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These Fine Jewelry Designers Are Inspired by Dirty Snow

 Photo: Christopher Gabello
Photo: Christopher Gabello

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We like getting to know our new neighbors, especially ones that have a direct line to Florence Welch and vintage diamonds. Though sisters and Sorellina Fine Jewelry co-founders Kim and Nicole Carosella are based in New York, we have a few dazzling pieces of them here in Chicago now (haven't you been reading?)

We logged some chat time with the duo to hear about their design process, dreams, and the culinary dish that they could base a design on. Read on to meet the smart, poetic, and deliciously funny duo.

Growing up together, were there any clues that you'd wind up in business together? Did you, for example, collaborate on lemonade stands?
Kim: Since I was 12 years old, I have been "commissioning" Nicole to make me a variety of things, from painting the door to my bedroom, to making portraits of Jerry Garcia. We also come from a very entrepreneurial family. I have always wanted to start my own company and follow in my father's footsteps, and Nicole is an incredible artist and just loves creating. A few years ago when she began school at FIT and I saw the first pieces of jewelry she created, I knew Sorellina was our future.

Speaking of being kids, what kind of jewelry did you collect or love as little girls?
Nicole: My love affair with jewelry began at an early age. I was a colic baby and could only be lulled to sleep by my mother's sparkling jewelry. In fact, we melted down our mother's fine jewelry from the 70's and 80's to make the original Sorellina collection. But I was always fascinated by pocket watches. I bought so many as a child. I could only buy the ones that didn't work, but I didn't care. I loved opening and closing them. Winding them up even though they didn't keep time. I loved how some of them had secret compartments that had a message or initials engraved. To this day I can't pass by a vintage store without stopping and looking at all the pocket watches.

Flash forward to launching your own business: What drew you to fine jewelry as opposed to fashion/ cocktail jewelry?
Kim: Our parents raised us to have a deep appreciation of the arts and emphasized how design can transform a space or a mood. They also instilled the saying in us "quality over quantity." It has always bothered me that products these days are so disposable. As such, one of my ultimate goals was to create something that would last for generations.

Let's discuss the design process. To start, what is your design space like?
Nicole: Its' organized chaos. For me, it needs to be a multi-functional space where I can do all sorts of things. I'm working at my jewelers bench, emailing, sketching, gilding pictures frames, making hair pieces, et cetera. Because I do such a variety of projects in my office I had to find a way to balance the messy artist and the business side of me.

Where do you derive inspiration season after season?
Nicole: I have a really overactive imagination. I'm one of those people who has very vivid dreams every single night, and they are very fantastical. When I was away in Belize, it was such a beautiful day, and I went to sleep. We had gone to this island where there are all the birds—it's just an island where the birds hang out, and we'd taken a little rowboat through there. That night I had these dreams of all these butterflies in cages, so I could bring them with me, but they were so happy in the cage. I didn't like them being trapped. I called Kim and I was like, "I had a dream about golden butterflies in cages!" And she was like, "I don't even know what that means, but okay!" People always ask about our inspiration. Obviously vintage jewelry is a huge part of the inspiration, but the imagination, just experiences and sometimes—
Kim: Personal experiences. Because if she didn't have the personal experience of rowing through some canopied tree area and seeing this, then maybe she wouldn't have dreamed it.

Where's the most unusual place you've ever found inspiration?
Nicole: I don't know if Kim told you this but the Hail Storm collection, which is all the flowers—Kim made so much fun of me—we went to look at our apartment in Brooklyn during a terrible snowstorm two winters ago. I don't know if you know this about Brooklyn, but they don't love plowing the streets. So the streets were dirty, and there was that mix of the really white, fresh snow with the really old, black, gross snow. We were climbing, literally, over these snow banks to get to where our apartment is. I stop, and it's freezing cold, and Kim is like, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "Kim, look at this over here, the way this is laying, it looks like there could be these beautiful flowers that would come out of the storm."

Kim: It was basically dirty snow. That's what I saw. I actually consider myself a relatively creative person, but it was dirty snow. But she was like, "It looks like these snow-covered blah-blah." So now we do a lot of these black ink flowers, with a pop of white diamonds. But it came from dirty snow—that's what normal people would see. But that became one of our most successful collections so far.

You use a lot of serpents in your Victoria Collection! What does the serpent symbolize to you?
Nicole: The use of serpents comes directly from that time period. They represent wisdom but also eternal love, which was illustrated by Queen Victoria's continuous love of Prince Albert even 40 years after his death.

And now those serpents and hailstorm flowers are available in Chicago! How did you team up with Elements?
Kim: Beth Bernstein, author and jewelry consultant, recently launched a new coffee table book called Shining Stars. It featured designs, quotes, personal anecdotes and inspirations from 38 designers and we were one of the 38! Elements was kind enough to host an event for the book and we decided to attend. Once we stepped in the store, we knew it was just a perfect fit for Sorellina.

Ok, here's your lightening-round. First: What piece of jewelry do you have now that means the most to you?
Kim: My engagement ring, which is the first Sorellina piece ever created. This piece is quintessential sorellina with the use of mixed metals

How do you display your jewelry at home?
Kim: I keep all of my jewelry in a vintage jewelry box that my mother bought for me. You would think that I have way too much jewelry to keep in a single box, but my jewelry collection has actually shrunk since starting Sorellina because I sell pieces off my body.

Which celebrity has the best jewelry style?
Kim: Florence Welch—her style is incredible and completely her own. She wears at least 5 rings every day.

And, if you could base a jewelry design on a piece of architecture or a culinary dish, what would you choose as your inspiration?
Nicole: The Chrysler buiding and French macaroons.

· Sorellina [Official Site]
· Sorellina Fine Jewelry (a Florence Welch Fave!) is Now in Chicago [Racked Chicago]

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