Annelise Michelson’s Conceptual Costume Jewelry

Annelise Michelson didn’t set out to become a jewelry designer. Born to a South African opera singer mother and a French businessman father, Michelson grew up in Paris and trained in fashion design at the Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture. After graduating, she spent six years working at the likes of Vanessa Bruno, Hermès, and Paul & Joe, though she claims she was never good at garment construction. Then, a friend asked her to design an accessory for a Carine Roitfeld fashion editorial. “That was the first time ever that I thought about accessories,” Michelson recalls. “I had drawn some bags and shoes, but jewelry is something completely different.”

Now, five years later, Michelson stocks her eponymous line at Le Bon Marché, Colette, Opening Ceremony, the Webster, and Five Story, and has just been picked up by Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Parisian department store Printemps. Next season, she’ll be on Net-a-Porter. She has plenty of famous fans, ranging from more experimental fashionistas like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and FKA Twigs, who favor her Carnivore collection of spikey ear cuffs, rings, bear-trap chokers, to women known for their classic style, such as Robin Wright.

Michelson works primarily with bronze, and everything she designs is created in France with the fine jewelry artisans of Place Vendôme. “They have a very old way of thinking and always want to prioritize the aesthetic and feeling of the piece,” she explains. “I’m coming from couture. I felt like if I’m doing something different, it has to be close to that feeling of something special, unique, and exceptional. Working with these people is like making couture.” Getting the long-established artisans to trust in Michelson’s vision was not quite so simple. “It was so difficult to reach them,” she explains. “They looked down on me because I was not from this industry, and on top of that, I was doing costume jewelry, which is mass market to them.”

Michelson’s designs, however, are far from mass market. “As a customer, even if I get something that is not real luxury because I can’t afford it, I still want to feel like there’s something special about it and that it’s a beautiful piece that I’m going to have for all my life,” she says. “This is what I wanted to do with my line. I wanted to get a beautiful, affordable product, but with this beautiful quality applied to bronze and not to gold and an aesthetic that is different, a little bit more personal.”

Nor is Michelson’s work limited to a particular season. Though she follows the fashion calendar, you can purchase items from her previous collections—”Wire,” “Déchainée,” “Carnivore,” “Draped,” “Algae,” and “Drops”—on her website. She will revisit certain collections and themes if she feels so inspired. After finishing “Algae,” for example, she decided to work on some additional pieces: “I started to make other pieces, [but] when I was looking at them and what I did last season, it’s exactly the same theme, but it’s not at all the same pieces. They were more aggressive before—all the angles, the little details. [The new pieces] are more sensual and quiet.”

When we meet Michelson in New York, she is fully adorned with rings, earrings, and necklaces mixed-and-matched from her collections. “I’d wear all of my pieces,” she says. “I won’t just do something just to target a market, I would feel like I’m lying to myself.” Before she entered the industry she rarely accessorized with jewelry. “Women are more than just a heart and a flower. When I started my line, all the jewelry was like that. I was like, ‘Where’s something more conceptual, rock ‘n’ roll, fun?’ There are still so many things you can do in costume jewelry.”