NEARLY THREE YEARS ago, Andy Lifschutz left his native Oregon. Determined to establish his eponymous jewelry business in New York, he'd made a big impression here, known for giant rings with bold, slightly dangerous stones and large, gender-nonspecific pieces that maintained high drama through their size and eclectic mix of materials.
Since he's been in NYC, his designs have been picked up by the MoMA store, and he was featured in the New York Times as well as interviewed by elle.com, Dossier Journal, Harper's Bazaar, GQ, and Germany's Stylebook. He's poised to launch a collaboration with the shoe company Modern Vice, too.
Lifschutz has an even grander plan, though, and it's one that Portland still plays a very large part in. In a few short weeks he'll make the trek to Rome, the third city alongside Portland and New York where he plans to establish a small storefront, studio, and/or event space. But first he's returned—as he does every year—for a visit home, and is throwing a trunk show of his latest work. He'll be back again, of course, but this is going to be our last chance to connect with him, and his increasingly sophisticated work, for a while. The Mercury spoke to him about his grand plans after he'd just wrapped up a day of vending alongside his grandmother at the Oregon Country Fair, an event he's only missed twice in his entire life. Andy Lifschutz trunk show at Dig a Pony, 736 SE Grand, Sun July 21, 5-8 pm
MERCURY: What were the advantages, in jewelry making specifically, of relocating to New York?
ANDY LIFSCHUTZ: I wanted to establish strong relationships with suppliers and editors, and if they're not in New York they're coming there frequently. It wasn't that I couldn't have a business in Portland or that Portland's too small. It was just the best fit to pursue the agenda of growing the business to a point where I'm able to outsource certain parts of my production to people I trust—it's more important for me to concentrate on custom and new designs. In Portland you have craftspeople and real artisans, but stonecutters and casters are just working faster [in New York], and it's a lot more affordable.
How have you evolved the jewelry itself in the past few years?
I'll start with what hasn't changed: Every piece has a well thought-out story that has elements of ancient history, craftsmanship, and emotional value. That's something I've learned: I have to be true to my art and respect myself as an artist if I'm going to grow my brand and swim with the fashion fish. If I try to do something that's for a market or trend it's not going to work.
I've [also] gotten a lot better at making pieces that are more wearable. (That's not to say that I won't go big again.)
What will you have at the trunk show?
The new Garbo line, and some new pieces I've added to my Found collection, which I launched in Portland in 2009. Those pieces, for whatever reason, always resonate well with West Coast people. I'm preparing for a couple art shows in Europe, so I've been working on a lot of explorations into how to form metal into completely abstract accents—Portland gets to see that first.
How did you decide on Rome?
I studied ancient Roman history in college and spent a lot of time living in Europe. For me it has a similar pace to Portland. In general the approach to life is laidback with lots of good food. I can also get by in Italian, I know the culture somewhat, and the heritage in terms of jewelry making is far and above anywhere else in the world.
What's your vision for moving back to Portland?
I think really it's probably about three years away—that's my goal. It's hard to leave [Portland], you know. Last year when I went back I got sick for like three weeks. My body wanted to be in Oregon. There are plenty of successful businesses in Portland that I respect and admire, and there's a lot of success happening here. I want to have my business established out further into the world and be able to bring a larger name back to Portland in a way where I'm free to do it without hesitation.