Interview with Andrea Lipspy-Karasz of Tilda Biehn
Andrea Lipsky-Karasz launched her jewelry brand, Tilda Biehn, in January of this year, and she’s already landed in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and on the hands and ears of some of New York’s chicest women. I found Andrea’s gorgeous, perfectly balanced convex and concave stacking rings on Instagram, and stalked her shamelessly until our paths crossed in NYC. We sat down to talk early beginnings, her inspirational great grandmother, and designing jewelry with 21st century technology.
- Catherine Smith
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR TIME AS A STUDENT. WHAT DID YOU STUDY?
“I went to school with no idea of what I wanted to be, and fell under the spell of an incredible writing teacher. So I left school intending to be a writer. Then I discovered that short fiction is hard to make a living on. Especially when you don’t like to write on a deadline. But in school I think I spent about half my time in my writing teacher’s office. She was incredible. She came in everyday with a cascade of necklaces. Loops of pearls and diamonds. And she always wore heels. She said it didn’t matter if the other academics didn’t take her seriously because of her style, it’s what made her feel happy. We would sit and tell each other stories and gossip. I didn’t spend much time on my other classes.”
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOUR INTEREST IN JEWELRY?
“I didn’t know that I wanted to make jewelry until I was an adult. But I suspect that the people around me knew much sooner. My grandparents owned a department store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There was a jewelry department there—mostly engagement rings. In the summer when I would go visit them, I would spend whole days with Sal at the jewelry counter looking at every ring he had. Sal was not surprised that I ended up a jeweler.”
TELL ME ABOUT LAUNCHING YOUR FIRST COLLECTION.
“My collection launched in January, so I still feel like I am mid-launch! It has been both thrilling and utterly terrifying.”
THE COLLECTION IS NAMED FOR AND INSPIRED BY TILDA BIEHN, YOUR GREAT GRANDMOTHER. TELL ME ABOUT HER.
“Tilda was born in 1885, exactly 100 years before me. She spent her whole life in Budapest. She was by all accounts a beautiful and brilliant woman who had three beautiful and brilliant daughters. Her father worked to create the first subway line in Europe. He was bringing the future to Budapest. But it was hard then to be a woman. She passed on to all three daughters a passion for art and a yearning to go further than she had been able to. But she remains a bit of a cipher to me, as perhaps all good inspirations do. She died quite young—when my grandmother was in her mid teens. So I know just enough about Tilda to imagine the rest. I believe that the passion that Tilda passed on to her daughters continued through my mother to myself and my siblings. My grandmother had a life that Tilda could never have imagined—though not all of it was by choice.
Like so many others did, my grandmother had to flee from Hungary after the war with three kids of her own. She spent the rest of her life with my grandfather moving from place to place. They lived in the US and Bolivia and Thailand and Turkey before finally settling in France. She ended up combining her love of modernist sculpture with the inspirations she found from local jewelry traditions all over the world and started making her own jewelry. She worked in silver and antique carved stones. I still have all of her tools. To make new pieces using her tools always gives me a thrill.”
YOU RECENTLY RELOCATED FROM BROOKLYN TO DETROIT. DOES THE ENERGY OF THE CITY INFLUENCE YOUR WORK AND CRAFT?
“Brooklyn will always be home, but moving to and falling in love with Michigan has been such a happy surprise. Like any new love, it’s worked its way into everything I do now. There’s just such a love for the art of craftsmanship and a pervasive excitement for experimentation. It has been really freeing to be here.”
WHO HAVE YOU LEARNED THE MOST FROM IN YOUR CAREER THUS FAR?
“Victoria Borus, my first boss out of high school and my lifelong mentor. She taught me how to answer a phone properly, but more importantly she taught me how to live a life based on creativity. She also has irrepressibly good taste, which can’t help but rub off on everyone around her.”
TELL ME A BIT ABOUR YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH PRESS.
“I’ve been really lucky so far. Harper’s Bazaar has really championed the line, for which I will be eternally grateful. And now that Tilda has reached the shores of England, British Vogue has been very supportive. It’s been all luck and instagram with press!”
AND YOUR FIRST RETAIL ACCOUNTS?
“My first account was Bird in Brooklyn. I’m a good Brooklyn girl, so this was a perfect fit. Jen, the owner, actually saw my rings on instagram and asked to get in touch. When I came in to meet with her I didn’t even have any displays yet, so I loaded up my jewelry into a cake box. It was one of the beautiful wooden hinged ones. Actually for a Sacher torte—I love those boxes. But still, it was a cake box of rings to show her. And she still wanted to sell Tilda!”
DO YOU DESIGN CUSTOM JEWELRY? WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE PIECE YOU HAVE EVER DESIGNED?
“I’ve just started designed a few custom pieces. I’m working now on a friend’s engagement ring. It’s an amazing thing to be asked to do. A few times now, I’ve been the first person to know about an impending engagement. Before the parents or the partner. It’s thrilling to be a part of that process. It feels really weighty. There’s so much trust involved. But I do love working on them. I’m adapting one of my pieces now for a friend.”
I'M FASCINATED BY THE FACT THAT YOU USE 3D PRINTING WHEN DESIGNING.
“When I started working, I made everything through wax carving. It’s a wonderful, meditative process. It’s such an ancient process. There’s a funny thing about jewelry making. If you look at a modern jeweler’s studio and you look at a painting or an etching of a renaissance jeweler’s studio, everything is almost exactly the same. We still use the same tools, the same setup, everything. The technology had really become fairly stagnant. And then 3D printing technology came along. It’s the first real leap into the present for jewelry. And it is allowing people to move into the future with their designs. What happened for me is that I had a design in mind, but it was incredibly hard to carve. A few times, I spent whole days carving the piece only to have it crumble in my hands. Once I managed to get it all the way to a silver model, but even the silver model soon fell apart. It was just too delicate. And then I realized that it might be printable. So I started teaching myself a design program and managed to print the design within the first week. That’s when I decided that there was no going back. Wax carving is now what I do to think out an idea, but when it’s time to create a piece, I’m right back on my computer. It’s such a powerful tool for designers. But I feel for my own work that it needs to be used very carefully. With a lot of jewelry you can really tell what was 3D printed. I want what I make to feel grounded and timeless. So I print my shapes, but I use that to skip to the next step - a silver model that I can work by hand. I don’t think that the technology will ever really replace the finishing work that needs to be done by hand.”
WHO ARE YOUR STYLE ICONS?
“Tilda Swinton. If I could get Tilda to wear Tilda, my work would be complete.”
WHAT'S THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR BUSINESS?
“Like many people, I have always had more creative ideas than creative outlets. Having my own company means that more often than not, when I have a creative idea I can now find a way to work it into some aspect of Tilda Biehn.
For example, I started getting interested in using a scanner bed as a camera. I started creating still-life scenes with flowers on an open scanner bed. I was getting up early to pick wildflowers at my grandparent’s house in southern France and spending all morning just arranging and scanning them. It creates this strange image. An overly precise foreground with a ghostly background. Then I realized that I could channel that idea into my lookbook. I started adding jewelry into my scans. The metal against the scanner surrounded by these hard/soft flowers really appealed to me. It took an absurd amount of time, and very few people even realize that the images aren’t a product of Photoshop, but it gave me one more way to express an idea.”
WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN BUSINESS?
“Everything is urgent, and everything needs to happen at the same time, always.”
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU AS A DESIGNER?
“The moment a new design is finally complete. It feels almost impossible that something that once existed only in my own head is now a real object in the world. It’s magic every time.”