Brendon Coughlin

I'm over it.

I’m OVER feeling sluggish and looking at the gray sky, gray city-life, and gray ennui. The rain and snow gray-out all the verdant life around me, making everything all so... gray. 

Style-wise, I really need a change of freaking pace. I want to feel enthused about getting up and getting out. Invigorating my wardrobe and giving a damn about it tends to manifest more creativity for all facets of my life. 

Brendon Coughlin

So with this in mind, I’m challenging myself to be a little more radiant. Of course, facts are facts: It’s freaking cold out, so no matter what, I’m sweater-bound. I need the biggest, bulkiest, warmest woolly thing I can get my hands on. It becomes clear the poetry will be in the details. Incredible accessorizing is my friend in this climate, and in a city like ours, there’s no shortage of remarkable manufacturers to shine our light on. 

The jewelry company that’s been consistently making my heart skip a beat also happens to have the cure for the winter doldrums. Portland manufacturers the Salt Empire have released yet another groundbreaking lookbook and continue to trend-set and trail blaze like few others. I’ve watched their growth over the years, stocking most of my favorite independent boutiques (and even a line for larger stores like Anthropologie), and what amazes me is how this company stays true to a narrative of imagination. Each season, designers Emily Kathryn Carol and Sarah Anne Rose strike a beautiful balance with something cutting-edge and new that still resonates with romantic nostalgia.

Brendon Coughlin

Learning a little bit of the company’s background has definitely deepened my understanding of the nostalgia I feel when I wear their jewelry. The Salt Empire originally began with a friendship in a small town in southeast Wisconsin. Both designers became connected through the loss of a mutual friend; from this tragedy, a deep bond formed. By the time the two had moved to Portland, they’d become best friends and had been inspiring each other creatively. Carol says they kept a journal together which inspired them to start gathering vintage lifestyle pieces to be modified and sold. After a few years of selling a range of products, the two discovered an obvious penchant for jewelry manufacturing and began to focus their efforts. Once they honed their craft, their company had legs of its own. 

It’s clear from the construction of their jewelry and their unique approach that the pieces are extremely architectural and thoughtfully considered. I asked Carol about the pair’s design process, which involves volleying ideas.

“We go back and forth building on [an idea],” Carol said. “The finishing touches that furnish a design’s magic [are] like a hit of lightning, striking us both at once. New tools also guide and equally limit our work. A new tool offers up a new technique, which can be seen throughout the collection.” 

Brendon Coughlin

Both designers are adept in a range of mediums, which also influences their aptitude for mixed metals—though they were formally trained in painting and drawing as well as apparel design. Carol’s added jeweler’s certification guides much of the metal work, but you can also see a creative use of textile, ceramic, and other elements in many of their collections. They acknowledge some of the main learning curves amid all this creativity are time management, bookkeeping, and budgeting.

“Acquiring Anthropologie has been an incredible opportunity and place of growth for our business,” Rose said. “Working with them requires structure and guidelines. Neither Emily nor I traditionally work in a very structured manner. So it’s forced the business and our approach to mature in that way.”

The Salt Empire’s newest lookbook is among my favorite releases of the year and balances offerings of modern, minimalist pieces with absolute maximalism in others, seamlessly united in one collection. They will be releasing a spring line exclusively through Anthro this year, as well as another collection available in Portland boutiques and on their website, thesaltempire.com

I definitely recommend keeping an eye on this company, and if you’re feeling like I’m feeling, you’ll surely find some gray-shattering radiance in a piece from this collection.