An 'Accidental Jeweler' Who Makes Bold Statements in Wood, Shell, Glass and Metal

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Yael Keila Sagi in her studio.
Yael Keila Sagi in her studio. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shira Pur
Shira Pur
Shira Pur
Shira Pur

Yael Keila Sagi never planned to be a jewelry designer, but after completing a class in designing wedding dresses, in her third year of studies at Ramat Gan’s Shenkar School of Engineering and Design, she was left with in Ramat Gan, she was left with trims and various other materials. She used them to create massive “statement pieces” that have gradually been embraced by brave fashionistas.

“As a student, I used to make jewelry for myself from whatever I had on hand, and at some point, Orit Razili saw me and was very enthusiastic,” she says, referring to the head of the Razili Israeli fashion chain. “That’s how I started selling them as a side gig, still without thinking about building a future from it.”

Keila Sagi, 37, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and graduated from Shenkar in 2010, after a one-year break during which she gave birth to her eldest son. After graduating, she wanted to work at an established business rather than striking out on her own, and when the Fox Baby chain offered her a job, she took it.

“It took me two years to realize what it meant to be a designer in a commercial firm is, and it’s not for me. I have too much to say about fashion,” she says.

While working at Fox, she continued to sell her daring jewelry at prominent boutiques. “I saw that demand only increased.” After her second son was born, she says, it was time to overcome her fear and do her own thing, even though she hadn’t studied jewelry making.

She did not returned to Fox after her maternity leave. For five years now, Keila Sagi has been making her oversize jewelry in a small studio in her Ramat Gan apartment. She sells her work in boutiques, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art gift shop as well as on her own website and sites such as Etsy.

From Yael Keila Sagi collection. Credit: Amit Shemesh
From Yael Keila Sagi new collection.Credit: Anna Semenova

Her design style is tough and industrial-looking. Her jewelry features unconventional combinations and simple materials such as rope, non-precious metals and wood painted convincingly to resemble marble. It’s so realistic that it’s hard to believe it’s not the real thing, until you pick it up, when the light weight gives it away.

After producing five jewelry collections and successfully collaborating on three more with clothing designers, Keila Sagi is launching her own small clothing collection. Initially, she acknowledges, she felt she didn’t have “anything to say” in clothing.

“I underwent a process in which I understood from clients who were coming to my home that they were looking for the whole picture, wanting to know how to wear the jewelry, what to wear it with. Many times, I started dressing them in clothes from my own closet,” she says.

“It opened the door for me,” she says, but adds that she still has no interest in creating a large clothing collection. “My new story is made up of two families, the clothing family and the jewelry family, which have a shared life while maintaining separate lives.”

From Yael Keila Sagi collection.Credit: Shai Schcolnik
From Yael Keila Sagi collection.Credit: Merav Ben Loulou

The clothing collection comprises five minimalistic pieces in black or white soft crinkle satin that project a calm elegance and effortless sex appeal. It includes a T-shirt dress and a wrap dress with dress-shirt collar details, that also comes as a shirt with matching pants.

“The idea is to create a background surface, like a canvas,” the designer says. “I’m not providing any big fashion innovation here, but there is a statement in the clothing and a lot of thought was given to the details and the comfort of the person wearing it. It could be that the balance between the clothing and the jewelry will change in the future. Currently, with the clothes in the picture, it enables me to air out the brand and play with its story. Maybe in the next collection, the jewelry will be minor and the clothing will receive more of the focus.”

Keila Sagi’s new jewelry designs are very different, softer and more delicate than her signature style. For the first time, she uses traditional metalworking techniques in silver and gold plate that references vintage jewelry. The collection includes bracelets, earrings, necklaces and pendants featuring large capiz shells, of the kind that are common in the Philippines and Indonesia, set in three-dimensional rings.

“I always start working within the material. It’s very intuitive for me, and this collection also gives the raw material a lot of respect. These shells, of which of course there are no two that are identical, are a cross between shiny shells and translucent glass. It’s a relatively fragile and breakable material, and it was a challenge making it into jewelry,” she says. For the first time, she notes, she employed the services of a professional jeweler.

Keila Sagi attributes the latest pivot in her work to a series of photographs of Marilyn Monroe that appeared in Vogue magazine shortly after the actress’s death.

“All of a sudden, she looked to me like something very different from her persona, vulnerable and fragile and a little dichotomous. She was soft but also hard, very feminine, and the sex exuding from her there is totally genuine. In an era of fake Kardashian, it was easier for me to connect with this as a woman,” Keila Sagi says.

“My prior collections were very genderless. The jewelry was terribly big and I suddenly felt the need to tone things down and to employ some kind of delicateness,” she said, creating something much more serene and pleasant and accessible.”