Shana Cave has always had a fascination with precious things. Childhood trips to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History were less about the allure of a field trip and more about the opportunity to spend hours in the rocks and minerals department.
"Nature is my favorite designer," the 25-year-old jewelry designer tells Fashionista. "I think that sentiment comes from my mom, because she regards things with a lot of preciousness and sees a lot of beauty in things that might not have been designed to be beautiful."
It was that initial interest in dazzling rarities that inspired Cave to make jewelry. She officially started her design journey studying fashion and metalsmithing at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2016. She also did a semester abroad at Central Saint Martins in London. But by the time she was gearing up to graduate, the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leaving Cave back at home with ample time to process her last three years of school. She had a realization: She felt completely distant from her craft.
"I was upset. I didn't have a single piece of jewelry I made that I actually wore. My craft became something for other people to look at." Instead of trying to achieve a perfect final product, Cave set her inhibitions aside and simply began to create: "I wanted to keep practicing. So, I set up my own studio in my family home in Virginia. I didn't want to just practice, though — I wanted all of my practice to be things I wore."
Cave ultimately went back to the thing that inspired her most: her childhood. "I landed on making little metal flowers, since that was a sketch I noticed in all of my old sketchbooks from when I was a kid," says Cave. "It was an easy shape to make and I could easily imagine a gem in the center of them. I started with one little stud earring and then I moved onto rings. I started to collect more jewels and gemstones. It was really fun just playing with different colors every day."
Cave says her experience at Central Saint Martins helped shape her process and signature designs. "They pushed me really hard not just to make things willy-nilly, but instead to research and have my designs connect to who I am and my genuine desires of what I want to wear and how I want to present myself," Cave explains. "In America, it's a bit more of a commerce space and I wasn't being pushed as hard. Whereas I think in Europe — and Central Saint Martins specifically — they know that if you create something genuine and really original, it's going to sell regardless."
What's genuine for Cave is her affinity for feminine symbolism and the enchantment of girlhood. On her website, she describes her brand clearly: "Delicately crude rudimentary femininity. This is my relic of being girl and woman." Heart-shaped stones surrounded by pink-toned rubies and metal ribbons shaped into bows are rooted in what she considers the "privilege" and "fantasy" of womanhood.
Cave's pieces don't just walk the line between womanhood and girlhood, but also between fine and fashion — contrasting chunky, childlike shapes with shimmering gemstones and seamless craftsmanship. Not only is the brand balanced aesthetically, but it also has a sensible price point, ranging from $60 for her signature silver Flower Stud Earring to $500 for a diamond-cut chain necklace with a "fossilized pendant."
"As a girl, we view womanhood as something that is so luxurious — just the idea of glamour and being a princess," says Cave. "That naive freedom of not knowing is something you can never really tap into again. I think that's what my jewelry represents. I'm never going to be a princess and I'm probably going to be working class for most of my life, but I can take a shortcut to that with material wealth by making it myself. I don't actually live that lifestyle, but I can, for a second, pretend."
Though Cave's designs may come from a fantastical point of view, plenty of her customers arguably are within a princess-like class and still crave that same childhood wonderment.
"I got a DM from Bella Hadid's stylist [Dean DiCriscio]," she recalls. The 2021 message came at a pivotal moment for Cave. Amid post-grad life and a slowly growing Instagram page, the then-23-year-old says she "hit rock bottom" and decided to become an au pair in Turkey. When DiCriscio asked her to create custom rings for Hadid, she had only been in the country for 10 days. "Unfortunately for that family, I had to go," Cave jokes. "I stayed with my friend in New York for a month, and within that one month I had a British Vogue interview and messages from Dua Lipa. I've been in that same apartment ever since."
As exciting as that month was, Cave says it didn't impact her business as much as one might think. "I didn't gain that many followers, to be honest," she says. (Cave's Instagram account only reached 10,000 followers in the last few months.) "It was a lot of clout. My mom always says I didn't strike the iron while it was hot. I was a bit shy about it. I didn't understand how to run a business when I first moved here."
What Cave did understand, however, is the power of a cold email. "I saw that Ssense was carrying the jewelry brand Harlot Hands and I thought to myself, 'Oh, they could sell my stuff. We're not so far apart,'" she says. "So I cold emailed them and my buyer was specifically assigned to young brands, so she hopped on. It was really early on in my career to have a wholesale deal with Ssense. For anyone interested in wholesaling but afraid they're not good enough, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." (Select pieces of Cave's can be found for sale on Ssense.com and her full line is available at ShanaCave.com.)
Beyond her tangible finished products, the digital world that she’s created is a significant mark of achievement for the young designer. Her moodboard-esque social media is what attracts many of her customers to begin with — including Hadid and Lipa, it would seem.
"I grew up on Tumblr, so I'm very well-versed in the power of a feed. It's not just one image, it's blocks and blocks of images that speak to a feeling," she says. "I wanted my Instagram to showcase my jewelry and the girliness, but also my life and the person wearing it. That's what makes the brand more interesting than just pretty jewels."
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Right now, Shana Cave is a one-woman show. But she hopes to expand and take her knack for curating "different vibes" IRL. "I would love to have my own store. I love the idea of curating a store just like an Instagram feed."
In the meantime, Cave has been taking her designs across New York City to different pop-ups. This February, during the Lunar New Year, she's hosting her own pop-up shop for the very first time. "I'm going to have a new collection out with more styles and colors," Cave shares. "Then after that, I have a little secret collection that I'm planning. It's a bit more industrial and not so much girly. It's super glamorous."
As for what excites Cave most about the future, it's less about meeting any set goals and more about impact. "I had a recurring fantasy as a kid where I would find a diamond ring on the ground," she remembers. "Early on in my career, I was losing my jewelry a lot. I'd wear it out and be hanging on the side of a highway or doing something in the streets and I would lose it. I love the idea of this insanely precious, beautiful thing just lost in the weeds or the cement."
"Now, thinking about that thing on the ground and a child picking it up…my jewelry existing outside of my body and having its own life — that's what I really love."