Meaningful Talismans

Franco-American Sunny Setton De Poortere is the designer behind the New York brand Gazza Ladra. A former television producer, Sunny is a newbie in the industry having launched her brand just three years ago. Hand-made in the city’s diamond district, Gazza Ladra’s pieces include 18k gold jewelry, while the cord and bead charm bracelets are made in 10k gold. “I choose to produce here to support our local industry and to avoid polluting by travelling extensively to supervise production.” That explains why not only talismanic motifs but also recycling symbols appear in her collection: in eye earrings, phoenix necklaces, sun and moon charms and ‘chasing arrow’ recycle pendants.

You switched from television production to designing jewelry. What prompted the change?

After having children, it was difficult to continue with video production because of the crazy hours and shooting times. I wanted to find a profession that I could do mostly from home. I always loved jewelry, as a child, I would adorn myself with all sorts of talismans, beads and trinkets. There were pieces of jewelry I wanted to wear but couldn’t find in the stores. With the help of master jeweler, Agop, I started designing and creating them myself. After seeing the positive reaction to these pieces from my friends and people who I encountered, I decided to take night classes at Fashion Institute of Technology and learned more about gemstones, jewelry design, and jewelry fabrication. I quickly realized that it would take me many years to master the craft of metalsmithing; it would be best that I design the pieces and collaborate with master jewelers to craft them.

I then started designing jewelry for myself and my friends, friends of friends, their relatives – and it just grew into a small business.

What inspired the name Gazza Ladra?

I was living in Rome at the time, sipping an aperitivo on a beautiful square: a Roman lady in a stunning necklace walked by and the necklace grabbed my attention. As I walked up to her, to ask if I could look at it closely, my friend Assia exclaimed: “Ma, Sunny tu sei veramente una Gazza Ladra,” meaning “Sunny, you are a real magpie!”

I thought, that is me! I have always been attracted to shiny, golden objects. Whether I am travelling on the subway or walking down the street, my gaze jumps joyfully from necklace to ring to earring. That is why I thought it very fitting to call my brand Gazza Ladra. Why not a magpie? I prefer the melodic Italian consonance of the words. Gazza is the name of the bird and Ladra means thief (or “thieving” magpie); ‘thieving’ for me is how I glean influences from the world around me. I do not invent anything new; I use existing symbols that I embellish and adapt to my vision of a beautiful piece.

Most of your jewelry features talismanic motifs. What makes talismans so inspiring to you?

I would like my jewelry to be worn as talismans, every day. So, I design pieces that are light, comfortable and very strong.

My grandmother had a big gold chain that she would never take off. It was her good luck chain, and she would often ask family members or friends to touch her chain for good luck before leaving on a journey, or before an exam or an interview. She would ask us to rub the little wooden charm on her chain for good luck. I think this is where I took my inspiration for talismans; I see jewelry as carrying a meaning and symbology. For thousands of years, across cultures and continents, gold symbols and jewels have been used as talismans to protect the wearer, but also to represent ideologies or belonging to a religion or to a loved one. Jewels are given as gifts for important transitional times in life and are also passed on for generations.

In a world of fast consumption, where people buy objects only to throw them away shortly after, I love the fact that a piece of jewelry that is made of fine metal can be passed on for generations or melted to create something new. That is one of the reasons why I do not make costume jewelry, although I would like my pieces to be affordable and to more people with different budgets – I cannot make pieces that will break after a season, or gold-plated pieces that will lose their color.

You distribute a percentage of your profits to the Plastic Pollution Coalition and Women for Women International – Tell me a bit more about these initiatives and how they align with your beliefs.

I strongly believe in banning single use plastics. I am horrified daily by the amount of waste our cities produce. Heaps and heaps of trash bags on the sidewalks of New York City which end up back in our earth, polluting the soil and waters. I have a dream of everyone walking around with a thermos and when you go to a deli or a store, you can just fill it up from huge containers of water. Same goes for iced-teas, sodas and the like; I sincerely hope that there will come a time in the near future where all these single use bottles will be abolished and we can refill and reuse. This used to be the case not so long ago, in my lifetime, the milk, juice and water bottles were all glass and they had to be collected and reused. In the hope of going back to this, I Ient my support to the Plastic Pollution Coalition to help introduce legislation to reduce waste and help our planet.

Women for Women International is a beautiful mission; women from privileged countries help support less fortunate women. I believe to be very lucky to have been born in a prosperous peaceful part of the world, others are not so lucky and it is the duty of the ones who have more to share with those who have less.

Smitha Sadanandan
Smitha Sadanandan is an accomplished journalist, who writes on travel, lifestyle, design, jewelry and watches for several publications including Upscale Living Magazine.

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