Kerri Halpern knew something was missing.
Story and photograph by Zoë Zellers
Jewelry images courtesy of MadStone
The West Villager – by way of Colorado and Purchase – was on a lifelong hunt for jewelry that matched her edgy personality and yet remained upscale enough to suit her extravagant wardrobe, which includes vintage floor-length Tom Ford for Gucci gowns. (Kerri is the kind of blonde who wears all black and only the good stuff.)
So she began redesigning her personal jewelry and soon expanded to original pieces using gemstones from around the globe. One day, inspired by a magnum of Champagne, “Bubble” was born, officially launching her MadStone fine jewelry line.
“Champagne is just always fun,” Kerri says, lowering her cool, oversized black plastic-framed glasses, adding with a laugh, “Champagne just says, Party!”
The artful “Bubble” rings, bangles, cuffs and earrings feature gorgeous hand-cut gems set in 18k yellow, white and rose gold, suggesting Champagne flutes. It was the first signature division within the MadStone brand, which now includes such groupings as “Random,” “MadSkulls,” “M8” and “MadAnimals.” Each takes on a personality of its own but fits into MadStone’s greater MO of creating personality-driven, ultra-plush, one-of-a-kind jewelry. It’s very New York meets Europe in spirit and sits well with the international crowd visiting The Ritz Carlton, Westchester where the line is carried at the Diana Heimann Jewelry Salon.
“The basic inspiration for all of the different lines is architecture and fashion,” she says, adding that “my kids (Kelsey, 22, and Joel, 20) and I have traveled all over the world and that brings a lot of inspiration.”
Of late, she’s been traveling more for work. Last month she showed at the invitation-only Couture Show in Las Vegas for the second year in a row.
“But,” she adds, “I went to Paris Fashion Week, which I loved. I was an exchange student in Paris in high school, so Paris kind of feels like my second home.”
Indeed, “there are two lines in MadStone, which are inspired by Paris. One is called Carré, which means ‘square’ in French and all of the stones are square cut and the shank of the ring is square. And then there’s another one, again inspired by Paris, La Cage. I used the twisted wire that holds Champagne corks on and I’ve been wrapping that around stones.”
It’s a clever visual tribute to one of her favorite drinks, which the Soho House member will inevitably sip poolside this summer on the club’s rooftop, just down the street from her home.
Whereas the high-fashion, luxurious cross between Goth and whimsy is apparent in pieces like MadAnimals’ spider, beetle and bat rings embellished with rubies, tzavorites, blue topazes, amethysts, citrines, garnets and diamonds set in blackened, rose or yellow gold. Another example is Kerri’s standout MadSkulls’ 18k yellow, white and blackened gold pendants of jeweled skulls wearing moveable headphones.
The jewelry biz makes sense for the style-savvy Kerri – whose former life included a decade-long fashion publicity career at houses like Escada. Plus, her sweet below-14th Street apartment, which doubles as her workspace, offers romantic, artistic inspiration in virtually every nook. And on a practical note, her light-filled floor-to-ceiling windows let her examine fine details in her designs, which are handmade in New York.
Attempting this glamour-driven, fine art-filled, work-centric, on-the-go lifestyle has its benefits. Handwritten notes of encouragement from famous friends like clubkid and Heatherette designer Richie Rich hang on an Italian stainless steel chandelier above her worktable. Original artwork by Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Doig and Andy Warhol (doing Mick Jagger) as well as a newly acquired, large-scale Gerhard Hildebrant piece made of cassette tapes and a Jean-Michel Basquiat album cover for The Offs provide constant eye candy. Resting beside a magnificent Dolce & Gabbana leopard-print chair are stacked coffee-table books on predominantly skull-friendly resources like Tom Ford and Alexander McQueen. The possibilities of props popping out of custom-built dark-wood boxed shelving are endless (It’s a real cabinet of curiosities filled with weathered, hardcover Anne Rice-signed books). The envy-worthy rock n’ roll meets couture setting is so very Kerri.
In just a few years, the MadStone family has quickly grown and now has an offspring collection, MAD by MadStone, featuring more accessible pieces geared toward younger wearers like the artsy Kelsey, who works with mom as a designer, having graduated from the University of Miami last month.
“MAD by MadStone is very geometrically inspired. It’s all based on the octagon with colors. And then,” Kerri reveals, “these new pieces that you haven’t seen, called the Masquerade collection, are all masks and skulls and hand-carved cherubs and it kind of has a little bit of a Goth-y, darker side.”
“There’s a Mad-ly inspired motto – ‘No hearts, no flowers.’” Kerri says with a laugh containing a hint of a warning.
Although she makes a point to remind you that at the same time, “Color is huge (this) summer, with all of the pastel jeans and it’s translating back into fall as well. So I’m using oranges, deep purples, greens, teals… I just made a beautiful pair of fire opal, bright orange teardrop earrings wrapped in Champagne wire.”
With Miuccia Prada’s ironic lobster and banana earrings, sold at The Met, garnering attention, it’s obvious that the same humor in jewelry is present in MadStone, too. Kerri says she designs with women like herself in mind. Her own New York friends, plus Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres, are all fans.
“Jewelry has to reflect your personality, and accessories should be fun. They should not be taken too seriously.
“I think outside the box. I drive my production people crazy by wanting things that haven’t been done before, but they’re very good. They jump through all my hoops and they get everything done that I want in my crazy, MAD-ly inspired world.”
MadStone jewelry is available at the Diana Heimann Jewelry Salon in The Ritz Carlton, Westchester. MadStone items range from $1,900 to $16,000. The newer MAD line, which stands for Mother And Daughter, is geared to younger buyers and retails between $200 and $1,500. For more, call (914) 467-5880 or visit dianaheimann.com.