Enter Laura Wass’ Brooklyn studio and you will find brass bunny ears, candy-coloured bras, gold crowns and other pieces that are a futuristic cross between happy-go-lucky and streetwise, something a young Joan Jetson might have worn to an intergalactic rave.
Out of the ordinary as they may appear, you have probably seen them before: a visor crown covering Beyoncé's head as she meditated and spun in her music video for “7/11”; a stellated octahedron propped atop one of Erykah Badu’s iconic tall hats as the singer performed in Philadelphia and New York last week; and a bone-white halo on the cover for “Awaken, My Love!”, the most recent album from Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover. Six more of these will be part of his performance for Dave Chappelle’s August residency at Radio City Music Hall on Saturday.
Though Wass also sells less ostentatious jewellery — necklaces made of miniature pyramids, simple metal cuffs and bracelets with thin, dangling chains — she considers the funkier stuff the soul of her company. “These pieces are all about exuberant self-expression and becoming almost like a superhero,” she said. “They’re both sincere and kind of funny, but that for me is really where I see the value of the brand.”
Wass creates these items using bungee cords and dozens of plated or powder-coated metal tubes and beads. (The headpiece on Childish Gambino’s album cover, for example, required 157 tubes and 824 beads.)
“When we’re weaving, we make it as efficient and streamlined as possible,” Wass said. The goal is to have one knot per item. “There are no redundancies. Ideally the cord ends where it starts. It’s kind of like solving a math problem.”
The crown Beyonce wore for her “7/11” video, left, and a work for Childish Gambino, right, in the workshop of Laura Wass, in Brooklyn.
Wass’ big break came in 2014, when Bergdorf Goodman invited her to design a window as part of an artist series, helping her attract the attention of stores like Colette, 10 Corso Como and Boon the Shop. That success eventually delivered fans like reality star Kylie Jenner, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, and musicians Phantogram and James Blake.
Sometimes, as with “Awaken, My Love!” and Beyoncé's crown, Wass does not know where or how her pieces will end up. In other cases, she has made personal connections that led to collaborations.
Laura Wass, the founder of WXYZ Jewellery, at work in her studio in Brooklyn.
She met Badu at a party while wearing one of her own creations: a gold voluminous mask made of pyramids. “Erykah came up to me and was like: ‘Hi, my name is Erykah. Can you make these pieces for me?'” Wass said. “And I was like, ‘Absolutely.'”
Wass, 31, majored in Latin American studies at the University of Pennsylvania but had always been interested in art. After graduating in 2008, she took on several jobs in manufacturing and product design, supporting labels like Coach, Swarovski and Diane von Furstenberg with their jewellery collections. In 2012, she founded WXYZ Jewellery.
Why the obsession with repeating shapes? “I was into the simplicity of the fundamental structures on which our entire world is built,” Wass said. “The structures of life itself are built on these fundamental shapes.”
As for what is next, Wass wants to go bigger. “At first, I wanted to crack the code of creating a brand that’s distinctive and recognisable and has a clear voice and breaks through the noise,” she said. “In order to do that I had to get really specific. Now I see these things almost as miniatures for building sets and sculptures, and creating immersive worlds.”
Subscribe to our newsletter