When I first met jewelry designer Catherine Sarr five years ago, she wore a gold and diamond cowrie shell pendant, and she still wears it today. It defines her style: simple yet symbolic. As a teenager she wore a natural cowrie shell, and when she established her Almasika jewelry collection, she made a “grown-up” version that references her African roots. It’s a talisman believed to bring good luck and fortune in many cultures.
As a mother of four young children, the Parisian-born designer with Beninese parents who now lives in Chicago, Sarr tends to dress simply with symbolic jewels and stacks of strong sculptural pieces. Here, she shares how jewelry shapes her style and mood.
What comes first when you get dressed: the outfit or the jewelry?
CS: I wake up with the jewelry on, so jewelry is first. I always wear my cowrie shell necklace and then layer on pieces depending on my mood. Jewelry is timeless, and I tend not to change my jewelry as often as I would an article of clothing.
What are your go-to jewelry pieces?
CS: My go-to jewels are necklaces, especially ones that you can layer. They are pieces that are always with you and transition not just from day to night, but with you through your life. They keep memories, intentions and an element of protection near you.
How do make your jewels stand out?
CS: I love having a contrast between my clothing and jewelry. Long necklaces and solid, bold colored blouses really let your jewelry piece stand out. Gold and diamond jewelry against the skin—like when you wear open shirts with shorter necklaces— also gets noticed.
What’s your signature jewelry style?
CS: I love layering my jewelry whether it be necklaces, bracelets or rings. There is an art to layering, especially necklaces; I start with one closer to the collar and add a longer, more relaxed piece to find a good balance.
Best tips for updating your look?
CS: A new pair of earrings can freshen up any look in the same way a new haircut can. It’s the first thing people see when they meet you; diamond earrings can add an instant glow to your face.
Did anyone give you great jewelry advice?
CS: My mother always said to start with a great pair of earrings. She felt regardless of your outfit, earrings refresh your look, add a color and draw attention to your face. Of course, I never listened and always went after necklaces, but my mother was right all along.
Whose jewelry style do you admire?
CS: The actress Romy Schneider was the epitome of elegance, effortlessness and sophistication. She was a real style icon in France in the Seventies. She dressed simply and wore sculptural jewelry—either one statement necklace with an open blouse, or layers of necklaces in an effortless way. She always appeared well put together.
Do you see jewelry and gems as talismans?
CS: I believe jewelry has a deeper meaning. Your jewelry holds a certain energy. For example, Almasika’s cowrie shell collection called Le Cauri Endiamanté is worn as a modern talisman to bring good fortune.