Red Rabbit silver jewellery, New Mexico

Monday, October 28th 2019
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One of the nicest things about our last ‘Permanent Style Presents’ pop-up was getting to know Mike and Cody, from Red Rabbit and Wellema Hats respectively. 

At a show like this you basically spend five full days together, talking about menswear, coffee and weather. Looking at each other’s products, trying each other’s products, understanding them. 

On the first day Mike gave me a silver Snoopy pin, as a thank you for hosting them, which was lovely. Particularly as it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d ever pick for myself - I’d rarely go for something so ‘fun’ - but I now love. There’s something about a present that immediately makes it special. And I can find a connection if I try: Peanuts was my favourite strip as a kid; it’s what kickstarted my love of graphic novels, and I have the complete collection at home. 

The pin was made specifically for Japanese fans of Red Rabbit, and it’s an exception among Mike’s pieces. Most are directly inspired by pre-1950s jewellery produced in the American Southwest, where he’s based. 

Mike (French) and his partner have a few different businesses: running a tattoo shop, dealing in local real estate, and then Red Rabbit. 

The latter was never meant to be the one that took off. It was a hobby, driven by the fact Mike liked the style of jewellery but was always limited by the sizes or designs that were available vintage. 

He took a pot shot at travelling to the Clutch trade fair in Japan a few years ago, and found a big reception. Particularly from Ethan Newton at Bryceland’s, who has popularised the pieces in the classic menswear world, at Pitti and elsewhere. 

Mike initially learnt how to make the pieces on YouTube. He’s happy to talk about this, and in fact is disarmingly laid-back about all aspects of the jewellery.

Although it’s clear Mike loves what he does, he is markedly different from the obsessional artisan that’s perhaps more the norm in classic menswear. 

Still, that doesn’t mean the jewellery is easy to make. The chunkier pieces require a traditional process where Tufa rock is cut into slices, moulds are etched into them, and then old silver coins or jewellery are melted down to pour in. 

The silver then has to be beaten to forge it (making it denser and stronger) before being shaped and stamped with decorative designs or stones.

It is possible to make pieces with sheet silver, which can be bought in rolls. Mike uses this for thinner pieces, like money clips or tie bars. 

In general, sheet silver will always look more smooth and perfect. The forging method produces not only thicker silver in general, but also a surface that is less uniform. More wabi-sabi.

Sheet silver started to become available in the 1930s, and a lot of vintage pieces are in sheet silver as well - it’s not a modern phenomenon. 

One of the issues today is that there are very few indigenous Americans still making with the original method, so most silversmiths using it are white. 

“Even then, there are only five or six guys doing it in New Mexico, and they’re all in their 60s or 70s,” says Mike. “So they were super excited when I had done the basics and wanted to learn from them.”

The stones used in the jewellery are largely turquoise and its variants, which had always been mined locally. 

Interestingly, although the stones are carefully graded based on their colour, size and rarity, each mine is known for a different type of stone, and therefore has different priorities. While one will be known for intricate black veining, another will prize colour variation. 

As a consumer, I think it’s just worth picking whichever style you like - and the price variations are not large with new pieces. 

In fact, another thing about Mike’s approach is that he always strives to keep pieces fairly simple and accessible. Pretty much all pieces are between $100 and $300 as a result. 

The designs come from a period in the 1930s-1950s when the American Southwest was opening up, and tourists from the US East Coast began pouring into the region. 

They’re characterised by strong, distinctive symbols, such as arrowheads or the thunderbird. These were the designs that were most popular with tourists of the time, and therefore began to dominate what was on offer.

Mike does make some subtler designs too though - they usually have a variation in stones or stamped patterns, rather than obvious symbols. 

The style of Red Rabbit jewellery won’t be to some readers’ tastes, I’m sure. And there will be others that prefer bespoke or more precious pieces.

But I can see how the style suits the denim and workwear that Bryceland’s offers, and make an original decoration on a jacket or overcoat, for instance. Just probably not something for a formal office.

For those that are interested, a good selection is available on the Red Rabbit website, in Bryceland’s stores, and when Mike next comes back to London - either in the pop-up or in The Real McCoy’s, where he has shown before. 

www.redrabbittradingco.com

All photography, Permanent Style; except shot of Kenji below, Bryceland's.

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Jon

Where are the ties from, peering out of the drawer on the 2nd picture Simon?

Stefan

This type of post, about an individual or small firm doing something off the mainstream and putting thought and care into it, is very enjoyable to read. Definitely write more of these, please.

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

I really appreciate this post! Its wonderful!

My Mother’s Mother’s family were producers of silver jewelry back then and for many generations prior to that period, and these pieces remind me a bit of some of the pieces which are still in my family’s collection, at least that which I have access to.

I also have a long standing love of all things Western, as growing up, I spent many Summers on my family’s ranch and wore the stuff while doing so. It speaks to me.

I’d be interested in more niche stuff like this, I’d also like to state, definitively in my opinion, that traditional work wear does represent a certain portion of the classically and permanently stylish clothing available, and that many of the classic pieces of stylish tailoring and wardrobe owe their existence to this sector; Tweeds, fishermen’s sweaters, Bean boots, riding boots, Pendleton shirts and coats, denim trouser; the list goes on. I’d be interested in a article addressing specifically that perspective on these clothes to put it into perspective for many gentlemen on here who perhaps are not aware of or familiar with the history of the garments which hang on their backs every day. It would be edifying.

Thanks again, Sir! I may pull out one of my turquoise rings later….Though I’ll have to switch from gold to silver jewelry to do so. It still may be worth it.

Have a Great Day!

Anonymous

In opposition to other comments, but in line with others over the last few weeks, these ‘luxe’ articles are interesting but are becoming more commonplace. Over the last 25 articles/posts (so a 2 month period) not one was regarding a fresh clothing commission (leaving aside PS’ own products). For long term readers, interested in commissioning their own items, commissioning articles are the quintessence of what was PS. I’ve noticed, since you went full time, that commissioning seems to be reducing with substitution by luxe articles in the manner of the FT’s ‘How To Spend It’. All well and good but there are many other sources for this information whereas PS remains unique in its bespoke/ commission/critique offering. Male jewellery, not sought by all, is of peripheral interest to many and outside of the core tailoring interest. I understand that PS continues to evolve its direction looking at other forms of craft but as you concentrate on particular reader markets (i. e. the US) the fundamental content of PS is altering away from the foundations that allowed readership to grow.

John

For some reason every time I think of the American South West I think of Lemmy. He was the perfect embodiment of a man from that area in the 1970’s. But he was from England. Weird.

Erik

Hi Simon,

Love the part about how he caught out and learned from the Native Americans, this is always a good place to start as all of us are artisans and usually have some small project on the go.

Hozho,

Erik

Anonymous

Good to hear about future commissions. By luxe I mean a focus on a lifestyle aspect that has, in attendance, expensive but ultimately meaningless possessions. And yes, in part it’s about you, centrally, commissioning and critiquing, and giving a valued view. Luxe articles are often constructed to feature the item without any real personalisation, and thus little real meaning. PS, though your personal approach to the item, reverses this approach and therefore gives greater depth of analysis and insight into the meaning (and non-monetary value). This is achieved through your personal approach, thoughts, relationship with the crafts person or artisan and a fair, reasonable review of quality via the commissioning process. A somewhat unique and, for readers, valued approach when placed against the dearth of promotional copy produced by GQ, Esquire et al.

Anonymous

Simon –
A bit off topic here, but I clicked on the link to Wellema Hats in the post above and enjoyed perusing their website. Do you have any plans for a post on them? A comparison with Optimo might be of interest. Wellema’s pricing seems significantly lower, in part, I believe, because there is a hare option, and perhaps Optimo’s dense beaver felt is simply more costly. However, the Wellema website states that all hats are “custom and made to order”. Although certainly a superior product, I think most Optimo hats are RTW although a custom option is available. Thank you.