a child, Price loved fashion.

“I was the type of kid who, when all the little girls were wearing frilly, floral dresses, I wanted to wear black,” she said. “My mom was a little concerned.” No follower of the herd, she took ‘ugly’ clothes from the sales rack and created her own style. For a class assignment in grade three, she was asked to bring something from home that represented her dreams and aspirations. Price brought a copy of Vogue, cutting Christy Turlington’s face out and replacing it with her own.

“To this day my mom still has it.”

In New York, Price worked for Elie Tahari and in Toronto as an image consultant and visual merchandiser for The Bay.

“To work in that world and have a holiday window, there’s nothing like it,” she said.

As a merchandiser, she was always drawn to the accessories department, feeling that an outfit wasn’t complete without the perfect piece of jewelry, or five. “I’ve never been a minimalist!” As a child, she had rifled through her grandmother’s jewelry box, marveling at the colours and the sparkle. (Didn’t we all?) At nine months pregnant, Price spotted a single-strand necklace of light blue Swarovski crystals. She thought it was the most beautiful thing she ever saw and wanted to recreate it. It became her core piece.

“I used to sit at this table, my old dining room table, and mess around with my tools.” She shows me her original implements. “I’m very sentimental about them. I got blood blisters because I didn’t know what I was doing. I did not study it. But design-wise, all these great ideas came to mind.” Price created a small collection of necklaces, bracelets, and studs.

“I went to a store, I think in Oakville or Burlington, and I had five colours and the clerk said, ‘What are these colours called?’ I didn’t know the Swarovski colour chart at the time. I was like, ‘This is Popsicle, and this is Fudge.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘You don’t know what the hell you’re doing, do you?’”

Her first big break was when Holt Renfrew picked up her collection.

“Getting in Holt’s was huge. That was the first thing I wanted. It took me a year to get in. It’s about persistence and determination. Every time a door was closed on me, I put on my necklace, looked in the mirror, and thought Damn, that is a good piece! I’m going to get back out there.”

What she may have lacked in technical expertise, Price more than made up for with fashion industry salesmanship, having worked her way up as a shy receptionist at Tahari. According to her, people skills are “actually everything.”

When a bold belt-buckle turned necklace of hers made it into UK Vogue, Price was able to check the box of another dream.

“How did you feel when you saw that?” I asked.

“I cried.”

Now that she’s tasted success, Price’s dreams have only gotten bigger. Already with a presence in Australia, Sweden, and the States, she want to continue to grow internationally. She is also introducing a new line for teenage girls called RP by Rebekah Price.

“I really feel like everyone can have a piece of it,” she said. “This is the type of jewelry that you can wear like I’m wearing it now with jeans…there’s no limits to it. Often when I’m at a trunk show and I meet a client they say, ‘What can I wear this with?’ It’s a no brainer. You wear it with anything.”

Price explained that when she started in the fashion business, people weren’t ready for the statement pieces that interested her. Fashion was still in a less-is-more mentality in which accessories were discreet. But it’s changing now.

“I truly believe that you have a couple minutes to make a statement wherever you go. If you want to be seen or heard or understood, you’ve got three minutes. There’s a lot of statement pieces. That’s me. I don’t hold back. It’s about being glamorous all the time. Even when I’m wearing my schluppy sweat pants, there’s a chain on. This,” she said, picking up one of her necklaces, “is a piece of art. This is a statement. It’s equivalent to having a designer handbag. It could make my outfit and take it to the next level. Or take my energy and make me feel like a million bucks.”

“I was having a slow morning,” Price admitted. “This was not one of my better days. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. My workout wasn’t up to par. Life, you know? Getting dressed and putting on jewels is transformative. I’m in another space right now. To make something that has the capacity to take you to another place is so cool. If I can do that for myself, and I can do that for other women, that’s empowering.”

Now a single mom, Price mentioned a few times her desire to be a good role model for her children, and perhaps leave them a family business. Given the RP by Rebekah Price line, I had to ask if her daughter appreciated her mom’s profession.

“She does. Not originally. It took her time to get into it.” Now she has a pair of earrings she picked out from Price’s Betty Collection, a tribute to her grandmother. “She sleeps in them. I tell her not to.”

Most of what Price makes is considered costume jewelry, pieces designed to compliment ensembles rather than to display the priceless stones of fine jewelry. (The term ‘costume’ used to mean ‘outfit’ rather than what an actor wears.) While Price’s pieces definitely make an outfit, they go beyond the definition of costume jewels to become one of a kind pieces. What they lack in fine diamonds they more than make up for with her fun, playful optimism, and love of fashion. Now that I’ve met her, I see Price’s personality in all her pieces. There’s nothing “semi-precious” about it. 

____

Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_

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