The Quintessentially New York Jewelry Designer Shares What’s Next.
Idistinctly recall the first time I met Maria Canale. We met for a perfect espresso at the Southgate restaurant in The Essex House with a view out to Central Park. The day was a gray, rainy scene that gave a familiar fogginess to the City of New York. All the while, the sidewalks of this bustling city were bursting with pedestrians with a purpose, no matter the rain. Canale walked in, wearing a charcoal-gray cape-like trench and carrying a chic, black Prada handbag that could double for a briefcase if your business is to carry a sketchpad. Designers have a signature style that I’ve always admired, and if a woman could resemble my version of America’s most metropolitan city it was her. Even her New York accent had an elegance I wanted to emulate.
It would be almost four years later that I would see her at the Couture Show in Las Vegas with her latest collections, and I was flattered to be recognized by her. Once again, her personal style spoke to her incredible talent as a designer, and I perused the latest collection which was among my favorites of the show.
For two and a half decades, Canale’s been in the jewelry design limelight, designing important jewelry for the world’s biggest luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Mikimoto and Harry Winston. Today, Maria Canale jewelery features her worldly eye for sophisticated design, available through independent jewelers and luxury retailers.
Canale’s grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1921, setting the course for the family that would make its way in New York. His hand-engraved stamp with the family “C” crest serves as the mark of the brand today.
As a teen, Canale started as a goldsmith apprentice on the bench, and then her parents set up a workshop in their home. She attended The School for American Craftsmen in Rochester, New York, where she was passionate about creating wearable art. A year after graduation, she attended FIT and discovered that design was really where her niche was.
“I had spent a summer in Japan for metalsmithing, and it was a little overwhelming because you are limited to what you can make, and those skills take years to develop. And so I really wanted to have a much broader breadth of design. That was my aha moment,” says Canale, who then took a class on rendering and design with the designer of Bulgari, Omar Torres. He ended up becoming a mentor of hers, which is where her journey really began to take off.
“People ask me, ‘What's your hobby?’ and this is it. It’s my career, my hobby, and I feel really lucky to have that."
“People ask me, ‘What’s your hobby?’ and this is it. It’s my career, my hobby, and I feel really lucky to have that. I don’t think about retiring, because why would I want to? I love doing this. I think it’s a gift,” she says.
“When I launched my brand about six years ago I traveled to meet with the customers, and people would say to me that it sounded exhausting. I actually loved it. I am not a salesperson, but I love to meet the clients, and it’s great to hear the feedback,” she says.
That feedback and her never-ending source for inspiration, nature, informs her design. “My design is somewhat architectural, and I tend to break things down by four. I’ll look at shapes and forms and then what you can do with those shapes and forms. I don’t work on a computer. I work by hand. I’m in the category of writers who still use a typewriter. And I am very hands-on with the craftsmen,” she says.
Working with patterns, mostly circles, dots and balls, is a big thing for Canale, who attributes those shapes to the success of the Deco period. “If you go back to some of the early works, that’s what makes them so timeless,” says Canale, who also strives for a timeless design aesthetic.
Her personal style is much the same. She describes it as clean, classic and simple, and gravitates toward designers like Carolina Herrera. She stays away from prints and prioritizes looking for outfits that work with her accessories.
“For the people that buy my jewelry, it’s about something that feels really good to wear. When you wear it, you don’t feel it on; it’s just part of you. And I could say that the Flapper collection definitely fits that bill so well because that ball and chain is so sleek and sort of sexy, and it really feels good,” she says.
So what’s next for the designer? She just opened up a new location and feels more at home than ever before. “It’s got a marble fireplace and a great area to sit. From that, what I’d like to do is start designing other products, with a feel and, let’s say, honesty of what I’ve been doing to bring to personal products, like items for the home.”
And, unsurprisingly, this is feeding her inspiration. “In our new office, you definitely feel like you’re in the Old New York; it’s pretty. That’s very romantic to me. I think New York, when you’re here on a daily basis and you’re walking around, you’re part of that energy. I love that. I don’t think I could ever give up living in New York totally because I think it feeds you, it really does feed you.”
Looking for a great way to enjoy NYC? Here, Canale shares with us her must-dos.
“I usually tell people that they should walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, because it’s just such a great thing to do. The views are spectacular.”
“Walk up Madison and Fifth Avenue above 86th Street. It still feels like a neighborhood… There’s a quietness about the Carnegie Hill area; it feels like what New York was, and that quiet elegance of the city is great.”
“The Guggenheim has that spiral feeling and that’s an inspiration.”
“Enjoy the energy of the city. You could look at a manhole cover or a fire escape, and you’re seeing that repeating pattern. Even the subway with the tiles and the inlay—there’s just so much there, right?”