Codes of jewelry communication

At the age of 2, lleana Makri’s favorite game involved the contents of her mother’s costume jewelry box. «She wouldn’t trust me with anything else,» says the designer, whose intricate pieces have been spotted on celebrities of the caliber of Uma Thurman, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Lenny Kravitz and Richard Gere. Beautiful, stimulating, one-of-a-kind pieces have always fascinated the designer, who in 1987 founded Magia, a fashionable store in Kolonaki showcasing rare fashion and design items. She also started making her own jewelry, eventually selling some of the pieces she made for herself. That was until the mid-1990s, when Makri decided to attend courses on design and manufacturing at GIA, the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, California. When she returned from the US, jewelry became a profession – with more than 1,000 designs to date. «Today, I really understand what a great luxury it is to work on what you really love,» she says. «I can sit down with my stones and spend entire nights designing. Sometimes I still find myself there at the crack of dawn – it’s a gift from God.» It’s also a kind of gift that Makri is able to share with people around the world – the designer began selling in the US, for instance, when a buyer from Barneys spotted an American friend wearing one of her pieces. It was only a matter of weeks before Makri’s collection went on display at Barneys stores throughout the US, as well as the prestigious department store’s Japanese division. Since then, Makri’s creations are available at such diverse outlets as Louis Boston, Sloan Hall in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, and all the way to the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. Wherever their selling points might be, Makri’s pieces are united through their sense of design. The designer enjoys working with white, yellow, pink and black gold – displaying a penchant for pave settings in diamonds, sapphires and rubies – with signature styles, including particularly thin wire diamond pieces, such as diamond bands. One more trademark Makri style is nature-inspired, featuring motifs including gentle flowers and leaves. Another major chapter in the designer’s creative process has to do with developing new ways of communicating – through symbolism. «Symbols are an international language that are older than spoken languages,» says Makri. «They are a means of communication between different cultures throughout time.» A journey in progress – for the designer this includes working with religious symbols, such as crosses; the Star of David; ancient Greek symbols, such as the Triskelion, a mythical three-legged creature found on ancient coins symbolizing progress and competition; the endless cross symbolizing eternity; the seed of life, an ancient Japanese symbol, as well as the evil eye, which keeps evil forces away and is a symbol of Eastern culture in countries such as Greece, Turkey and Egypt. Another intriguing source of inspiration is hobo sign language, codes often seen in the US, Britain and Sweden, where homeless travelers find ways of sharing, often vital, information. «What attracted me to this kind of language is that even at that level of basic survival – because it is a very tough life – people still have that need to belong, to have a sense of brotherhood.» Makri’s symbol collections ultimately become a way of communicating through gifts, where the actual jewelry becomes the message. They also become bridges for cultural differences – a sort of cross-cultural awareness through design. An avid traveler, who takes primitive African pieces carved from wood and sets them with diamonds, Makri’s work is destined for all those citizens of the world. «Essentially what I want to do through my work is to marry different civilizations,» she says. «In the Western world, people are increasingly influenced by Indian or Latin American cultures, for instance, so why not bring these elements into our culture, but translate them into our own aesthetic, so that it does not become an entirely ethnic look?» This kind of fusion also includes inspiration from the Western world. Makri enjoys drifting creatively from one period to the next – from Art Deco to Art Nouveau all the way to the 1960s, for instance. «I don’t want to be confined to one space,» she says. «There are no boundaries in my work, and this is why I compare what I do to today’s globalization where people have managed to come closer through the Internet, for example. Today, people are more open to things and influences in general, and that helps me in the kind of work I do.» Openness also helps Magia, whose retail foundations were initially based on colorful, Art Deco glasses and jewelry. As the eclectic store developed – going through the whole gamut of merchandise variations from showcasing precious objects, vintage clothes and accessories – it became, above all, a stylish hub for exchanging ideas. This season, besides the designer’s jewelry, visitors will be looking at cashmere pieces by French knitwear specialist Lucien Pellat Finet, hot footwear by Sigerson Morrison and a collection of cotton T-shirts by Michael Stars – on a recent visit, a Philip Treacy hat was also spotted. There are also jewelry pieces by Maria Rudman (stitched leather made in Lapland) and Aurora Lopez’s items, words carved on metal. For all her travels and living abroad, Makri keeps a place in her creative soul for her motherland. In the last few years, the designer has been working on what she defines as a «simple, naive collection for a simple country.» «Greece is a great source for me, because I truly love this land,» she says. «I can live anywhere in the world. I feel very cosmopolitan, but this country has core elements that have influenced my character and my sense of aesthetics: the Greek light and the colors of the sky and the sea.»