Breakfast at Tiffany's {we call it Sangria at Artisan LA}

If you're local and haven't gotten your sweetheart that perfect gift to leave him or her speechless and teary-eyed with joy, it's because you haven't found your way to Artisan LA Jewelry.  For those of you not so close by, visit online at artisanla.com or at the very least, take serious notes because we did the homework for you!

Julio Benez, owner and designer, hails form Brazil.  He's one of the kindest people you'll ever encounter.  He'll even let you get away with the traditional Spanish pronunciation of his name {"WHOlio"} but if you ask, he'll let you know that it's Portuguese & the "J" sounds like it does in "a jus" (the sauce, that is).

As a child, Julio made sculptures and always excelled in three-dimensional artistry.
"My mother was a fashion designer and I used to see all those beautiful patterns across her studio in the 60s and 70s.  Also, I had several uncles who were furniture designers."  
These creative surroundings fostered his passion for design and a love for new forms.  In college, he tried his hand at graphic design but found it all too "square".  So he found his way to jewelry-making as an art form that allows for the abstract.

The shop, Artisan LA Jewelry, showcases twenty-eight local artists along with vintage pieces and vintage reproductions.  Although the name "Artisan LA Jewelry" is only a little over one year old on the marquee, the shop itself has been there for five years.  Previously "CAKE", where Julio was an in-house designer, the owner made the decision to become strictly a wholesale provider of her line and return to her family home in Vermont.  Julio seized the opportunity.

Of the artists who approach him to carry their collections, Julio intimates that he looks for designers whose works fit into a group without competition between the lines.

"The aesthetic should not be too commercial or too avant garde.  It has to be something that my customers can wear.  I try to interect with them and get a line that is different from the things in this area.   
I do look for artists that display consistency {current and potential longevity in the industry} and someone that challenges themselves -- somebody that can take the risk.  I frequently run into designers looking for too much recognition -- they are building too strict of a line.  I tell them 'be a little more creative.  Take some risks and we can explain to the customers that you are trying something different'.
I am very connected to our designers, like family.  We share ideas.  We share vendors.  They come to the store a lot of the time to show new products.  We have a little community around the store and that helps a lot."
[While enjoying the ambience of the evening, we had the pleasure of meeting Yvonne Elliott of Mandala Vortex.  Although she isn't one of Artisan LA's "family members", she is a local designer who came out to support Julio and the boutique.  Besides partaking in the wine & cheese merriment, Yvonne was gracious enough to share a link to her philosophy and collection.]

Julio's own designs span the array of vintage, vintage-inspired and architecturally influenced.
"There is a lot of appreciation for the vintage in Latin America.  It brings up another time.  It is more romantic and has a completely different look from the simplicity of contemporary jewelry.  Vintage brings out glamour.  We miss glamour in contemporary jewelry.  Vintage is very bold.  Contemporary is often skinny and dainty.  Now, a contemporary like David Yurman whose designs are bold but modern... I like his newer work because he's moved away from branding and using his success to go like Picasso, try different routes and get more creative.  That is also what I like."
EJS: "Good for you, you have your own store to do that."
"YES!  Now I can go crazy.  I can go bananas and nobody's going to fire me!"
Julio says much of his own designs are informed by the works of Spanish architect {and Gaudí influenced} Santiago Calatrava.
"Fantastic.  His modern designs.  He makes bridges that look like the spine of a fish.  He made a train station in Lisbon that looks like trees coming out & they mesh together to make the ceiling -- like skeletons.  But they are also basic, using a lot of pipes and bars. 
Spanish gates and ironworks, then Italian, now Calatrava.  These sources allow for inspiration that isn't simply meant to embellish the beauty of the face.  Some of my pieces are not made just to adorn.  Like this one right here {he guides me toward pair of spiral-staircase-like earrings}.  Very three-dimensional.  It spins around, so it's not something that's going to look like a frame on your face."
In the future, Julio says he wants to use more and bolder gemstones and to bring in the more semi-precious.  One of his goals is to inform the customers a bit more about natural gemstones.
"It's a way to show the customer that it doesn't need to be a beautiful diamond to be valuable.  You can also see beauty in nature through an aquamarine." 
EJS: "I recently saw a teal tourmaline at another boutique and I just fell head over heels for it!"
"OH!  It's one of my favorites!  Yes!  And so you know, tourmaline is one of the stones that's getting the most appreciation lately because there's no treatment.  They can treat emeralds, they can treat sapphires & rubies and bring lots of low qualities up to nice beautiful pieces.  But tourmalines, they have a very few treatments.  What you see is a completely natural piece.  That stone now is coming up at a very high price and also, I think they're declining mining them.  It's pieces like these that surpass the traditional diamonds and gold and we are trying to impart to the customers that there is so much more to jewelry than that."
So, for the future, what does Julio Benez want to impart to both his customers and the industry-at-large?
"That a foreigner representing works made in America... I think it's great.   
Also, we are trying to relate a mix of precious materials with a little bit more of an art.  It's a little bit more refined." 
EJS: "You can clearly see that when you walk in the shop."
Julio Benez & "EJS"-Annalise.
"Thank you!  And I just love how Los Angeles is so open-minded & can accept so many different styles.  It is good to be in L.A. and trying this."
EJS: "Like how I can just walk in here, ask you for an interview and you gladly give it to me."
"Exactly!  So open-minded and so open to art.  I love that." 
 {Julio recently embarked on an animal rescue shelter  project with his sister.  At present, they are housing six dogs - one that is paraplegic - and thirty-six cats, many of which are disabled.  If you'd like more information to help their cause or adopt a pet: Contact Julio Benez @ 323.644.5699 or artisanlajewelry@gmail.com}

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