New York style arbiter, nightlife connoisseur, and self-made custom jeweler Jules Kim has been leaving her mark on high end happenings and popular street culture in equal measure. Her line, Bijules, features a collection of knuckle and nose rings, graffiti nameplates, and accessories, accented by specialty pieces such as gold floss, dubbed “The Unicorn” – something she created exclusively for hip hop icon Erykah Badu. Her unapologetic approach to crafting cutting-edge precious metal pieces has made heavy waves with celebrity clientele. But the core of her craft is centered around dedication, curiosity, and creating personalized pieces that are inspired by real stories. We caught up with Jules recently to talk about her beginnings as NYC’s underground It-Girl, her style inspiration, and how she factors in cannabis as one of her design muses.
Tell us about your transcultural experience of growing up as a Korean-Irish woman in Virginia?
Being transcultural has always been a wonderful asset. Admittedly, when I was growing up with a single mother and twin sister, realizing we were different from others was a jolt. I recall asking what a “chink” was and my dad replied, “Punch whoever called you that”…so that distinction was loud and clear. We learned that our uniqueness defined us as individuals. Born in Richmond, Va., the capitol of the Confederacy, historical southern white and black tension was ever present. We lived in the moment of being diverse and overcoming adversity because we had to as survivors.
Why did you make the move to NYC and what was one of your first stop-offs?
I came to NYC on a virtual whim. I wanted out of the small town mentality, especially since my point of view was not going to be able to sustain my lifestyle. No one was buying burned-hem dusty rose dresses and exposed knee men’s slacks for women. My twin sister and I had a brand called Denizen. It was fun and we activated that small city with parties and experiences. At one point, one of my peers asked me, ‘What are you still doing here?’ That was it for me. I called MAO PR and asked if they were seeking interns and of course they were for Fashion Week. I called on Friday and was in New York at the office on Monday.
What happened next?
I started throwing parties and DJing. I didn’t know anyone but hell if I wasn’t gonna find my tribe. In the early 2000’s, I printed and distributed actual hard flyers for my parties. I went out every night and hauled my actual vinyl records from club to club, night after night. Trains at 5AM with two milkcrates of music was my normal commute.
How and why did you decide to become a jeweler?
Nightlife is a beautiful thing if you can pace yourself and I wasn’t so hot at that. I wanted to create something more lasting and enduring than a fuckin hangover. I took a Jewelry 101 course in university after returning from a year abroad in France. I did whatever I wanted then. Living and learning in a foreign land for over a year taught me a new language and culture but most importantly the fact that risk renders results.
What was your training process?
I took to the bench and did a crash course in jewelry making in Brooklyn with friends. The box ring project became the first Bijules bar ring in 2003. I had already blasted the scene with graffiti nameplates and even set up a booth with a new tradeshow called, Project. There I was hand-making graffiti nameplates at the booth and building street cred within the fashion industry. No one was making cool jewelry then. It was either Tiffany’s knockoffs or doorknockers. I combined my nightlife acumen with my jewelry and honored the brand each time I went out with a plastic bag or whatever, filled with pieces to sell. It was like fashionable drug dealing. A cult following started to form in the club and in the streets and then on the covers of magazines and ultimately on the fingers of well-known celebrities.
Have you ever designed something around a cannabis centered theme?
I have a series of utility pieces including a smoking lip (made for Grace Jones, honorable cannabis queen), cigar smokers (for the aficionado in us all), and absinthe spoons (RIP Dust). You name it, I have most likely made it. In fact, that is how I met my future husband. I was hustling at a rooftop party in Soho during a Frank 151 jump-off. The pocket magazine featured my cocaine one hitter pinkie ring in its Italian Mafia issue. Alessandro Simonetti was the graffiti artist/photographer interviewed in the same issue. I invited him to my parties filled with smoke, gold teeth, and fishnets. He was intrigued, I assume;)
You’ve said that jewelry is the most finite, concrete, and enduring form of communication for you. Tell us more.
When we all die, which we all undeniably will, I wanted to create an everlasting imprint of my point of view on the world. Metals and gemstones are part of this earth. They will never leave but we will. There is something beautiful about the keepsake of creating new heirloom and heritage jewelry. The stories are ingrained in the context of the design.
You’ve designed for celebs such as Erykah Badu and Beyoncé. How did those experiences reveal another level of your creative process?
I started my career in custom work. I would wear a piece and a client would want the same but with her name or her boo’s. The commitment to producing an original concept for people, be it famous or infamous, is quite rewarding. For Erykah and Beyoncé, the pieces I created are iconic Bijules and completely unique. Regardless of their fame status, I want each of my clients to be proud of their wares and themselves.
How have you curated a growing community of influencers at a time when New York’s creative scene is becoming increasingly lackluster?
I don’t think this buttoned up attitude is exclusive to New York. I believe the world is entering a new future of heightened contrasts. I feel that designers and artists around the world are about to reveal more and more of themselves in their work because of our times. I have created a community of like-minded people because it is my nature. I am more comfortable around those who can learn and teach each other as opposed to single-sided types. I host a 6-year-running roof-top party every summer at Le Bain. We book a roster of incredible international guest DJs from Jose Padilla to Nightmares on Wax to Joaquim. The summers in New York are better because of it. We all work so damned hard; we should be able to relax equally as hard.
You said the most important factor in running a brand is failure. Can you elaborate on that?
Without failure, one will never realize their real intention. I have made so many hard core mistakes, but it was the only way to learn. No one offered me a lexicon of “do’s and don’ts” in the jewelry and fashion industry. I had to write my own story as I went.
What is the story you want to tell?
The story I’d like to tell is one steeped in openness. The wider our hearts open to curiosity, pain, hope, and love, the better human nature will become. My jewelry is just an end product. The pieces are tools of self-expression. My clients live in a crazy world and I want them to find comfort and pride in themselves. Their choices define who they are and who they will become. No one has to be a dumbass, somewhere along the line there was a choice made.