As my weekend trip to Austin for the SxSW style weekend progressed I had the opportunity to sit down with a man that I have long respected and admired, Nak Armstrong. I first met Nak at the store opening of his first line, Anthony Nak, many years ago in downtown Austin. Since then Nak has become an award-winning member of the CFDA, his jewelry designs have graced the pages of countless publications and have adorned celebrities such as Eva Mendes, Sarah Jessica Parker and even FLOTUS herself, Michelle Obama. I was a bit nervous walking into the beautiful home Nak shares with his husband Walter, but the gracious hosts quickly put me at ease sharing their insight and knowledge of the business of fashion. We sat at a large black marble island in the kitchen where we discussed fashion, brand building and social media. Here are our words.
JD: How is the philosophy behind this line different from your previous work?
NA: “When I launched this collection I actually had a very specific idea in mind. With Anthony Nak it was a very specific look. It was very identifiable but what was difficult is as the years went on, it sort of pigeon holed me into the look I had to design. Stores and clients don’t want you to leave that look, which before going into business I didn’t realize. You think people are going to follow you wherever you go and they don’t. So with this brand, before I launched it I wanted to make sure it was broader. I had different things going on from the very beginning so I was able to explore different inspirations. I’m doing things that are gold, diamonds, gold and sterling silver together, I’m kind of covering the gamut, but the inspiration itself sort of guides it. The inspiration initially and as I have carried it through was Roman with art deco. The other thing that is also very important to me is that it gives rise to things that look different and feel original and to develop a new way of making jewelry. That was always a part of Anthony Nak and with this brand I developed this new way of weaving stoves together. So they aren’t set in such heavy metal setting but woven together kind of like a mosaic. We use laser welders and it’s what makes our designs very light and we are to put a lot of look into a piece without it being to heavy to wear.”
JD: When speaking of your jewelry you often use words that would traditional be used when discussing clothing or fabric. Why is that?
NA: “Although the inspiration is Roman and art deco, I take a lot of the structural inspiration from fashion. I’m always trying to figure out ways to infuse the jewelry with this look of things with a lot of movement and fluidity which is counter intuitive because you are working with materials that aren’t generally. Your working with hard metals and hard gem stones and that’s what I think makes it feel fresh. So there is a lot of fashion reference like pleating, draping and that’s the fun part to me. It’s a new way of looking at these materials.”
JD: Would you say that this work is more representative of who you are as a designer?
NA: “Not necessarily. I was the designer for Anthony Nak and this collection is just an evolution of me as a designer. What I designed for Anthony Nak was me in terms of that is where I was at, at that time as a designer and this brand is just a evolution of my aesthetics and myself as a business person. Going back to Anthony Nak, through my experience with that, I learned a lot about the way stores view you, the way clients view you, the way the market changes over time. If you have a brand that allows you to adapt its always better. There are some people that might say the opposite but in luxury it’s always about newness and you have to have a brand that is broad enough to allow newness to come in.”
JD: Clothing designers are now expected to produce as many as four collections a year. Do you ever feel that same pressure as a jewelry designer who so closely identifies with fashion?
NA: “Every jeweler is a little bit different. Fine jewelry in particular, we
are following the fashion calendar, the stores and industry want you to follow that in some way. It’s kind of arbitrary in some ways as a jeweler. In my case we are designing something new all the time. We are introducing something new weekly, monthly, so it’s a little bit different then clothing. Social media has given us this new platform to introduce something new all the time and not waiting for those specific dates.”
JD: Do you release your work as it is completed?
NA: “It depends. What happens with our brand is we’ve always done these one of a kind extravagant earrings and whenever we are making a new one we are releasing them as they’re done. When we’re working on a new initiative, like right now we are working on this new series of diamond pieces. We’ve worked with diamonds before but never really did a diamond collection and that we are saving. So just depending if it’s a shift in a new direction then you might want to launch it as a group so people understand where you are going.“
JD: Tell me about your up coming trunk show with Moda Operandi.
NA: “ Well its one of our new initiatives to start doing pairings with other brands. In this case Moda is reaching everybody all over the world and the company in our first five years has focused mainly on growing our domestic market and building a following and brand awareness. The next step is how do we enter the international market, but its a little less clear these days. The economies in most foreign markets are not doing well, so you have to be careful and this is an opportunity to bring awareness to the brand, through Moda, to the right customers and that becomes the beginning of the bigger attempt to start going overseas. Moda is a beautifully curated site. The right eyes are on it and it’s a great way to position yourself internationally for customers lets say in the Middle East who are seeing your product for the first time.”
JD: At a time when social media is so prevalent how does a luxury goods company stay relatable?
NA: “That’s a good question. I think first and foremost, especially when your brand is young, social media gives you an opportunity to present and curate your brand the way you want people to see it. That has to be the first thing you do especially if your price point is high. It’s not the same as selling something that’s $100 where you might place it on a bunch of different social media platforms and you could see direct sales. Ultimately what a luxury brand is doing is building equity. So down the road you have more awareness and you can start to do other things with your brand where it’s still the same high quality and its still a luxury item but it might be an item that more people can afford. You’re essentially building a store online through your Instagram account. The primary way most social media works is it drives people into the stores where you sell your product. So in our case we are combining the traditional business model and social media and somewhere down the line the goal is to be selling through our brick and mortar accounts, through social media and the website. The point is you want to have a broader opportunity to meet your clients.”
JD: How do you think social media has changed brand building?
NA: “I think the more opportunities designers have to grow their brands and express themselves and do what they want is a great thing. It’s the democratization of fashion. If you’re a young designer and you want to start a business, you can start something out of your home and have your own website. Today a lot of people literally do everything themselves. Create the website. Create the product. Sell the product. What we are seeing is that you can create from anywhere now and you don’t have to be in New York or LA in the same way you did ten or twenty years ago because you have this ability to reach your clients in a variety of ways.” (Jim Duran)
For more information on Nak Armstrong please visit www.nakarmstrong.com or @nakarmstrong on Instagram.