Artistic expression, a concept that has been instilled in my heart and mind from a very young age, is one of the main forces that has guided me through the past three decades. As a child, I was exposed to heavy subject matters as all four of my grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust. Since my siblings and I were so young, my grandparents and parents used poetry, art and cinema to tell stories of inexplicable horror as well as lessons of perseverance. Indelibly etched in my mind is the time my grandfather revealed to me Langston Hughes’ words, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like the sun… or does it explode?” Having to endure injustice and trauma, my grandparents’ dreams were somewhat deferred. However, they did not dry up, rather exploded into genuine love for their families and for life itself. They each revenged the cruelties of the Holocaust by living life to its fullest, spending their time traveling, collecting art, and most importantly educating their families to take full advantage of all that is good in this world. They exist at the core of my daily inspiration and therefore I would be remiss if I didn’t mention them first.
Despite witnessing unimaginable horrors, my grandparents set up a stage where displays of creativity were always ubiquitous. Whether it was listening to my mother, the Julliard alumna, playing piano, watching my grandmother, the novice sculptor, chiseling away at her alabaster, or fancying the newest piece of jewelry crafted by my eccentric great uncle (also a Holocaust survivor), my desire to join the fun was nothing short of impassioned.
In between my piano and art lessons, drawing and painting, and many dance recitals, jewelry remained a constant, as I was surrounded by my two grandmothers’ unique styles and distinguished jewelry collections. I wasn’t making jewelry as much as I was playing with it, but my affinity for jewelry soon became apparent to all who knew me well. I spent middle school and high school accumulating new pieces to add to what I believed was a rare collection of treasures passed down to me by my grandmothers.
"I grew up seeing how various forms of art can be used to tell stories, sometimes even difficult ones."
I received my Undergraduate Degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Studies at New York University, my area of concentration being Art Therapy and Trauma. I specifically explored this discipline as applied to the Israeli Arab conflict. Preparing Art Therapy techniques and applying them to my fellow classmates made me realize how powerful the use of art is in educating and facilitating dialogue.
Upon graduating, I applied to law school and spent the next six months backpacking through South America as I heard back from various schools. Ultimately, I returned to New York and enrolled at Brooklyn Law School, receiving a J.D. in 2012 and passing the bar exam in 2013, albeit with a little kicking and screaming. To say I wasn’t happy at law school is an understatement. However, after receiving some eye-opening advice, I realized being a law student didn’t warrant neglecting other aspects of my life, namely the creative ones. I quickly enrolled in a formal jewelry making class at a studio in Manhattan. Monday nights became ritual, spending three consecutive hours getting my hands dirty and scratched up as I learned various techniques such as wax carving, soldering and setting. The result was not only creative refuge from the monotony of law school, but also the fervent desire to pursue jewelry design as a career.
I grew up seeing how various forms of art can be used to tell stories, sometimes even difficult ones. I realized it was time to tell my story and I decided that jewelry design would be my platform to do so. In 2013, I established ILANA ARIEL with the vision of creating intelligently designed jewelry for everyday wear. Since I started on this journey of jewelry design, the saying ‘We are all links in a chain’ has been on repeat in my mind. We are all connected to each other, and as a creator, I feel especially inspired by the artists who’ve created before me. In launching ILANA ARIEL, it is now an honor to see how my designs and the stories behind them touch other people’s lives.
"We are all links in a chain."
I’ve designed four collections to date - Legacy, Ten Eleven, Stepping Stones and Grounded. Respectively, they represent where I come from, where I began, my journey and where I’ve landed myself. In that way, these four collections symbolize the timeline of my life and serve as the backbone of my brand.
The Legacy Collection pays homage to the women who nurtured my creative aspirations. Initially inspired by my late maternal grandmother Ella, the collection has grown into a retrospective of my relatives' styles and jewelry collections. Scalloped edges and circular motifs give the collection a notably nostalgic quality.
The Ten Eleven Collection originates from patterns in a tapestry I found while traveling in Peru. What began as an exploration of shapes, developed into a medley of triangles, manipulated to highlight and contrast negative space. Named for my birthday, October 11th, and comprised of clean lines, the collection suggests beginnings and is reminiscent of the building blocks necessary for a stable foundation and steady growth.
The Stepping Stone Collection playfully unites mismatched shapes, colors and motifs through a combination of various gems. The jewelry mimics an actual stepping stone path, signifying journeys and endless possibilities, promoting reflection and welcoming the unexpected.
My newest collection is called Grounded. Spending a lot of my time in Tel Aviv, it’s been impossible to avoid the plentiful Mediterranean tiles found all over the city. I knew I had to design jewelry representing the tiles’ playful shapes and colors. The collection’s name has a double meaning - the jewelry is derived from what I literally saw on the ground, and it was designed during a time when I began settling into a new place, grounding myself in a new chapter and home.
These collections reflect a whimsical yet understated elegance, and through them I’ve not only been able to tell my own story, but I’ve also been able facilitate new stories and memories as well. The significance and story behind each creation evolves as it’s transferred from one person to the next. To me, that’s a really emboldening function of what I do and probably what I love most about being a jewelry designer. So though they are grounded in my heritage and infused by my experiences, ILANA ARIEL designs are also intended to redefine keepsake jewelry.