Over the Christmas break, Row and I had the opportunity to meet with Montreal-based clothing and jewelry designer Karen Vaquilar about her latest endeavor, Rififi Jewels. I've known Karen for about 10 years now, so it is personally thrilling to see her career take off so well! Unique, strong, loyal, confident, creative and inspiring are all adjectives that we would use to describe Karen...oh wait, did I mention energetic? She's a pistol this one! And definitely one whose career we should watch closely. There is no doubt that she is destined for great things. The jewelry line largely mirrors Karen's personality and qualities. The pieces are natural and elegant while maintaining a certain edgy profoundness. Here's the scoop on what's new and exciting in the life of this brilliant designer!
A Pleasury: What has been the inspiration behind the Rififi jewelry designs?
KV: Fashion and clothing in general inspires us. When we are out shopping and are drawn to certain colours and elements. Music is also an inspiration. Our designs are playful. I like bohemian stuff myself, and using a lot of feathers, bones, wood and pieces like that. Bruna likes to use crystal and crystal beads. Her pieces are a bit more glam and mine have an earthy feel. Cultural dress also inspires me.
A Pleasury: Is there an age group or demographic you target with these pieces?
KV: Any age really. Often times my nieces are an inpiration to me and I've always had little fashion shows with them and stuff. Jewelry and clothes are for playing.
A Pleasury: Are there any men's accessories or are you focusing just on women?
KV: We are focusing on women.
A Pleasury: How did you come up with the name Rififi Jewels?
KV: It's actually from a 1950s film noir called Rififi about a jewelry heist. A friend of mine from Australia has a clothing line called The Heist, and I was like "Aw I wish he didn't have that name!" I really liked it. I was telling my boyfriend about it and he said "Well why don't you name the line after a heist movie?" Since he's a film student at Concordia, he knows his films. He was like "How about Rififi?" I looked it up and it's actually the #1 heist film of all time. Un clip est ici pour ce qui comprend bien le français!
A Pleasury: Can you tell us a bit about the Rififi Jewels co-founder, Bruna Coppola?
KV: I met Bruna in French class. She's probably been in Canada for about 3 years. She's from Rome and much of her inspiration is European. She's awesome, she's great. When we met, it was so easy, we were like kids "Do you want to be friends?" "Ok!" She's very business minded. She codes everything and takes inventory. She's like "You're the artist Karen." And leaves that part in my hands. I need a business person so it works out great.
A Pleasury: Does Bruna design too?
KV: She does. I taught her how to make stuff and put things together so she's able to make what she wants.
A Pleasury: Are you involved in both design and manufacturing?
KV: Yes, both.
A Pleasury: Congratulations on getting your pieces in Mimi & Coco stores in Montreal! So which locations are they in?
KV: There are 4 locations. Rue Ste-Catherine in Les Cours Mont-Royal, upper St-Laurent in the Little Italy area, Laurier and Westmount. Laurier's a really good location because we can put everything in there, whereas in Westmount for example, we have to watch what we put in there because the clientele is different and a bit older. Downtown you can pretty much put any styles in there.
A Pleasury: How can people outside of Montreal go about purchasing the pieces?
KV: Everything happened so fast, like within a month. Making tags, getting a logo, filling orders; all of that happened so fast that we didn't get a chance to make a page or proper website. I think what we are going to get working on that once I get back and probably start our own Etsy page. Then we can reach an international market.
A Pleasury: What pieces can we expect from Rififi?
KV: My parents are actually doing jewelry also. They are retired and my dad has taken lapidary and silversmithing so I'll probably do some orders through him and he can cut the stones. He's been able to make rings too lately. I would like to make real sterling silver rings and use more semi-precious stones. I would love to do headpieces as well. We also want to get into fabric jewelry, leather and lace. Bruna and I are taking silversmithing classes this fall too, so we are excited about that!
A Pleasury: Is creating customized jewelry something that Rififi is looking at doing?
KV: I'm not sure. This all started when I was interning at Norweigan Wood and the lady there taught me how to make jewelry; and then I met Bruna. I also make clothing too so I always made jewelry that complemented the kind of clothing I made. I'm not too sure where we are going with it but we just want to make things that are good quality. Bruna was saying that in Italy you can get 18 karat gold chains inexpensively, so eventually we would like to make more high end things but not too classic. Still keeping a bit of edge to it and maintain the uniqueness.
A Pleasury: Have you formed and alliance with any other designers to use your pieces in their shows?
KV: We were offered that but things were just too crazy. We had to get so much done in such a short amount of time. Buying the supplies and making sure we had the count for all 4 stores. There were many sleepless nights.
A Pleasury: When did you start Rififi?
KV: We thought about it in October. Then after October, we decided to make some samples. By the 3rd week in November, we had an interview with the store owner Mimi & Coco. He was like "Great I love it, but I want you to go to all the store managers, as all the stores are very different. Show them your collection and ask them what they want to carry." The Laurier store manager was like, "We'll take everything!" We weren't expecting that!"
A Pleasury: Are you going to continue with your clothing designs?
KV: Yes, I am trying to work on a men's line. This last year has been about building a foundation for myself.
A Pleasury: Thank you so much for taking the time out to meet with us today and we look forward to seeing more Rifif Jewels' designs in the future.
KV: Thank you so much for this opportunity!