On Point: Pretty In Punk, A Music-Inspired Journey from Journalism to Jewelry Design

Pretty In Punk - Beer & Punk

Pretty In Punk: Beer & Blunt

Pretty in Punk’s traditionally made designs eschew formality, with a wink. Each piece defies preconceptions – of gender, of genre – and though edgy, has its sharpness tempered by cheek and burnished by craftswomanship. Designed by Shanel Odum, Pretty in Punk is unmistakably inspired by her passion for music and informed by her gifts for storytelling.

Odum took the road less traveled on her journey to studio life: she began her career as a journalist and eventually ascended the ranks to Editor-in-Chief/HBIC of Vibe Vixen and Honey magazines (bibles of the early-aughts for the hippest young women of color)  [Ed. Note: The author of this piece wrote for Odum at both publications]. A few years ago, when the winds of change blew through her office, she decided to switch directions and her jewelry-making hobby moved to the center of her professional life.

Odum’s beautifully crafted designs represent her influences distilled into adornment: afro punk, urban architecture, feminine strength, masculine polish, naughty humor, high art, pop culture and yogic grace. Muphoric Sounds sat down with her recently in Brooklyn, over food from the Crabby Shack and a bottle of wine, to get the goods on Odum’s pretty, punky journey.

Muphoric Sounds: What’s your creative process like?

Shanel Odum: It always starts with a simple idea. And I always design for myself. I’m thinking, “What do I need next to wear? What am I missing? What part of my body needs a new accent?” Maybe I’m inspired by a piece of architecture, someone’s hairpiece or a building. A costume, a movie… I think about it and something starts to take shape in my head.

I’m definitely not the girl who starts out at the drawing board, sketching things out, thinking about things mechanically and logically. I come up with [something] in my head and I problem solve how to make it happen. My medium is wax carving. I take a block or sheet of wax, wire wax, and [carve] it by hand. Whatever I think of in my head, I know that I need to be able to shape it with my hands.

MS: Who/what is your muse?

SO: I guess I’d say the dream person to rock my jewelry would be Grace Jones. Or Rihanna. My stuff has an edge to it, it looks dangerous at times. It looks like maybe weaponry or cutlery, but it’s sexy. Kind of rebellious. They are naturally that. I can see Rihanna celebrating 4/20 wearing my blunt and bottle cap.  I can see Grace Jones rocking my breastplate.  I can see Zoe Kravitz rocking literally anything. The claw ring, the wolverines. FKA Twigs in a septum situation or ear cuffs.

I love the idea of unisex. I love the idea that a guy and a girl can wear the same piece of jewelry and it can come off two different ways. When I shop for jewelry, I tend to look in the men’s section, because it’s got more structure, strength, it’s a little heavier. A little less dainty. Now I’m beginning to embrace a feminine and masculine thing. Grace Jones personifies that, along with people who are inspired by her.

Pretty In Punk: Wolverine III

Pretty In Punk: Wolverine III

MS: What’s your journey from journalist to jewelry designer been like?

SO: I’ve always been obsessed with jewelry. I started to repair my own jewelry myself, making little tweaks to something to make it my own. I was always working with found objects and I had all these [ideas] in my head that I couldn’t execute, because I didn’t know how to create things from scratch. I also didn’t have the time. I was a full-time editor. I didn’t have the time to dedicate to educating myself on learning more and getting experience in jewelry making. So when my magazine folded, it was a blessing because I got that freedom. The first thing I did was email one of my favorite designers and say “I want to be your apprentice. I have nothing but time now, I’m not expecting financial compensation. I just want to soak up all of your genius by osmosis and get as much from you as I can.” His name is Chris Habana.

I started working with him about a year ago and learned how he had become a one-man small business, while he had a full time job. He had a studio in his apartment and he was going from a small business level to someone who’s now making deals and signing contracts with MAC, and doing these big wholesale things, and going to Paris and getting into Vogue magazine.

I actually watched him blow up! He was still making stuff in his apartment and being featured in Vogue. Lady Gaga wears his stuff and I helped carve one of those pieces out of wax. Watching that process organically happen within a year was amazing. I was right there behind the scenes, as opposed to going into an established company that has a corporate office.

A year later, I had the technical skills to actually launch my brand. Not to say I know everything I need to know. I know a smithereen of what I want to know. I love being a student again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to learn more. There’s always going to be some technique or somebody that I can learn from. I can’t imagine feeling satisfied with my knowledge. I’ll always want to learn. Whether that means traveling to a new place and seeing how they do it, going to Turkey and watching their techniques, going to India and seeing their adornments, going to Africa and watching them carve, I can’t imagine it stopping.

Pretty In Punk: Breast Plate

Pretty In Punk: Breast Plate

MS: What’s your advice for people seeking to transition into careers in design?

SO: Do it! I would say is the best thing to do is to just do it. You shouldn’t have to have an excuse to try something new.

I know that’s easier said than done and it helped that at the time [I started], I had lost my full-time job. Instead of thinking “oh no, what the hell am I going to do?” I was so excited. When I left my job, I left [journalism] behind. I didn’t try freelancing, I didn’t try running after another full-time job. I switched focus completely and immersed myself in this jewelry game. I had the time to do it and the mental space to do it and that felt really nice.

MS: Who are your mentors?

SO: I would say Chris Habana, big time. Emilie Shapiro. She was my metalsmithing/waxcarving teacher at LILOVEVE Studio in Williamsburg. She’s really, really skilled. Really, really passionate. A great teacher. She wrote this amazing book (How to Create Your Own Jewelry Line) that’s a step-by-step guide to doing exactly what I want to do. She’s kind of my hero, because the book is just so relevant and so now. And I wanna be just like her. She’s awesome.

MS: What’s next for your line?

SO: I’m working with Booker Leather Company. Jameelah Booker, who I’m also obsessed with, is a shero and an inspiration. She’s a kick-ass designer. A young, black woman, who’s this breathtaking artist. I feel like she designs for me.

She’s a leather designer and designs functional, hot, badass motorcycle jackets for women. When I put on her [designs], I feel like a girl feels when she’s trying on her wedding gown. Like Cinderella. It feels like it’s my cloak, my superhero cloak. She picked me as one of her spokesmodels for the line because just as I’m inspired by her, she’s inspired by me and my style and my energy and all that stuff.

I’m working with her on a small capsule collection. Our aesthetic is very similar in that we like to blend the tough and the sexy, the hardcore and the delicate, the feminine and masculine. We’re embracing all those aspects of our fashion, of our sexuality, of our spirit and of ourselves. So I think our collection will be a reflection of that. We’re going to be doing metal and leather cuffs and adornments, accessories, kickasseries.

Shanel Odum, Designer

Shanel Odum, Designer

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Sacha Phillip Wynne is a writer, fusionist and founder of WÆRK, Inc., an arts-based consultancy that brings data to life through narrative. Follow her company @waerkit