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Five Questions for Jewelry Designer Eddie Borgo

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

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In the six years since he launched his namesake jewelry line, Eddie Borgo has racked up some serious accolades. In 2010, Borgo was the runner-up in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. The following year, he won the CFDA's Swarovski Award for Accessories Design. High-end retailers ranging from Neiman Marcus to Net-a-Porter sell his pieces, and if you haven't spotted a slew of celebs wearing his designs, then you aren't looking hard enough. While Borgo is known for his edgy/pretty work, here's something you probably didn't know about the designer: He is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.

At his Neiman Marcus trunk show on Saturday, a delighted customer approached Eddie to thank him for helping her select a necklace. "Thank you so much," she said with a soft British accent. "Every time I wear that choker, I'll think of you." Eddie's face lit up as he responded, "A-mazing! You got it! It was such a pleasure to meet you. Thank you so much. And congratulations on everything." And then he hugged her.

Borgo shares enthusiasm and hugs liberally —he hugged me, too, and it made my rainy Saturday better— but it's his playfully punky jewelry that has made him an industry darling. From holiday shopping recs to how to build a successful business, I had a few questions for Eddie Borgo.

You're in San Francisco for a trunk show, and you have a lot of customers shopping for gifts. What percentage of customers also make a "treat yo self" purchase?
I think with jewelry you typically see people doing both. They initially come to buy something for someone else, but they end up buying something for themselves as well. The only customers we don't see that with are the men. I think it's so romantic when a man buys a woman jewelry, so it's cool to work with them. It's one of my favorite things to do because they're buying a gift. They're being thoughtful about it and trying to judge her taste.

Do you have a favorite piece from your current collection?
That's a really good question. I think the inlaid cube bracelet right now. I also love our safety chain collars; these very minimal, clean collars. I think a lot of people do collars, but the mechanisms in them are so beautiful. They're so well-made, they fit so beautifully. It's just a clean, sculptural piece of jewelry that you can wear today, tomorrow, years from now.

You're originally from Atlanta, which has a reputation for being feminine and prim, but your designs are filled with spikes and studs. What inspired your love of those hard elements?
When we're looking at the jewelry, we're looking at it as object. We're looking at the different iconography in object, sculpture, and hardware that has nostalgic value. Spikes mean something very specific. A padlock -- that's iconography that comes from a very specific place. Those associations — in a padlock around someone's neck, specifically— can represent a cultural movement, it can represent anarchy, it can represent the Sex Pistols, it can represent just a beautiful shape. I think we like to play with that dichotomy when we're designing the jewelry. There's always a subversive undertone in our jewelry, and I like that. I like that that subversion can exist, even in a place like Neiman Marcus. We can take something like a padlock or a choker that comes from a subcultural place and make it pretty. I like that we can play around with that balance, that juxtaposition.

You started your business in 2008, which was a bold move considering the economy. How have you seen the industry change in the last six years?
I started my company at the same time a lot of my friends started their companies. I'm very friendly with Joseph Altuzarra, and we've talked about this quite often. This idea that we launched our companies when the global economy was in a very questionable spot and in fashion and retail there was so much uncertainty. What it allowed us to do was really strategically and slowly grow our businesses instead of jumping into a blossoming economy. Now, as the economy is slowly starting to regain momentum, we're growing with the economy. It's organic; it's a natural evolution… [My team is] never trying to bite off more than we can chew. If we can't do something, if we don't have the resources or the wherewithal or the team feels stressed, we say no. And when we feel that we can take on a new project, we'll do it. It's that sort of philosophy instead of 'let's do everything at once and take over jewelry'. We're not trying to do that.

How do you see your company evolving in the future?
A lot of handwork goes into the jewelry, but we're also looking at what technology can bring to us as a young brand. 3D rendering programs, maker bot machines; we can see the jewelry completely composed as a 3D animated rendering before we ever start carving our waxes. We're really embracing techonology. We attend industrial design conferences as a design team. We're thinking a lot about the future of the objects that we're making; how there will be a day when we can offer our customer the ability to customize our designs through different programs, and grow them in her own 3D maker bot machine. We're really having a lot of fun with what we do. The materials, the shapes, the compositions. It's a really fun time in the studio.

For the customer who wants to give someone an Eddie Borgo piece this holiday season, but has no idea what to buy, Eddie recommends the inlaid cube bracelet, the cone bracelet (which he is gifting to friends this year), or a piece from the "estate collection." Eddie Borgo jewelry is available in San Francisco at Neiman Marcus.

· Eddie Borgo [Official Site]
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