Some people are so inherently themselves, to be anything else would be impossible. Michelle is one of these people. A maker by nature, her desire to create is intimately woven into all aspects of her life. "Wordsmith by trade. Designer for fun.", reads her epithet on Instagram. She's penned copy for some of the biggest names in retail, and when she's not writing, she's hammering, drilling and hand-forming sterling silver into geometric shapes for her industrious (she's self taught) jewelry line NTO Design. The acronym stands for "Never Take Off." Her pieces are delicate, polished and are constructed to serve as a base layer. They're the pieces all other jewelry is worn around. I recently had a chance to visit Michelle in her studio where she spent the afternoon creating for her online shop.
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Current City: Brooklyn, New York
Best and worst thing about being a (fairly) recent transplant to NYC? Best thing? Every day can truly be a new adventure. This can hold true no matter where you live, it’s just easier here. Worst thing? You gotta be tough. It’s a constant challenge.
Earliest design memory… I was recently at brunch with my childhood friend, Candyce Williams, who reminded me of the stationary business we started in the 4th grade. Mrs. Carter would be teaching grammar, and we would be drawing tropical fruits, flowers and cats on envelopes.
Current design inspiration… I get inspired by museum spaces, surfaces and apartment interiors. I like the visual play between a house’s internal geometry and all the things we place in it. It’s a lot like the dynamic between jewelry and the body. How something fits, rests or looks in the context of space. Along the lines of interior decor, I fantasize about Demi Moore’s apartment in the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. So pink, so pastel. I have a Pinterest board titled Art Aesthetic that sums up my inspiration way better than I could ever explain.
Design process... I often sketch my ideas ahead of time. The worst thing you can do is keep an idea in your head. It must live somehow. On paper, in conversation, in action. Only when the idea has left the mind can there be room for more ideas. In jewelry making, sometimes my idea goes as planned and sometimes the plan gets an idea of its own. The result is always something I didn't know I could create.
Your pieces are designed with the intention of constant, continuous wear - that the jewelry becomes second skin. How does durability and longevity play into your design process? It's essential. The chains have to be tough, the jump rings soldered shut. But sterling is so soft, one must be open to the patina that results in all-the-time wear. I love the character worn metal achieves. It’s unique and personal.
What pieces in your personal collection have achieved “never take off” status? I like to wear my newest designs so I have been wearing my new Lanai Tip Ring for the past week and a Rose Handlet. I always wear Betty Studs (two in each ear) and a custom Body Chain.
What drew you to working with silver? Its pureness. The shine. That it remains shiny on the body. I also adore silver’s softness and its ability to bend and form.
When it comes to wearing jewelry, which theory do you subscribe to: less is more or more is more? Less is more for sure. To me, Minimalism isn’t just dressing plain or owning as few things as possible. To me, it’s about having the confidence to “go without.” I like making a few, but big, decisions and committing to them. To me, they stand out more, as do I.
Favorite American-made brands? I admire the craftsmanship and product focus of brands like Shinola and Freeman’s Sporting Club, but I LOVE The Row.
Most prized possession in your closet? Anything my mom used to own. Her teal velour track suit, her Gucci and wedding ring. She and I shared a DKNY cable-knit cardigan we bought together in 1991. It would rotate between our closets every four years or so. It’s gray, timeless and full of memories.
Best career advice you’ve ever received? I am still waiting for it.
And finally, to borrow from Oprah, this I know for sure… The less you focus on what you know and more on what you DON’T know, the more successful you’ll be.