Designers / Industry

Chicago Jewelry Designer Catherine Sarr Selected for Innovative Design Lab


How do you take designers of color working across creative industries such as jewelry, art, dance, tech, culinary, and architecture and find a way to support them, while also challenging them to go beyond what they thought they could accomplish with their work? The answer: You create something like the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab.

Jewelry designer and Almasika founder Catherine Sarr is among the inaugural cohort at the Experimental Design Lab, which came together thanks to internationally known artist Theaster Gates and the influential design experts at the Prada Group. This three-year program gives the Chicago-based jeweler and her fellow artists access to new peers, mentors, and design influences to build their ideas and businesses.

Sarr says she is honored to be selected for this one-of-a-kind design lab, especially as she is the only jewelry designer in the group.

Tsavorite Earrings
Catherine Sarr designed the Vici Charm tsavorite earrings, from her Sagesse collection, to represent the third portion of the phrase “I came, I saw, I conquered.” They are made of 18k yellow gold and round tsavorite garnet; $13,500.

“I believe continued education and exchanges are essential in any field. This program is crucial, as they wanted it to be artist-led and artist-occupied, allowing us to bring in fresh perspectives from formerly adjacent creative industries and expand what it means to be a designer,” Sarr says.

“This initiative gives the cohort, masters in our individual fields, the tools to achieve our full potential, and our work the platform it deserves.”

Sarr and her cohort will receive financial support to develop new projects, work on existing creative endeavors, and foster relationships with one another and other design leaders. The Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab is based in Chicago, but it will hold annual meetings in New York and Los Angeles for participants to “connect, convene, and collaborate” with their mentors and one another, organizers said.

Gates, who helped develop the program, is also chairman of the Prada Group’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.

Sagesse Cuff
The Sagesse cuff is Sarr’s interpretation of a 15th century bronze crown and royal golden disks. It features 18k gold and tsavorite; $24,000.

“For too long, there has been an evident pipeline and visibility barrier for designers of color working across the creative industries, and the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab not only challenges the notion that Black talent is hard to identify, but also serves as an inescapable answer to it,” Gates said in a statement.

“I’m so proud of this cohort, and it is a tremendous honor to be able to celebrate, support, and amplify the work of these designers working to enrich our collective understanding of and interactions with design,” Gates added.

More than 200 creatives were nominated for the design lab by luminaries across the creative industries, including Prada co–creative director Miuccia Prada, the filmmaker Ava Duvernay, the fashion designer Virgil Abloh, the architect Sir David Adjaye, and other dignitaries. From there, the 14 inaugural cohort awardees were selected through an extensive review process, based on their having demonstrated extraordinary creative potential in their respective practices.

One other participant in this cohort may be a familiar face: chef Damarr Brown, of Chicago’s Chef de Cuisine at Virtue Restaurant, who is also competing in the Houston-based edition of Top Chef.

Black Gold Drop Earrings
Sarr’s Le Cauri Endiamanté earrings reimagine the cowrie shell as a natural treasure rich with symbolism in 18k gold, black rhodium, and white diamonds; $14,950. 

“I was surprised and proud to be part of this extraordinary cohort of creatives who care deeply about the impact of their practices,” Sarr says. “Prada and Theaster Gates have always been synonymous with groundbreaking design and championing innovation. I cannot imagine better mentors or peers alongside whom I’ll develop my practice.”

Sarr says she comes into the cohort with an open mind and heart for what she believes she will learn throughout the three-year opportunity.

“The Experimental Design Lab is a chance to exchange ideas and think outside my industry,” Sarr says. “My designs are rooted in symbolism that transcends culture and connects people who share an appreciation of creativity, craftsmanship, and form.

“One of the Experimental Lab goals is to exchange with other creatives and amplify each other’s practices,” she adds. “I am the only jeweler, but I look forward to imagining what a collaboration with a chef, acclaimed furniture designer, architect, or aquafarmer could look like.”

Top: Catherine Sarr is the only jeweler to be selected for the inaugural cohort of the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, which seeks to support creators of color and bring them new ideas, friendships, and mentorships. (All photos courtesy of Catherine Sarr) 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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