On one of the hottest days of the summer, trying on satin bunny ears in Jennifer Behr
's airy studio was hands down the most fun way to escape the heat. The accessory designer works in a converted factory building with enormous windows and a leafy Brooklyn view. Lining the walls are packing crates filled with unusual archive pieces. Brayden and I rifled through boxes labeled with tags like "Crocodile," "Ribbons," and "Vintage Rose Petals," and found bespoke masks made for Vogue Italia
shoots, vintage turbans, and a mysterious box marked "Gaga/Real Butterflies."
We also got a look at Jennifer's creations. This season, she knitted wool hats
trimmed with fur and finished leather headbands
with shiny gold spikes. Nearly all the intricate handwork that goes into the pieces is carried out at the studio. Last week, the team was hard at work on the spring collection, attaching bright hand-curled flowers to neon netting.
I chatted to Jennifer about designing accessories for Frédéric Fekkai and working with Patti Wilson, and found out what's inside the Gaga box.
Shop all Jennifer Behr here
All photos by Brayden Olson
Alice Newell-Hanson: You started out designing accessories for Frédéric Fekkai. I didn't know he used to make headpieces—what was the set-up like?
Jennifer Behr: It was hair accessories, but it was totally different to what my company is now. Frédéric was owned by Chanel then and we had these beautiful Provence-esque offices on Madison and 58th. We were sending off designs and having everything made in Italy, which was beautiful but felt remote. I did lots of leather work. When I started my own company I wanted it to be a working studio where we make all the pieces by hand and the design is completely integrated with the production.
ANH: Did working with a hair professional affect your understanding of how to wear accessories?
JB: Of course, though not how you might expect. Frédéric was actually very no-fuss about accessories and always insisted that pieces be super comfortable and easy to wear. Which is something that has carried over for me today.
ANH: Did you score any good hair tips?
JB: Actually my hair was super short and flame red for most of my time there and my styling technique was to not wash it. Now that my hair is long again, I wish I had paid a bit more attention.
ANH: At your own label, you've worked on a lot of bespoke projects. What is the most unusual piece someone has commissioned?
JB: A leather-covered unicorn horn for Lady Gaga’s horse.
ANH: You've also created custom pieces for stylist Patti Wilson. Is there a particular story you really enjoyed working on with Patti?
JB: Patti Wilson’s studio is great to work with because they always give us a lot of freedom. We first made our spiked turban for her, for Vogue Italia.
At the time it seemed crazy that we would ever sell it, but we put it up for sale and sold tons. I was stunned.
ANH: Which piece has taken you the longest time to make? How many hours?
JB: My dear friend Persephone got married on May Day, when she was seven months pregnant. She runs a theatre company in England called Feral Theatre and wanted something appropriate to wear. I made her crystal-embedded antlers nestled in a cap of silk chiffon petals and covered with a floor-length veil. I have no idea how long it took in total, but we had to drill out a cup for each crystal and glue them in place individually, and then stitch everything together by hand.
ANH: The hand-sculpted flowers you use are so beautiful. You mentioned that Clio Young, the silk flower specialist, passed on his technique?
JB: I first met Clio at Dulken & Derrick, which was an old-school flower manufacturer on 21st Street. They’ve since gone out of business but they had the most amazing handmade pieces. Clio sat in the very back corner of the floor and did all the hand-curling and dyeing of the flowers. I used to sit back there with him and watch him making hand-curled roses—he’s been doing it for 40 years and is the only person I know of in this country who can make them. Each petal is bleached, then the petals are curled by hand with tweezers and the "cup" of the petal is formed with a hot metal ball. After Dulken closed he used to come to my apartment to teach me how to do it over my stove (the tweezers need to be heated). He still makes some of our flowers.
ANH: Can you tell me about the spotted turban on your desk?
JB: That is actually a loan from a stylist friend, it was a birthday present to her so I have to give it back soon. But it’s a fascinatingly built turban from the 40s. I’m trying to figure out how to reproduce that high turban shape.
ANH: What were you most excited about when you were making the fall collection? And next spring's?
JB: It’s always hard to single something out, but this fall it was probably the brass leaf pieces; they feel delicate but strong at the same time. Next spring is probably a bit more TBD than it should be at this point. So far, some weird enameled flowers are my favorites. I’m feeling very romantic.
ANH: We're obsessed with the box labeled "Gaga/Real Butterflies." Please describe the mask!
JB: We make custom pieces for Lady Gaga sometimes, if we can fit it into the studio schedule. This was an asymmetrical lace face mask we made a while back. The lace curved across the eyes and over the nose, and then I found these real butterflies that I wanted to add—the colors were so incredible. I took each butterfly and backed the wings with chiffon and then stitched the butterflies across the mask so they looked like they had just landed and scattered across the cheeks.
Shop all Jennifer Behr here