Catherine Sarr of Almasika uses abstract lines and curves to design her gorgeous, modern jewelry line. Originally from Paris, Catherine now lives in Chicago and creates her stunning, chic line stateside. Her meaningful and sculptural jewelry is inspired by the universal symbols, shapes and stories that transcend cultural boundaries.
For me, the jewelry is a marker for memory. It is part of you, you wear it everywhere.
Melissa: How have you shifted your business as an induvial and as a company to accommodate the new normal we are living in?
Catherine: It has been interesting, to say the least. As a mom, business owner and designer, I have had to become much more flexible. As an individual, I spend more time with my four children and husband – a lot of homeschooling, and I have to be present. In a way, this has been positive as you usually do not take that much time. We had to shift our thinking, individually and as a business and to be flexible and accommodating with people and ourselves – which is sometimes a new thing as a mom and business owner. I get to spend a lot of time with my family, because of homeschooling and have learned to navigate the business and creative time and blend that with family time. Before the pandemic, we were holding beautiful trunk shows in connection with the art world, with collectors, with art intuitions and galleries. We had the opportunity to showcase our jewelry and explain the cultural inspiration of our pieces. We got really flexible with how to work around not being able to do this anymore. We showcased in showrooms and got introduced to stores. We found spaces where we can talk about the inspiration behind the pieces. We shifted our business online and this has really opened so many doors for us – in an accelerated way. The creative side has been more difficult because I used to do workshops, and we have to be more careful now. This has been a barrier in production, and what I can create.
Melissa: This has definitely allowed us to find new ways to get inspired. This year was pivotal with the BLM movement and bringing black-owned businesses to the forefront – how did this shift your business in any way?
Catherine: I have been in this industry for many years, and I know a lot of global editors, writers, and designers. What has been so striking is the desire for some of the decision-makers to be so curious about the world around them and welcoming different perspectives as well. This has been interesting to me. The whole element of individuals being more open and welcoming different perspectives. As a business, we have always had a clientele that is interested in the cultural aspect of our jewelry. Now with our online stores, we have been about to bring in more of this clientele as well. I think Almasika has been appealing to so many people and why I started the brand was looking into forms, shapes and symbols that really transcend different cultures.
Melissa: This time has definitely opened my eyes. It has brought more people together to open conversations and to connect, learn and grow. Your brand was born in London but now you live in Chicago – do you consider yourself a European brand? Has living in the US changed the brand?
Catherine: Very interesting question. I was born in Paris and lived in all these different places. The Parisian style and the aesthetic have influenced me and therefore my design. Being in Chicago has influenced the business aspect of it. Chicago is a city where you give back a lot, and as a brand, this has influenced Almasika as a brand and how I give back.
Melissa: Softness and curves is a signature style for you and your design. Was this based on a particular notion of femininity? How did your style come about?
Catherine: It is not necessarily femininity. It is really about the abstract lines, as I want them to move with your body. If you go back to the Parisian elements – these are what you want to wear every day, and in an understates way. That is how the curves play a role. Then there is an element of the human design centre approach – and this form really transcends culture. The human brain is attracted to curves. I was always drawn to this and see this shape as one that makes you feel good as a human. You are drawn to this shape indistinctively – the lines and soft curves.
Melissa: Your pieces are so gorgeous and unique. Symbolism is very important to your work – do you draw from ancient Egyptian representation? How do you land on these specific notions?
Catherine: For me, the jewelry is a marker for memory. It is part of you, you wear it everywhere. I have always been fascinated by jewelry as a spiritual object and adornment. I do a lot of research for my collections, and I first start by thinking about what I want to say. Because of the spiritual aspect and what I look for it draws me to different cultures and notions.
Melissa: The Cauri shells are gorgeous. How did you land on this design?
Catherine: In 2014, when I launched Almasika – I started with this with the shell. I always wanted these shells when I was a teenager. It has a very specific meaning in Africa. It is a spiritual object, it is a symbol of prosperity, of spirituality and fertility. I wanted to go back and explain the spiritual aspect of this shell. It was not a trend to me. This shell is quite unique, and it was something new in the market. The whole desire was around sharing the story around something that people see every day and giving it its background and cultural story. It was this desire to tell stories.
Melissa: It is so gorgeous. What are your particulars to you as a person?
Catherine: Jewelry is so important to me. I always wear my shell necklace and a ring that my mother gave to me for my 19th birthday – there are no curves – it is really pointy and something I would never design. This is the power of jewelry, it is beyond the object, it is the meaning and a marker of memory. There is no commercial value but rather an emotional value with jewelry.
Melissa: What is next for you and your brand?
Catherine: We just did an exciting project with engagement rings. It was my first time making and designing an engagement ring. Our rings have been used as an engagement ring, but I have never thought of a diamond and had to design something around it. We have new global retailers coming and an amazing design project with significant pieces. Lots of excitement for 2021!
Melissa: Lots of hope in the air. It was so great chatting with you and I hope we can meet in person one day. Thank you for your time!