The Enduring Adornments of Sophie Buhai
By Marc Palatucci
Photographed by Thomas Lohr
Sophie Buhai looks out on the yard of an immaculately maintained 1930s casita, just a stone’s throw from the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles. “My husband and I got married under that tree,” she recollects. “My life is pretty much all here. It’s my home, but there’s no separation between life and work. It’s sort of blurred. That’s the ideal, if you love what you do.”
Buhai, 34, is a designer of fashion, accessories, and interiors, most recently channeling her talents into an eponymous line of artful jewelry crafted of silver and wood. She has set up her home discerningly, dedicating areas to work, leisure, and other facets of life in the various quarters of the dwelling.
She turns and steps through a door to the compact studio on the house’s lower level, the birthplace and current headquarters of her latest endeavor. The workspace is modest in size considering the quality of the product and stature of the burgeoning business, and it is refreshingly free of the dull details that typically clutter an office. “I design here, and we ship everything out of here—it’s all done by hand,” she explains. “We’re definitely not a big corporate operation, but everything is very organized, and soothing.”
Ambling back upstairs, the designer reflects on the ways the layout of the premises upends the restrictive spatial boundaries and timeframes of the traditional workday, a phenomenon further enabled by the city she calls home. “I can come up here and make myself lunch, sit outside for a second, have a phone call, whatever. L.A. is newer than New York. There’s more of a pioneer spirit here, and people are more experimental in the ways they work. No one has a normal schedule here, everybody’s working on projects—it’s a place that really supports that spirit.” This unconventional approach to work has given Buhai the opportunity to establish a brand with which she is holistically engaged, and to which she is uniquely devoted.
There’s a certain woman who wants to buy a jewelry piece as if it were a wearable piece of sculpture, and invest in it. You want quality. You want something that’s beautiful and that’s going to last. Sophie Buhai
She did, however, take a lengthy hiatus from her hometown, attending Parsons School of Design in New York and launching womenswear line Vena Cava with a former classmate there, but eventually returned to L.A. for a lifestyle shift and to reassess her creative ambitions. “I moved into this house, and I just started to mess around with making things in that space downstairs, not really having an idea of what I wanted to do.” She kept experimenting, took a local class in silversmithing, and eventually packed a suitcase with craft materials and spent a few weeks at an interdisciplinary artist’s residency in rural Tuscany. It was there that her vocation became clear—she began to design jewelry. “It just happened, and then I came back here and started to work on a collection.”
Her proximity to L.A.’s Jewelry District allowed Buhai to collaborate with a number of local artisans, and when it came time to select her materials, the choice was obvious. “I’ve always loved silver. My grandmother wore a lot of silver. She collected Native American silver and mid-century Scandinavian pieces, and my mother collected Mexican. So I grew up appreciating it. I love the history of it. I love those three inspirations.” She opted for silver and a range of rich woods not only for their aesthetic properties, but for the painstaking and time-consuming traditional techniques with which they are handcrafted, a decision made in part as a rejection of what she sees as an increasingly pervasive culture of hyperconsumption, fueled by disposable, mass-produced goods.
There’s no separation between life and work. It’s sort of blurred. That’s the ideal, if you love what you do. Sophie Buhai
In contrast, Buhai strives to imbue her collection of cuffs, collars, pendants, and rings with a sense of permanence, each a lovingly sculpted work that appeals to a particularly sophisticated and perceptive audience. “There’s a certain woman who wants to buy a jewelry piece as if it were a wearable piece of sculpture, and invest in it. You want quality. You want something that’s beautiful and that’s going to last. It’s a mature purchase.” This view of her pieces reflects a certain artistic inspiration—she cites Mapplethorpe, Brancusi, and Barbara Hepworth as muses for her latest collection, and notes that her clients include a contingent of artists, curators, and collectors.
By treating the jewelry as works of art, and not merely merchandise to be bought and sold, Buhai fosters a more profound and lasting relationship between the object and the woman who wears it. As with her creations, a focus for the designer’s new business is longevity, but in her eyes growth does not necessarily imply expansion or rapid change. “My main focus is just to keep the quality really beautiful and make pieces that I believe in,” she says. “I want to do this for a long time. This is my life, and I really enjoy it.”
Styling Vanessa Traina
Hair Rita Marmor at Streeters
Makeup Stevie Huynh
Model Georgia Hilmer
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