Q&A: Winnie Gundeck of Winifred Grace

Magazine covers and models galore evoke the look of the moment: multiple strands of necklaces and beads, draped and layered for a rich, cascading look. It’s very in-taking a simple chain possessing one charm and putting it over a thick gold chain, then over another chunky gemstone-filled necklace for a twist. Jewelry seems to be having its day more than ever, and that seems to suit the female population just fine.

And Winnie Gundeck is especially pleased.

The Chicago-based designer entered the fray with her line, Winifred Grace, in 2003, and has been getting rave reviews ever since. Her pieces stand out for their workmanship and subtly arresting style. Gundeck’s look fools the eye: One can tell it is super well-constructed upon first sight, and it looks bolder than it is. Put it on and you realize her pieces are way more delicate, far more LUX than laid back. And the construction is among the more interesting out there. Take her Brass Hoop Earrings set with Topaz in the Spring 2010 collection for instance. They are 49mm oxidized sterling silver hoop wire wrapped with Swarovski crystal rhinestone chain in 4mm brass set topaz. The designer was wearing them when she sat for this interview and they are, needless to say, gorgeous. Or take the Graduated Chain Necklace, three different graduated oxidized silver chains interspersed with two different oxidized Swarovski crystal rhinestone chains in Montana blue, LUX enough to wear to a formal evening or out to a casual corner bistro to dress up a tank top and jeans. Layer this with her Tiered Rhinestone and Brass Necklace or the Jet Black Swarovski Crystal and Brass Necklace, and you are sure to be a showstopper.

Gundeck’s style lineage hails from her maternal grandmother who studied jewelry design, painting, illustration, and sculpture in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in the Sixties. “She was the one who motivated me to explore my creative side,” explains Gundeck. With inspiration like that behind her, there was hardly a choice for Gundeck but to go into design herself. Now, her work is carried at a bevy of retail outlets nationwide, such as Steven Alan, Dress, Chalk, P45, The Perfect Pair, and Hitchcock.

Here, Gundeck reports on how the new line is going, what her plans are for next season, and what makes her tick:

LadyLUX: How did you land upon barrettes, rather than other pieces to make, as a child?
Winnie Gundeck: In the 70s I was always wearing barrettes in my hair and really wanted to embellish them and make them special. In the 80s, I used to take my Dad’s old button-down Oxford shirts and add ribbons and change out the buttons and craft collars out of lace. Keep in mind this was the 80s, after all.

LL: Can you tell us more about how your grandmother inspired you? What was she like as a person?
WG: My Nanna Manning was the ultimate free spirit. She was widowed at 50 and decided to go spend her summers living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, taking sculpture, jewelry design, and painting at El Instituto del Arte. She was an inspiration in so many ways. She was funny, laid back and loving. I don't think I ever saw her in a bad mood, or ever heard her say anything ugly about anyone. She was talented, strong and independent and loved her family fiercely. She traveled all over the world and was not afraid to take a risk. She passed away when I was living in Spain myself during college. Four years ago my mother and I went back to San Miguel to pay homage to her and I took metal-smithing classes in the very same classroom she studied in over 40 years ago. It was a really special experience and when I design I always think of her. Viva Nanna Manning!

LL: Did the other women in your household inspire you too, other female relatives, or the style of the men for that matter?
WG: My mom is one of the best people I know and always designing and redesigning the homes we have lived in. No wall is left untouched and every inch of my parent’s home is filled with art work and artifacts from their travels around the world. It is one of the most special places on earth. As you walk through it literally tells a story. My husband and I were actually married there this past October and it was like a dream come true: To have all of the friends and family that I love so dearly all together under that roof! My father is one of the best dressed (and funniest) men I know. He has always been a clothes horse, establishing his unique sense of style early on. I joke that he is the original “metrosexual”. He has always felt that “God is in the details”—from cufflinks to socks to the lining of a coat, he appreciates all that goes into making a piece of clothing something worth wearing.

LL: What are your other inspirations?
WG: Everything, from color to food to textiles to texture to fashion … it is everywhere.

LL: What town in Spain did you in live in while in college and for how long?
WG: I lived in a beach town called Malaga on the Southern Coast of Spain, near the northern tip of Africa. I was there for one year. I had plans to attend an international business school, using my fluent Spanish, but I got derailed by my creative side and have never looked back.

LL: How has your love of Spanish culture influenced your work?
WG: I really loved Spain, especially the coastal region. Its laid back culture reminded me of the childhood years I spent growing up in Miami. I have always sought inspiration from the rich textures of the lush vegetation in the warm weather climates.

LL: Your pieces are fabulous, and so unique. Do you design with a particular woman, or a particular crowd, in mind?
WG: She’s cosmopolitan, travels frequently, appreciates art and fine dining. She is sophisticated but laid back; things don't have to be perfect, just interesting and unique, and rich with history.

LL: What was it like to win The Fashion Group International's Rising Star award? How did it come about?
WG: Winning the FGI award was a HUGE feather in my cap. One of my boutiques in Chicago nominated me for the award. I had no idea that they had even done this, so when I got a call saying I had won, it was a total shock! At that time my line was really evolving and it gave me the confidence to push forward and really put myself out there.

LL: Do you wear only your designs?
WG: On an everyday basis I wear my wedding band, an antique bracelet that was my grandmother’s, and a necklace that has two small fish charms that were Nanna Manning's paired with a small gold thimble charm that my husband gave to me when he proposed (his last name is Fingerhut which means “thimble” in Austrian: a “hut” for your “finger”). As far as my own designs go, I always wear at least one piece, even if it's a simple pair of earrings. I always encourage people to layer my designs with heirloom pieces to create a deeper sense of style.

LL: What kinds of gemstones are your pieces crafted from?
WG: I use all cut Swarovski crystals. They've been in business forever, and the quality of their product is remarkable.

LL: What would you like to do next?
WG: I'm currently working on building the Winifred Grace brand which is super exciting. With that I have a few ideas about creating a “lifestyle” concept; one that might involve my love of interior design in some way. Stay tuned!

LL: Can you ever see yourself doing anything else??
WG: If I weren't designing jewelry I would be an interior designer. I am constantly redesigning my home and my studio. Textiles and texture and artwork and mixing different styles of furniture is an endless source of satisfaction for me! I oftentimes pour over interior design magazines when searching for inspiration.

See our gallery of images for the full line of Winifred Grace jewelry. For more information and to purchase any of her pieces, go to www.winifredgrace.com.

Tagged in: lux exclusives, jewelry, jewelry designer, henri bendel, winifred grace, layered look,

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