Susan Oster: Feral Jewelry and The Noo Studio
Feral Jewelry and The Noo Studio designer, Susan Oster, incorporates sustainability and meaning into her pieces. Feral Jewelry creatively embraces eco-conscious materials to provide women with uniquely glamorous and undomesticated jewelry. The Noo Studio, consciously dedicated after Oster’s father, allows men to find strength in the struggle in each “imperfect” design. Read below to learn more about each brilliant collection.
When did your passion for animals begin? Have you ever had an impactful bond with a specific animal?
My passion for animals and the natural world began early, probably as a very young child. My grandfather had a camp for boys and we were allowed to roam around that acreage and gather arrowheads and frogs, and were encouraged to go barefoot all summer long. I have always had a “way” with animals – perhaps much less so with people. I think I can read subtle signs with both. For better or worse. And yes, my last dog was the dog of my life, although every animal I’ve ever owned has been pretty great.
Feral Jewelry embraces the many physical characteristics of animal forms, can you elaborate on why you chose to exhibit select features, such as antlers and Boar’s teeth?
I choose to use elements such as antlers and boar’s teeth because they are eco-conscious, as are all the materials I use in my designs. Even the fur I have used from time to time is from very old coats that are headed for the bin…rather than have them sent to the dump, I take them and give them a third life. All antler material is naturally shed. All fossils are at least four thousand years old and CITES certified. Not only does this offer my brand sustainability that I cherish, but it challenges me creatively, which I love. Using just any old thing is too broad a parameter – these unusual objects narrow the field and give my brand character.
Can you tell us a little about the most inspiring mountain trip you have embarked on? Did it have an influence on your work?
The most inspiring mountain trip I had was in Canada. As my husband worked for NBC, we were allowed to ski Whistler/Blackcombe during the Olympics, with an Olympic freestyler. We were with a group of about 10 people, and I was by far the slowest and worst skier in the bunch, and I’m not terrible – we are talking Olympians here. The trip to the mountains alone brought tears to my eyes; the beauty was so raw and overwhelming. But the top of the mountain was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was whipped cream. It was the Grinch that stole Christmas. It was TERRIFYINGLY beautiful.
Why do you think it’s important for jewelry to have a commitment to sustainability? How do you integrate sustainability into your business?
I think at this time it’s important not just for Feral to be committed to sustainability, but for most brands that can, to at least try to be. I am really encouraged to see how many larger brands are striving for this goal. I use old gold and silver when I can, I refuse to work with electroplating or products that harm the environment, and I use every scrap. My packaging is sustainable and recyclable wood. I do my best to think it through at each level of the process.
Feral Jewelry pieces are often glamorous and undomesticated. How did you come about this concept—embracing the wild in nature?
The mash-up of undomesticated glamour was born from seeing a hole in the market for women like me, who spent a lot of time out of doors, who saw themselves as active participants in the natural world, but had no way to express that in a glamorous way. And I wanted to create a line that marked a woman’s place in it, in time, in the grand scheme of all that came before and all that will be after. Because we are all part of this long thread of connectivity. It sounds very “woo woo” but really, if you’re going to buy an expensive piece of jewelry, shouldn’t it mean something? This was, and remains, the backstory of the collection.
The utilization of spikes in your designs is beautiful and bold; what made you decide to turn this motif into natural, stunning jewelry? When did you first incorporate them into your designs?
I’m not sure how conscious I was at the time about the development of the spike collection, but looking back, a lot of the pieces I made at the beginning were downright dangerous. And I don’t think that was entirely accidental. This was 2016 and the “me too” movement had not yet taken off but was ripe to do so. And it was all there in me as well. The spikes came a little later than some of the even more aggressive pieces (if you can believe that) but they remain the core of the collection, and the best sellers.
After spending twenty years in the interior design industry, what inspired you to start a new career in jewelry design?
After 20 years in interior design, we moved for the third time to the opposite coast. Now, I had built my design firm three times, and done well. I’d been published a bunch, and had a lot of loyal clients, and enjoyed it. But two things happened – my son hit high school in a big city and got sick. So I decided for a while to focus on him, and after he was clearly ok, I thought, what now? A dear friend in the business asked me to draw up a few designs for her, and we never met to go over them so I put them aside, and later I showed them to my very conservative banker. Now, my designs are not conservative and were even less so then. He said, “Do it. Don’t wait one minute.” And it was all I needed. Sometimes we all need permission. And the friend? She’s been my biggest cheerleader.
During your studies at Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA, did you have an interest in jewelry design? When did you create your first piece? Tell us about it.
My studies at Carnegie Mellon seem like a lifetime ago, but I did study some design there. Certainly nothing to do with jewelry. And the same holds true for UCLA. We did a thousand floor plans and two thousand sketches, but no jewelry, sadly. I have a strong ability to draw, and both schools helped to strengthen it. And both encouraged creativity. UCLA in particular kicked my butt in terms of teaching me design, and I am deeply grateful. My first piece was a double upper arm vine and thorn arm cuff with diamonds that looked sort of like a tattoo. It was part of a ten- piece collection which included a cuff made of feathers, pine cone earrings, acorn earrings and a diamond twig pin. I never did make the pin.
What inspired you to create your handmade men’s line, “The Noo Studio?” Who, or what, has been your greatest inspiration for creating this collection?
The inspiration for The Noo Studio was my father. He has been gone a long time, and was a complex, gruff Scotsman from the Stewart clan. While he didn’t wear a lot of jewelry, he did give me two pieces that he wore before he died, and they were the jumping off point for this line.
The Noo Studio focuses on the expression of strength, especially in finding strength in the struggle; can you explain to us a time in which you were able to find strength in your struggles?
I think everyone finds strength in the struggle. Without the wound, there is no courage. There is no need for repair where there has been no break. On a very personal level, I live with a high level of chronic pain, which I choose to manage with the help of good habits and dedicated professionals because I have no intention of slowing down just yet. But there is no doubt that it comes out in my art. And that is a gift.
In many of your pieces, you demonstrate the idea of repair and the ability to fix; can you discuss the significance of this concept and the design process inspired by it?
In doing my due diligence, I found that men’s jewelry came in two essential types; skulls and crosses and pirate type things that could get very expensive and looked a bit motorcycle gang-ish, or extremely simple and clean. I personally have yet to meet the guy who didn’t see himself in one way or another as a fixer, a healer, or a dude who could make things better. So I thought, let me design a few pieces that are broken and fixed to reflect that innate feeling a man has. We have screws and bolts, we have big fat stitches, we have all kinds of breaks and repairs; and we have handmade finishes that are not too shiny and perfect, and none are exactly the same. I love a slight imperfection in a piece of men’s jewelry.
Can you elaborate on the incorporation of the Stewart clan motto in The Noo Studio line, as well as on its relevance?
The Stewart clan motto reads, “Virescit vulnere virtus” or “Courage grows strong from a wound.” This is the entire source of inspiration for The Noo Studio, and its theme of strength coming from the broken places.
Feral Jewelry and The Noo Studio offer quality, expression and unique pieces to be added to anyone’s collection. To see more of Feral Jewelry follow along on Instagram @feraljewelry and at www.feraljewelry.com
To see more of The Noo Studio follow along on Instagram @thenoostudio and at www.thenoostudio.com