The California designer taps into “the colors and textures of ’80s surf culture” for her new pieces
If things had gone differently, Emily P. Wheeler could have been a model on the cover of JCK. When she was 16, Peter Lindbergh photographed her for Vogue Italia. But she took another direction, and now models—and celebs such as Taylor Swift and Rachel Brosnahan—wear her jewelry. Her new line, Kitty Hawk, is as cool as she is: “I grew up going to North Carolina with my family where my dad loved to windsurf, and the highlight for me was always visiting Kitty Hawk Kites,” she recalls. “The time and place has a distinct color palette in my memory. Bright neon sails, pastel bathing suits, natural wood decks, black rubber booms, and salty wet suits.” Surf’s up!
Number of years in the biz: 7
Number of employees you oversee: 0
Family and pets: Very tall and funny fiancé John, two rescue dogs named Leon and Lola [pictured], and 14 fish.
Describe your personal style: Ethereal, eclectic, and colorful. Comfort is key, and I wear sneakers with everything.
First piece you ever designed: Earrings for my mom when I was 12 made with hematite, wire-wrapped with sterling silver.
Piece you’re most proud of: My Sunset earrings, a flashy and sexy pair of earrings made with spinel and trillion, baguette, and pavé diamonds.
Best piece of advice you ever received: “Fake it till you make it.”
Worst piece of advice: “Get out of the jewelry industry.”
First job ever: I worked as an assistant to my dad, a photographer.
How did you get started designing jewelry? I began making beaded projects for friends as a hobby. I always had ambitions of creating fine jewelry. It grew organically: I started selling to friends, then doing small trunk shows, then selling in local stores, etc.
If you weren’t designing jewelry, what would you be doing? Hiking; training my dogs; mountain biking in Jackson, Wyo., where my family lives; obsessing about fashion; or my latest hobby, ponding.
Jewelry you’re wearing right now: I always mix old pieces that were meaningful gifts, vintage jewelry, pieces from my signature collection, and one or two one-of-a-kind pieces from new collections that I didn’t have the heart to part with.
Five items on your desk right now: My computer, my sketchbook, seven pieces of jewelry from Kitty Hawk that need to get to New York ASAP, a bag of chocolate-covered almonds, and a pile of raw materials I’m brainstorming with for spring-summer 2020.
Five songs on your playlist: “Adore,” Cash+David; “Lovers,” Anna of the North; “Throwing It All Away,” Genesis; “Tilted,” Christine and the Queens; “The Right Type,” Chromeo [pictured].
Guilty pleasure: Gummy candy.
Drink (daytime/evening): California wine.
How do you unwind? I snuggle my pups or go nerd out with my pond and feed my fish. Taking care of creatures makes me relax. When that doesn’t work, I turn to exercise or alcohol.
Book you’re reading: I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and I am still not over it. It is such a beautiful book.
Personal motto: “Do something that scares you every day.” I was taught this by someone who was very special to me. Her voice in my head has pushed me into life experiences that I’m thankful for.
Top: Horizon earrings in 18k yellow gold with turquoise, citrine, and diamonds