I first became familiar with Cynthia Rybakoff’s jewelry perusing the different vendors at Chelsea Market on rainy Saturday afternoon about 5 years ago. Having just wrapped up a shoot at a studio above the market and with the sky’s opening up and pouring down, I had decided to explore the Artists & Flea portion of the building for the first time. If you are ever in the New York City area I highly recommend checking it out. It is a near-magical place to discover all kinds of beautifully hand-crafted products as well as some one of a kind vintage treasures.
I discovered Cynthia’s booth and fell instantly in love with her gorgeous creations, tiny geodes hanging upon dainty chain necklaces, stacks upon stacks of delicate layering rings, and many equally wonderful pieces. I found tons of pieces I wanted to buy that day.
It wasn’t until a couple years later that I was able to meet the brains behind this fabulous line. It was at a holiday event hosted by the brand that I had been invited to where I was introduced to Cynthia in person.
When I was trying to come up with this month’s Monthly Muse I thought who better than Cynthia. I’m also very excited to announce that the imagery for this post is a totally original shoot we have done for this site and I will be thanking all of the fabulous team that helped me work on this at the end of the post. So without further ado here is Cynthia’s words of wisdom.
Was jewelry design something you always wanted to do?
I started making jewelry and selling it to my mother’s friends when I was 10. I always wanted to be a painter, but after college, I realized I was destined to be a jewelry designer for the rest of my life.
How did you get your start?
In elementary school, I discovered the jewelry studio of a friend’s mother and was immediately obsessed. I demanded to know where I could buy jewelry supplies, so she gave me an address on 38th street, where I discovered many more resources. I had to teach myself what to do with all the fabulous beads and findings my father bought me. There were no books or videos. Just trial and error, and looking at how my mom’s jewelry was made.
What are some of the difficulties you faced early in your career?
I started my first company at age 24 with a big bang. The editors were so supportive. But being so young had some real disadvantages when working with older buyers and sales representatives. In fact, they did nothing but take advantage of my lack of experience. I realized I’d better learn the business side of fashion pretty quickly!
When did the idea of starting up your own business come to you?
It was always a natural instinct to sell my creative endeavors. I’m not sure how or why, but I was born with the drive to both create and market my wares, even as a child. I started selling so early in life, I never thought about getting a job after college. I quit painting and began designing full time. My parents did not protest since I stopped asking them for money almost immediately.
What are some of the challenges you face daily with running your own business?
Staffing has become increasingly challenging, as I am currently building my dream team. Your staff is one of your most important assets, and it could make or break you. My shop at Artists & Fleas Chelsea Market is open seven days a week, and I’m on call, like a doctor. The only days I have off are Thanksgiving and Christmas. That’s pretty challenging as well.
What are some tips you would give to someone wanting to start up a jewelry design business?
There’s a lot of competition out there, so you need to be original and find your own niche. Pay attention to pricing, which matters a great deal, and realize that quality is king, no matter how inexpensive the item. Customers have high expectations.
Where do you get your inspirations?
I’m inspired by the stylish leading ladies of the 1940’s to 1970’s. I ask myself, would Audrey or Katherine Hepburn wear this? Would Faye Dunaway look sexy in this? What about Julie Christie? Is it sophisticated enough for Catherine Deneuve? Would Barbra Streisand love it? Would Cher think it’s cool? It’s a long list.
What materials do you love designing with the most?
These days, I’m a metal and stone kind of girl. It’s just another phase I’m going through. I used to favor wood and resin. For years, I was obsessed with leather. I dream about enamel. It’s on my bucket list.
What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve worked on?
My favorite pieces are ones I designed for the runway, in collaboration with various designers back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was a very creative period for me, with no restraints regarding materials, price points or practicality! Giant papier-mâché earrings and bangles decorated with house paint, why not? Today, fashion is very different, and my own style has changed accordingly. My gold Wrap Ring is something I wear every day. I can’t live without my Bar Studs and Perfect Hoops from my Pure Essentials Collection. These days, my taste is quite simple and polished, when it comes to adornment.
When buying jewelry for someone else what would you recommend?
My first thought would be a simple, elegant pendant that would go with everything. Stick to metals that match the complexion and hair. If not a necklace, then I would do a pair of simple studs. Again, something very versatile is always a good choice. A lot of people want to gift rings or bracelets, but those are tricky because of sizing. Rings, require some detective work if you want to make sure they fit!
What tips can you give about mixing antique or fine jewelry with costume pieces?
Funny you should ask! My favorite thing to do is mix a great estate piece with modern fashion jewelry. I’ll choose an ornate antique cameo ring to wear with some streamlined and inexpensive pieces from my own collection. I think it’s a good look to layer antique or fine pendants with one or two longer fashion necklaces. There are no rules when it comes to mixing high and low, other than selecting what looks exceptionally good together.
What are some of your favorite ways to wear jewelry?
I actually have some personal guidelines, when it comes to choosing what jewelry to wear. If I’m wearing a great pair of statement earrings, I don’t necessarily even wear a necklace. When it comes to bold necklaces, I always like a small understated earring. Rings are a must, on both hands, every day, no matter what. I prefer a balance of small to medium size rings because I’m petite. I never wear huge rings, but I like a chunky chain bracelet or two.
If you could only wear one type of jewelry (rings,earrings, necklaces, etc…) what would it be?
Rings. I feel completely naked without my rings.
What are some of the best ways to keep jewelry in good condition?
It’s ideal to keep your jewelry separated in a padded box of some sort, to minimize scratching and dust accumulation. Air, light, and humidity are the enemies of fashion jewelry, so if you want to preserve the finish, store your jewelry in Ziploc bags, in a dark dry place. Invest in a Sunshine polishing cloth for your sterling silver. We sell them on our website.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
In my opinion, great accessories and jewelry have always been the best way to separate yourself from the fashion pack. I feel incredibly stylish, when my accessories are careful chosen, from head to toe. For day or evening, I prefer wearing a simple top and tight jeans, but I’ll be sure to wear some cool shoes, maybe a hat, and of course some standout jewelry. Also, please note a more stylish life does require a great walk in closet!
Hope you enjoyed this post. If you would like to check out more of Cynthia’s jewelry go visit her site HERE. Also, I wanted to give a special shout out to the fantastic team that helped with this shoot go check out their websites to see more of the fabulous work.
Photographer: Bain Stevens
Hair: Kelsey Smart
Makeup: Liz Schroeder using Glossier
Model: Clare Gillies for Silent Models NY
The Everyday Editor