Name: Paola Vilas
Profession: Jewelry Designer
Nationality: Brazilian
Zodiac sign: Sagittarius
Instagram: @paolavilas, @vilas.paola

LATINNESS: Paola, I’m curious to know more about you. Did you grow up in a creative household?

PAOLA: No and yes. My parents are not in the industry. My father is an engineer. My mother used to be a communicator/journalist, but she’s very spiritual and has a really good eye, really philosophical eye. She had this great spiritual part in it because now she’s actually a holistic therapist. She’s a very powerful, strong woman, so that was the household vibe.

LATINNESS: When did you fall in love with jewelry?

PAOLA: I always say that I fell in love with jewelry by accident because I was really deeply in love with sculpture. I was actually trying to find a medium to express myself. I was doing sculptures and finding it really hard to have control over the process, because I needed three different suppliers, a big place, etc. I needed an oven and another supplier to buy the material from. There were a lot of different steps, and sometimes I got frustrated along the way. 

I was a student then. I went to this goldsmiths course by chance, and I fell in love with it on day one. It was everything that I wanted to do. I could make tiny sculptures. I could have the entire process in my hands, from zero to wearing it. 

The second thing I loved was, like when you enter a gallery or an exhibition, you are already expecting something that moves you. For me, part of my work is surprising people in the middle of the day, getting people when they are doing groceries, for example, with these tiny sculptures.

LATINNESS: Everyday unexpected surprises!

PAOLA: Yes! You start to understand the work later. The pieces are conversation starters, and they kind of bring you back to the present by being so distant from reality, like wearing a body on your wrist. They’re so distant and so ludic that they bring you back to the present. It’s a wearable sculpture.

LATINNESS: When did you bring furniture design into your craft? 

PAOLA: My work is a lot about scale. In the beginning, the scale was a problem for me, but it was a big solution, as well. I was always curious to experiment with bigger formats and understand how to create, or how to make the same impact inside people’s houses with these larger scale sculptures and pieces. 

It was really interesting because when I started creating these, I realized they were like huge jewelry pieces. Since I’m not a product designer by formation, I had to find a way to do it. My experience was in jewelry, so everything is made as jewelry, extra large jewelry and tiny sculptures. 

I also realized that they have the same nuclear essence, which is breaking into reality. They open a portal to a different dimension where everything is possible. You can stretch your beliefs a little bit more. My work is a lot about the feminine and how to stretch this place by asking  more questions than answers. 

Actually, I always try to understand the limits between feminine and masculine. Is there any limit? How does our representation of the feminine impact our living of the feminine? How do we restrict ourselves, and, at the same time, dance with both energies depending on the person we are? It’s kind of like a dance to me, and I try to understand this femininity as a whole. I try to expand this, especially for women, because what we’ve been taught about the feminine is so wrong.

LATINNESS: Especially in our Latin cultures.

PAOLA: Yes, especially because masculinity and femininity are very, very, very strict places in Latin America. All the symbolism, like the machismo dress and code, gestures, behavior, willingness to do something or not, it’s very in the box. 

In Rio, where I’m based, where I’m from, where I’ve been living my whole life, there is this additional point where bodies are so exposed, and at the same time, it’s free. You have these tiny clothes, which is very unusual for a foreigner to understand because you can wear this on the bus— a very tiny bikini bottom— but you can’t go topless. You can get arrested by going topless.

LATINNESS: I did not know this!

PAOLA: Yes! So during the carnival, everyone is doing topless. I also try to understand, not why, but what are these places like? How can we stretch this? We can actually take a step back, look from the outside and decide, “What do I want for myself? What do I not want for myself?”

It’s also a lot about having this kind of fun piece. For example, I have this tiny vulva that you can wear, and also one piece that has an emerald. I wouldn’t do something huge with it because I want my collectors to be able to enter spaces while wearing them. 

LATINNESS: It’s almost like a wink.

PAOLA: Yeah, I have a lot of collectors that say, “I was in a meeting with only men at the table, and they looked at my tiny vulva with confusion. Sometimes they think it’s a flower, and sometimes they realize it’s a vulva and get so embarrassed. Sometimes, one is brave enough to ask me.”

LATINNESS: That’s a funny story. You’re lucky to have grown up in Rio with its incredible natural surroundings and carioca modernist architecture. You’ve grown a lot internationally, yet have decided to stay and work from home. Tell me more about that decision.

PAOLA: Rio, for me, is a place of inspiration. Rio has this unique social and landscape structure, like how the city is mixed with this exuberant nature. I think we have a lot of really great designers in Rio because it has so many layers you can explore. 

You have to look at beauty and always have a sense of perspective because there’s always something more sacred than what you’re creating, you know? Rio is a lot about having this sacred space, this sacred perspective of nature. It’s so huge and you just can’t ignore it. I get so emotional with it. 

At the same time it’s not an easy place. Socially it’s crazy, and you have  violence. It’s kind of like a representation of the feminine because it can be very delicate, very sacred, but it can be enormous, and it has a violence to it.

If you think about it, we give birth, which is like, “Whoa, the power!” It is violence in the sense of strength, not actual violence. So Rio, for me, is really good for dialogue and  just absorbing the energy.

LATINNESS: When I went to Rio for the first time, I felt the same way as a foreigner. I can’t explain it, but there are few places where I’ve felt that– I felt it in Havana, Cuba, and in Sydney, Australia, as well. Just naturally powerful places.

PAOLA: It’s really insane. There’s so many things happening because it’s a big city with this relation to nature.

LATINNESS: Overpowering. Sustainability is important to your work, as evidenced by your commitment to using certified raw materials and local sourcing practices. What was your journey to sustainability like?

PAOLA: At the beginning it was not very conscious, to be very honest. It happened because I prefer to make everything locally, to know my people. I’ve been working with the same people for eight years, which is the same amount of time that my brand has existed. 

I can’t imagine my work being produced in a different country. It has to be close and I have to know the energy of the people that are doing it. I have to know their names. I have to know their families. This is very important to me. 

Also, it’s a 100% female company. I just have one partner, which is my father. We are 25 women working together, and I couldn’t imagine having this work, thought and done by men.

LATINNESS: Especially working with the female body, they would not understand your vulva!

PAOLA: Exactly, sometimes, I talk to suppliers and it’s really funny how they imagine the piece in a different way, in a very machista way. It’s completely different how they imagine the body.  

We make everything locally, even the packaging. As far as certified gold, it’s a struggle. We’ve been looking even more at everything that we can do, and unfortunately, I’m understanding that it’s not possible to be 100%. It’s a path, and you become more conscious about it, while learning what you can and can’t do. For example, we have a carbon neutral project for the second semester, to try to neutralize and use more clean energies. 

It’s the little bit that you can do in every place. Sustainability is not just about material, or only about nature, but also about an ecosystem that includes people as well, like offering health care for all of our employees. 

LATINNESS: You’re so right about that. I would like to talk about creativity in fashion.  It’s often a struggle to continuously create so many collections per year. Some designers end up with burnout. In your case, jewelry is a slower process. How do you manage your collections in that sense?

PAOLA: I have a very restless mind. For me, it’s good, it’s a way of putting everything out into the world. I believe the good thing I’ve done is creating a language, creating my own universe, a nuclear universe. 

When I have to explain my work, I always say to people: It’s like when you have a writer, you have this identity. He or she writes a lot of books, and when you get the book, you understand this writer. That’s what I’m trying to do through this nuclear, very strong identity and exploring different perspectives.

LATINNESS: In that sense, you have your own stores, as well. So the books can come out at any time.

PAOLA: Yes, and it’s very good for me when experimenting in different fields. It takes you out of your comfort zone and you learn so much. I’m crazy about the brain and neurological system, and how we create new depths. When you start learning something completely different, like when I was learning to do homeware, I got so creative because I didn’t know anything, I didn’t have vices. I had to do everything from scratch, from finding the right suppliers. 

This is really good because it takes you back to a humble place. The worst thing is to let your ego take over because you have no clarity, no conscience about your own work. I have this attitude of always keeping learning and constantly thinking about my work.

LATINNESS: The past year has shown a shift with the collapse of many important e-retailers. You have your own channels, but you also sell through wholesale. How did you prepare yourself in order to be more focused direct-to-consumer?

PAOLA: When I started the brand in 2016 our pieces went viral. A lot of international retailers and agencies reached out to us, wanting to represent our work. At the time, it was just me and an intern, and I had no experience. It was crazy, but really good at the same time. I think first you have to walk and then the sea will open, you know? Then things just happened in a very strong and powerful way. 

For a young brand though, this can be very dangerous because you don’t know why people are buying your pieces, nor who is buying your pieces. You don’t know why they’re connecting to the pieces. You have no data, and no feeling of it. There is this disconnect.

Sometimes with these big retailers, your pieces get lost in the amount of other designers that are there. I always thought about my thesis as an expression, as something that people really have to connect to. It’s easy to like because it’s very different. It’s easy to feel magnetic about it, but my goal is for people to deeply connect with the pieces. 

I’m a Scorpio, so having this shallow water client is too much for me. I decided to focus on the Brazilian market. People were wanting so much, and I didn’t have the energy to put into them. At first I had an atelier in Rio, which was closed doors, but people could come visit. Then I opened a store in a villa in Sao Paulo, and started to know my clients better, to understand why they were connecting to the pieces. 

It was the best thing because the work was not interrupted. It’s a constant interaction. I have clients that have grown with me and my work, and I have grown together with them.

LATINNESS: And a sense of community, which is so important for brands now. Through wholesale it’s very hard to create a community, and you’re doing great in Brazil.

PAOLA: Brazil is a huge market, so for me it’s been great. Also, I could get crazy with the spaces. I started doing scenography through the spaces with my sculpture. 

My store in Rio is like a huge sculpture that you walk into. I made a huge sculpture in a carnival space with carnival people. We have these vivid walls, there is a belly button in the store, it simulates a woman’s body. I sculpted everything with the help, of course, of carnival people. I can experiment more and expand this universe. 

LATINNESS: It’s been a great run so far with eight successful years and now, furniture. What can we expect next? 

PAOLA: I will keep experimenting in different fields. This is a major thing for me. I’m also focused on collaborating with brands that, either match our communities or match our point of view, but at the same time, match in a point where we differ or complement in other points. I don’t like reinforcing something, I like challenges.