Heavy Metals NYC: Mixing Tough and Sexy
Brooklyn-based Heavy Metals NYC creates eclectic, avant-garde, luxe pieces. Founder, designer and trendsetter, Shanel Odum, started the brand with a desire to stand out, and she certainly achieved it. Heavy Metals NYC’s designs carry strength and personality. Read along to find out more about Shanel Odum and Heavy Metals NYC.
As you have described, your jewelry reflects elements of urban life in a way that is very “delicate but dangerous.” How has New York City influenced that?
I’m often told my jewelry is beautiful, but intimidating, and the same can be said of this city. New York has a way of toughening you up and sharpening your edge. When I moved to Brooklyn from upstate, I realized that, here, “survival of the fittest” is more mentality than mantra, and it didn’t take long to adapt. That shift manifested internally and externally, and my jewelry became its own kind of armor. I feel tough rocking my stuff, and I love empowering the people who put it on.
You started your career as a journalist and eventually dove into the jewelry industry. How was this transition for you? What has been the biggest obstacle?
It was easy to transition from a writer to a maker. When my magazine folded, the rest of the staff panicked at the layoffs, but I considered it an opportunity. The freedom to refocus my career on jewelry design is something I’ve always been passionate about, but never pursued professionally. The challenge came with straddling the roles of artist and business owner — pulling myself away from the jeweler’s bench to my laptop. I had to learn to: visually capture my work, build a brand, produce an e-commerce site, maintain an active social media presence, tackle emails and pitches, track inventory, costs, and profit margins, and vend pop-ups. It’s still an awkward dance, but I’m finally starting to catch a rhythm.
You mentioned that you started making jewelry with a desire to stand out. What was the first piece that you designed? How has your style changed since then?
The first piece I made was a sword knuckleduster for a silversmithing course I took at LiloVive Gallery in Williamsburg. I called it Midnight Marauder, and it launched my brand aesthetic. When I started my jewelry line, I didn’t set out to design a cohesive collection, I just began sculpting pieces I wanted to wear, one-by-one. The more I experimented and the more skilled I became, the more complex the pieces I created got, but my style remained consistent. My work is still rebellious, daring, and beautifully badass. Things that are censored and oppressed – like nudity, drugs, profanity, weaponry – I shove in your face. I chose the name Heavy Metals specifically for its literal and figurative meaning, which celebrates both physical weight and visual aesthetic.
Keeping up with social issues seems crucial to you. We see that you are constantly supporting the Young Survival Coalition (dedicated to educating young women affected by breast cancer), and regularly taking a stand on other social concerns. With that being said, what does Heavy Metals NYC stand for? What do you want the brand to be known for?
I’m proud to say, Heavy Metals’ ambassadors are advocates, revolutionaries, and activists. My accessories tend to attract eccentric rebels with a wicked sense of humor. I’ve made prideful pieces like “Blk AF” ID bracelets, afro pick pendants, Wakanda Salute necklaces, and Black Panther Claws. Over the past year, my radical perspective has proved more relevant than ever. I was recently commissioned to make a gas mask pendant by a client, active protestor, and personal friend who’s been personally affected by racist and corrupt law enforcement practices. I take that as an amazing testament to the brand I’ve built.
Who has been your biggest mentor and supporter throughout this journey?
My most influential mentors are my favorite designer and former boss, Chris Habana, and my favorite master craftsman (and master of tough-love), Pierre Pires. Collectively, they’ve taught me more than any book, class, or YouTube tutorial ever could. Pierre’s studio is still my sanctuary.
Your pieces are the perfect mix of tough and sexy. What is the creative process behind designing your jewelry?
My design process is very tactile. I don’t really sketch before I sculpt. I enjoy the process of hand carving and letting the piece reveal itself. I also like kinetic pieces – like my guillotine necklace and the sword and sheath – which take a lot of trial and error. No matter how I feel about a first attempt at something, I always re-carve it and try to improve the final product. I come up with an idea in my head without knowing how to execute it, and then it’s a matter of problem solving. The experimentation is both the challenge and reward.
You have mentioned that you “accessorize ornaments with clothes, instead of the other way around.” Do you think more people are starting to view jewelry as the primary statement of a wardrobe, that all is accessorized around? Why jewelry first?
I think we’re all more thoughtful about how we spend money on fashion and adornment, in general. Many of us who’ve been hibernating through Covid have cut fast fashion from our diets completely and are purchasing with purpose instead. That translates to more sentimental and timeless acquisitions that spark joy and nostalgia.
Can you share any plans for future collections?
I’ve got a couple of cool collabs on the horizon. I’m in the development stage of a line of tooth gems with my best friend, @goodiethetoothfairy. I’m also working on another capsule collection with iconic BK-based leatherware designer, @vvpatchouli. Our current capsule collection is available at heavymetalsnyc.com and at Noho-based boutique, @Showfields.
You emphasize that all of your pieces are gender neutral and designed for anyone and everyone. Do you believe that the jewelry industry is working towards breaking these gender norms? Where do you think it needs to go next?
I think the fashion industry as a whole has been forced to listen to the masses who are actively shaping culture- the ones challenging, deconstructing, and dismantling the concept of gender. I used to browse the women’s jewelry section of my favorite boutiques, but always found myself lingering in the men’s department. Male pieces were always bolder, bigger, more “me,” and I took that sensibility into my unisex designs. Now, when someone asks, if I service men and women, they’re not referring to design, they’re specifically talking about sizing.
Who do you want to see wearing Heavy Metals NYC?
Besides being bigger, I think my organic customer base is exactly as it should be. Ultimately, I’d love for the icons who’ve cultivated my aesthetic to have the opportunity to rock the pieces they’ve inspired. I hope to one day see Grace Jones with one of my hand-rolled metal joints tucked behind her ear, Amber Rose wearing my breastplate necklace, and Lena Waithe cuffed up in my ‘Bae AF’ ID bracelet.
To see more of Heavy Metals NYC visit https://heavymetalsnyc.com and follow them on Instagram @heavymetalsnyc