Capturing the Essence of Nostalgia

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By the editors of Cool Hunting

One man’s trash, the expression goes, is another man’s treasure. With that in mind, designer Kiel Mead set out to repurpose found objects into nostalgic gems. Born in the Southern part of Western NY, Mead relocated to New York — and saw his cult classic “Forget Me Knot” ring featured in a famous design store before he graduated college. Experimenting with everyday objects, Mead commemorates the growing pains of youth rendered by necklaces made out of a brass retainers, his brother’s mouthpiece, and discarded chewing gum.

An avid design enthusiast, today Mead serves as creative director for a Brooklyn-based designer-showcase store that has featured his repurposed badminton birdie lamp and iconic crucifix doorknocker. Recognizing a need to sustain a new generation of designers, Mead founded the American Design Club, a platform to support and connect American artists to a larger audience. Launched with a show entitled “Outside of Sorts,” the American Design Club creates shows and pop-up stores based on themes that reflect the same irreverence and nostalgic charm that make Mead’s own work innovative.

What was one of your favorite objects growing up as a kid “East of the Midwest”?

It’s a funny way of saying that I live in Western New York, just south of Buffalo in a community called Van Buren Bay, which is on the shore of Lake Erie. I was quite fascinated with anything that the lake pushed to land – from beach glass to skipping stones, dead fish and, of course, driftwood.

Was there a piece of advice that helped shaped you as a designer?

Love what you live with. It’s sort of a motto I live by, not only for designing, but for consuming as well.

Many of your products are “made from life.” How do you go about turning ephemeral items into lasting jewelry?

Early on, I was interested in the idea of taking objects that are iconic but temporary and casting them in materials that will last longer than humans. It was my way of turning fleeting, nostalgic items into timeless memories that you can wear.

“Everything in the world has already been created. It is our responsibility to continue to enhance the human experience.”

What inspired your gum and retainer pieces?

I was experimenting with what I could get people to wear. The retainer was about how orthodontic hardware is coveted and desired when you are in middle school. Jewelry for your mouth. The retainer is also an object of the past. Turning a retainer into a necklace was my way of paying homage to a specific youthful rite of passage. It’s also just funny. The gum necklace is sort of a similar storied project, but I was more interested in the idea that gum is gross, but when it is cast and made out of brass it is more shocking and interesting than gross.

How did you go about creating the “Forget Me Knot” rings?  Do you receive a lot of wedding-proposal stories that involve your ring design?

The “Forget Me Knot” is a popular holding place engagement ring for a couple until they can go out and buy a diamond ring together. It is also a very popular bridesmaid gift, but when I made the ring, I was not thinking about weddings. For me, it was an experiment. I was testing what I could get away with doing while working with lost wax. String is a very malleable material that also has a short life. After about 15 tries and a re-engineering of the method, I was able to cast a perfect knot. This ring was the epitome of my homage to nostalgic jewelry. Tie a string around your finger to remember something – it doesn’t get much more memorable than that.

How did you get involved with your current position, and what are some standout products that you’ve come across?

I was working in a wood shop down the street from the Williamsburg store that I work for now. The designers I was working for were selling furniture to the store on a regular basis. I became very interested in the retail aspect of design and the customer who buys design.

What does re-imagine mean to you, and how has it influenced your designs?

I constantly look at objects and think about how I can make them different. Everything in the world has already been created. It is our responsibility to continue to enhance the human experience. Making someone think about an object or a process in a new way by re-imagining its original use and purpose will enhance and advance us into the future.

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