- Elizabeth Mikutowicz -
If you’re familiar with Birds N Bones Jewelry then you’re likely already aware that there is some serious talent behind the brand; and if you’re anything like me, you’re curious about what goes on behind the curtain and how it all goes down. I’m here with Zoe Cope, who is ½ of the 2 woman jewelry line, in an intimate, behind the scenes look at Birds N Bones Jewelry and the journey she and co-creator Ashley Lagasse underwent in creating the brand. Zoe is based in Portland while Ashley is currently based in San Francisco.
Elizabeth Mikutowicz: Hey, Zoe! Thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me today! I’m curious, did you always know you wanted to make jewelry-is it something you’ve always done?
Zoe Cope: Sometimes the universe has your back; I found Jewelry while studying Advertising in college. I'd grown up being an art kid and I used to play around making jewelry with my mom, but I got way more skilled at drawing and photography than doing any 3D Art. I was unhappy with my major in college and while on a school shuttle I noticed a sign for Fine Art Sculpture Jewelry Design. Literally had no idea what it meant, but seeing that my school offered Jewelry Design got me excited. I researched it and toured the department, which at the time was the sculpture department because Jewelry had yet to become its own major.
I instantly felt right about switching majors and changed without ever taking a class in metalsmithing or sculpture. When talking with my mom about changing majors, she told me to follow my bliss. That was a huge moment, it freed me.
EM: That is a really special moment, one I’m sure you’ll hold onto forever. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all glad you found jewelry too, because now you’re making us badass handcrafted pieces! How exactly did Birds N Bones comes to be?
ZC: Ashley and I had a few jewelry classes together so we knew of each other, but it wasn't until we had a small metals casting class that we really clicked as friends. We both worked long hours in the studio and I trusted her opinion and skill, which made me open up to her about my designs and process. We both used bones in a lot of our initial molds and we each referenced birds frequently in our sculptural work.
We didn't have a name in mind when we decided to combine our aesthetics into a company. One day at school I was talking to a friend about the projects Ashley and I were working on, and said something along the lines of how we were, ya know, just making bird inspired things with weird bones. On the way out the door my friend goes, "that's what you do, birds and bones". And I was like, “oh snap, that is what we do. Birds N Bones”.
EM: Wow, what an organic creation! It really is a great name because it truly references what you and Ashley do. Has the brand evolved over time or have you experienced your own creative evolution?
ZC: I feel like we are getting back to our roots with our newest bug inspired collection. Our initial collection was a myriad of bones that we found interesting and wanted to wear as adornment. Obviously that collection came together very organically because it was pieces we genuinely wanted. Our second collection, Curio Draconis, was a great direction for the brand because we still used bones, teeth, claws etc. that we liked, but we interpreted them as dragon bones. We love having an element of the mystical to our work so pretending the bones were from dragon anatomy was really fun.
We departed from our process of finding bones, molding them, and fabricating them to fit the body when we designed our Simplex Collection. For that one we made geometric shapes that were inspired by nature, but simplified and without bones. I'm glad we challenged ourselves to make something outside our sphere of design, but I think our other collections speak better to who we are. So now we are moving back to molding forms from nature and using those castings to direct our designs.
EM: Interesting that after some exploration you are moving back to your roots. What are some of the crowning moments for you and Birds N Bones thus far?
ZC: We got to do a seriously awesome collaboration with Helen Castillo just a few months after we started. The process was amazing because she liked our aesthetic and wanted us to make pieces inspired by her designs, but in our style. We ended up making a series called Marie Antoinette's Garden and created copper fold-form flowers paired with brass bat skulls and other brass bones. Beyond making physical pieces, we developed a friendship with Helen that helped us grow as confident female designers.
It's also thrilling anytime we see our work on someone, especially if we don't know them!
EM: I bet that is the ultimate reward! What is your favorite Birds N Bones piece and why?
ZC: The piece I currently wear the most is our Wyvern Rib Bangle. It has an effortless edginess to it, but is also elegant. People always take a second look at it once they realize it’s metal bones of some kind.
EM: I imagine identifying your favorite piece is like picking a favorite child, but you were very diplomatic about that! Who is Bird n Bones designed for and what do you hope that person feels when they wear your jewelry?
ZC: We want anyone who wears our jewelry to feel confident and powerful. There's a magic to adornment that should be honored- there's no reason to wear crappy jewelry that discolors your skin or has zero longevity. We make pieces that will stand the test of time physically and aesthetically. We are nature enthusiasts first, craftsmen second, designers third. Our jewelry should fold seamlessly into your life while at the same time bring an awareness to your personal style.
EM: Speaking of personal style, what are some of your biggest inspirations or influences when it comes to designing jewelry?
ZC: Mother Nature is number one. We spend time sourcing our initial organic elements and really consider what would look and feel great on the body. We both love science fiction and watch a good deal of movies and TV so we have style/aesthetic reference points.
I personally love making collages from fashion magazines and moodboards on Pinterest. I try to reference feelings more so than pieces in these moodboards because I want my designs to be authentic and have reasoning behind them other than "it looks like this jewelry that already exists”.
EM: Birds N Bones jewelry is quite unique—it evokes an elegant darkness and embodies a gothic aesthetic, but also one that is connected to nature. Where did this influence come from?
ZC: Those elements are genuine to what we are inspired by, thankfully. We draw inspiration from the darker side of the life cycle and have an appreciation for creatures, critters, and organisms. My personal clothing style leans towards Rick Owens and All Saints, dark yet still refined, so I want jewelry that can evoke those themes.
EM: Obviously your personal style is just as badass as the jewelry you create! Can you describe a basic day in the life of a jeweler?
ZC: I have my studio in my home which is lovely because I can wake up and get to work whenever I get downstairs. I start the day looking through emails and orders to pull the raw castings that need to get turned into finished jewelry pieces, and then start the cleanup and fabrication process. I do our visuals so I spend time creating content imagery as well. A fun part of our job is walking around in nature to find twigs or visit cool stores like Paxton Gate to source bones for our original molds- it's part work, but waaaay more part play. Some days a filled with packaging orders while others are loaded with backend work like updating our expense history, running errands, ordering materials and organizing.
Images by Scottie Bottenus
EM: Sounds like being a business owner keeps you busy with a dynamic array of responsibilities. Should we add superwoman to that list as well!? Ok, so I’ve got to ask about your newest bug inspired collection which you mentioned earlier in our conversation. That definitely caught my attention and I’m dying to hear more! Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what can we look forward to seeing next from Birds N Bones?
ZC: We are so so so thrilled to be working on new designs for our next collection. We'll be using bugs this time and will be releasing the collection in a different way. We'll soon have a video up on our (new!) website that explains the process, but basically we are changing the game when it comes to how the release process works. We want to make it more interactive and get feedback from clients, and anyone interested in our work, so we can really hone the aesthetic direction of the collection. You'll get early access to the mini collections if you sign up for our newsletter, which is also a new installment for us. On the bi-monthly newsletters you'll get behind the scenes info unavailable on any of our other social platforms- stuff like Design Spotlights and short Q&A's with Ashely and myself. We only want to put out info we'd be stoked to read, so you can rest assured the emails are interesting and created with intention.
It's such a fun time right now as we work on sourcing bug specimens, trying different design elements (like using butterfly wings under glass), working to redo our site and adding awesome aspects like the Blog and Newsletter to our brand.
EM: New website, new newsletter, and new collection—you ladies have been seriously hustlin’! Clearly, we all need to sign up for the newsletter to stay on the up and up and get that early access! It sounds like it’s a really exciting time for you and Ashley, and I am so thrilled for you! I cannot wait for the release of those new collections. Thank you for taking time to share with us!