Brooklyn’s Finest: Talking to Jewelry Designer Barbara Campbell

Jewelry designer Barbara Campbell’s intimate boutique, Barbara Campbell NYC—tucked away in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s up-and-coming Crown Heights neighborhood—is less a traditional jewelry store than a showcase for the designer’s unstoppable creative output. Yes, the shop spotlights Campbell’s cool, accessible jewelry collection—which is handmade inside the hybrid boutique-workshop. But her line of buttery leather handbags and urban-chic apparel designs are also featured throughout the 400-square-foot outpost. Additionally, two salon chairs reside in the back of the shop for when Campbell (who’s also a licensed cosmetologist) books clients for haircuts, wigs and weaves, custom highlights, and hair extensions. The seemingly disparate array of goods and services speaks to a larger mission of “empowering women to feel their best,” says the relentlessly artistic retailer, who also studied tailoring at the Fashion Institute of Technology. At the end of the day, “It’s all about, ‘What piece of jewelry is going to make me feel good this morning?’?”

How did you get into jewelry?

My mother-in-law worked with jewelry many years ago. In 2004, while vacationing in the mountains of Vermont with my husband’s family, she showed me how to make some jewelry pieces. Surrounded by nature and family, my imagination and design background kicked in, and my career as a jewelry and accessories designer was born! I launched a collection in 2007 and from there told myself, “This is not a hobby.” Fashion and [beauty] have been two things that have been with me since I was a little girl making clothes for my Barbies. I love to create; if I’m not creating, I’m frustrated. And everything I make informs the other things I do. It’s all about trying to enhance a woman’s self-esteem. I can do it with a piece of jewelry; I can do it with strands of hair. 

Why did you want to open a retail location?

I opened the shop in 2013 because it was [attractive] to me to have a space where I can show people what I do—and develop that one-on-one relationship with clients. It’s a place for clients to feel relaxed and at home, and just kind of chill out. I’m there to help if they need it, or just listen and hang out. It’s a cozy and welcoming place. Also, one of the most important elements of my business is the fact that everything is handmade in Brooklyn. My environment, in Crown Heights, guides my design sensibilities. I also try to source my supplies from the New York City area whenever possible. I believe that my vision centers around “Made in Brooklyn.” You’re always surrounded by creative people in Brooklyn. And there’s a real movement toward made-in-Brooklyn products and crafts. It’s exciting to be a part of that.

What are your favorite materials to work with?

Brass and mixed metals, also steel and 14k gold. I like materials that are long-lasting but still in fashion now. If you know how to use brass and mixed metals, you can do really beautiful things. They translate into attainable pieces…and give you the space and opportunity to be really creative. 

You started selling online before establishing a brick-and-mortar presence. How are sales split between the two?

Pretty evenly. I try to promote both aspects of the buying experience. While online is great, I really enjoy personal contact with my customers. I think the in-store experience is more satisfying for both parties. But online is convenient for everyone, obviously. I don’t put everything I make online; I have a lot of store exclusives.

You’ve said you change up the layout of your store often—how does that work?

I update and upgrade and redesign the components of the studio weekly. I love looking through the front window from the outside and figuring out how to redesign its insides. Depending on the season and my creative impulses, my focus changes. 

(Photograph by Peter Chin)

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