As I did a little window-shopping the other day just off a bustling Valencia Corridor afternoon, I was wondering what would all these wonderful, eclectic stores be without the amazingly talented designers, artists and purveyors that fill their space with beautiful, interesting merchandise? The best shops have a heart all their own because the owners themselves have a vision and make good choices that embody it to make them distinct and exciting. One of those key choices, however, is precisely what product to put inside the store. So, in a sense, it starts with the product and the people that craft them. A great frame needs a great painting, the people with the brushes and the pliers . Browsing around inside Hangr 16 later that same day, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the jewelry case and the large pyramid of quartz, nestled squarely in the throes of long leather tassels, sitting inside it. This was easily one the most incredible pieces of jewelry I had ever seen. It was hand crafted by local designer Amanda Bassolino of Voce Keen. She had just released her latest line, magically named the Isis Collection. Gleaming inside the glass case like beams of light, I was transported, and inspired to talk about the artist behind the scenes, the light bulb inside the fixture.
One week later on a spring afternoon, I had the chance to visit with Amanda inside her sunnily lit (great garden out back, btw), studio. Originally a ballet dancer from New York, she moved to San Francisco to develop her own company named Tigerlily, which showcased her handmade feather pieces and earrings. Two years ago she decided to branch out into metal and stonework and renamed her company to more perfectly capture the essence of her product. Voce Keen, loosely translated from Italian, means “clear, distinct voice”. She believes that what we wear should have meaning and capture our unique spirit. Intersecting the origins of Voce Keen, Amanda had received pieces of jewelry from her mother and grandmother that she felt connected her more deeply to them. “I feel like that really just naturally got incorporated into what I made from there on, that that had to be a part of the creative process and design,” she said. As for the aesthetic, Amanda draws from the natural and the mythical, which lends an organic, heirloom quality to her work. It’s both edgy and ornate, and calls to mind a modern warrior princess. It is this sense of empowerment that Amanda hopes the wearer will absorb from her pieces and hand down to others over time. As she puts it, “I’m really influenced by mythology and strong women figures from different cultures, so I like to draw from that and connect to something that’s universal”. The current collection, Isis, refers to the Egyptian goddess of nature, which is echoed in pieces like the Snake Rib Earrings and the radiant Ra Necklace. There is this sensibility about them that suggests memories and magic.
When considering today’s market, Amanda defers to her friends as an excellent test group so she can stay on a path that’s personal and true. She applies that same thinking when it comes to the brick and mortar aspect of the business. It is the element of the hand made, and the beauty of the imperfections within that, that moves her most. Likewise, she and store owners are often attracted to one another for that shared sensibility, and develop and energetic exchange through which business can be done with integrity. “To be quite honest, it’s like the people that have been drawn to me have been right. It’s because there’s an aesthetic there that we both see in each other that seems like they go together,” Amanda told us. “I feel like I’ve been really lucky with the stores that I’m in, that they really get what I’m doing.” As a consumer, this relationship is priceless. It puts on shelves things we can take home or wear that have meaning, because the meaning is already imbedded inside. That’s a luminous idea.
Be sure to download StoreSnaps onto your iPhone and search for #vocekeen to find where to buy Amanda’s latest pieces.