The past year has been monumental for Bernard James: He introduced new collections, opened his first retail store, joined a diamond design initiative, and received an award during New York Fashion Week.
James says opening his first store—at 181 Franklin St. in Brooklyn—marked the “next chapter” for his brand. He describes the shop as a place for conversation and discovery as he showcases what he considers his best work to date.
Another highlight of 2023 for James came in September, when he won Accessories Designer of the Year at the Essence Best in Black Fashion Awards during New York Fashion Week.
“I have a strong network and community around the brand, and I’m lucky to have that,” James says. “I feel happy and humbled by the recognition.” He’d been honored earlier in the year by being named to the third cohort of the Natural Diamond Council’s Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative.
James got his start in the fashion world at such luxury houses as Ferragamo, Versace, and Lanvin. Working for nearly a decade among clothing designers, wholesalers, and manufacturers, James made a lot of friends and colleagues—and members of the industry voted their approval of his jewelry work with the Essence award.
“It speaks to the support that we have” in both the fashion and jewelry sectors, James says. “It about being recognized by your peers, and that means so much to me.”
To James, jewelry design is an extension of his ideas around art and luxury. It’s personal to him because he pulls from his memories and experiences for inspiration. His Flora collection, for instance, shows the influence of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, with its contrasts of lush blooms amid the city’s concrete..
His jewelry work gained extra attention last January when he was named one of six members of this year’s Emerging Designers Diamond Initiative, which was created by the Natural Diamond Council and jeweler Lorraine Schwartz to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) designers with a total of more than $1 million of diamond credit. Joining that cohort has been exciting because of the people he’s gotten to meet, James told JCK.
James’ new Process line, along with Flora and other pieces, are on display at the new Brooklyn store, where James hopes to host events and provide an additional welcoming space for the community in the Greenpoint neighborhood. The boutique is open Monday and Wednesday by appointment and Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 7 p.m.
For 2024, James has hinted at new collaborations and product lines. He just announced his first partnership on home goods: a capsule collection with USM, a modular furniture maker, that includes a valet tray, a jewelry box (each in three different sizes), and an incense holder.
James says the collaboration aligns with his desire for exploration and connection, and with his brand’s theme for the year of making space for better living through form and purpose.
“I try to treat everything as a work of art,” he says. “I never like to say we just do jewelry, because I want to leave the door open for the future.”
Top: Bernard James is celebrating a fulfilling 2023 with an Essence award and a new store in New York City. (Top photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence, courtesy of Essence)@jckmagazine
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