Sometimes your outfit needs a little extra, and when jewelry isn’t enough? Meet Jennifer Behr: your new go-to for the prettiest hats and hair accessories. From evening to day wear, her painted floral crowns and fishnet details feel like the perfect feminine finish. To get to know Jennifer better, we took a peek inside her Brooklyn studio.
Bergdorf Goodman: How did you find your studio space? What creates the perfect work atmosphere for you?
Jennifer Behr: We had been in an artist studio building in South Williamsburg which fell victim to the condo-ization of Williamsburg so we had to move – I didn’t know much about Greenpoint but had friends in the neighborhood and we walked the neighborhood looking for buildings that been above the water line during Hurricane Sandy.
We have a good studio atmosphere I think – we are a small studio – 7 people total and all get along well – everyone contributes across the board and works together. If you call the studio you may talk to our customer service person or to me – depending on the day. I often work weekends because it’s easier for me to design when it’s quiet and I’m alone.
BG: Describe your creative process: where do you find inspiration? How to you turn an idea into the finished product? When do you know you’re finished?
JB: My primary source of inspiration is materials – I went to school for sculpture and find the process of making things to be the best way to figure out designs. I sit down in the beginning of the design season with all the materials I’ve collected and start putting them together. There’s actually a lot of engineering in headpieces and hats – you have to figure out how to get them to balance on the head and not be too heavy, or too large or too small. Everyone is always surprised by how comfortable our pieces are – it’s not an accident – I work hard at that.
Some of our pieces can take hours to design – the crystals are all soldered by hand – we don’t use molds because molds are heavy and inflexible. So sometimes I can spend a whole day working out a new design. I design on a head – mine if I’m working alone or on someone in the studio if they are around. It helps me to figure out how pieces look in proportion to a face.
I also love looking at vintage jewelry – some of it is so incredible – the workmanship was amazing. And I love looking at flowers and vines – it’s impossible to replicate the delicacy of them in metal and crystal but I always try.
It’s hard to explain but when a design is finished it becomes visually weightless. It’s like it comes into focus and there is nothing else to fix.
BG: You do a lot of the craftsmanship in your own Brooklyn studio – why is that important?
JB: It’s incredibly important to me. I feel really passionate about this and I think it is something that we, as artisans and designers need to be more vocal about.
As the world moves to larger scale mass production hand-work is at risk of being lost. It is really expensive to produce things in the way that we do, and in the United States. But I wouldn’t want to do it any other way. I believe that things that are made by hand have a spirit – be they headpieces or jewelry or pottery. I think in our age we are yearning for authenticity and for pieces with real value. And I think it’s valuable to invest in pieces made by hand. There are so many techniques and materials that are disappearing. I love that our collection works to preserve some of those old techniques – our headpieces are a cross between traditional millinery and jewelry and we use hand skills from both. No one else is so insane to hand sew tiny Swarovski crystals in multiple sizes onto veiling to add to a hat. But I want to do it because it’s the only way to make the crystals look like sparkling starlight. We’d certainly be making more money if I’d agree to change to industrial production methods. But I wouldn’t love our pieces like I do. We try to make each piece a piece of magic.
BG: 3 pieces of Jennifer Behr every woman should own, and where to wear them?
JB: A crystal beanie – we started making our knit collection for Bergdorfs originally. Wear it every day in the winter – winter gear can be so drab and utilitarian – so having beautiful sparkly warm things can really brighten those dark days.
A crystal barrette or bobby pin. We are best known for our headbands but I love wearing crystal barrettes every day – it’s a chic, simple way to pull back your hair and is a more surprising way to accessorize than the usual earrings etc. Wear with jeans or velvet or anything really.
A crystal headband or circlet – it’s instant glamour. Remember – you will be wearing this (probably) in the evening and nothing sparkles in candlelight like crystal. I love our crystals plated in gunmetal or antique gold because they look like antique diamonds.
BG: Before you were a designer, you thought you might be a…
JB: A teacher. My mom was a teacher and advisor in city schools for my whole life and she changed so many lives.